Celebrating excellence, and time off in December

03 December 2018 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues

We are a few weeks away from completing our work in 2018. I am sure that many of you are looking forward to the year end, the festive season and vacation time with family and friends.

I write to share a decision that impacts on the work period from just before Christmas to shortly after New Year’s Day. But first I wish to inform you about a very special inaugural UCT awards ceremony that was held in Memorial Hall on Monday, 19 November, where we celebrated the work and achievements of a large number of staff.

The UCT Annual Awards evening was a wonderful celebration. For the first time, the various awards categories previously held at different times of the year were rolled into one ceremony, resulting in a special evening where colleagues celebrated their achievements alongside one another. We recognise that the last few years in particular have been challenging, so it was wonderful to spend a moment reflecting and recognising the integral role played by staff and their milestone achievements.

As I said on the evening: “As we celebrate all your achievements, I think it is right to reflect on the fact that at a university no one’s achievements are solely based on their own hard work. We work together as teams and as a community to ensure the smooth running of our institution. And no matter what your role is as a staff member, your contribution will determine UCT’s future successes.”

The awards ceremony represented another example of how we can begin to build an even stronger community: a community where everyone’s contribution is valued and excellence is acknowledged in all aspects of our operations. Four categories of awards were made on the night, namely the Long Service Awards, ad hominem promotions, the Alan Pifer Award and the Distinguished Teacher Awards.

During the ceremony, Professor Heather Zar received the Alan Pifer Award, a prestigious prize presented annually by UCT’s vice-chancellor in recognition of outstanding socially responsive research. It honours a UCT researcher whose outreach work has contributed to the advancement and welfare of South Africa’s disadvantaged people, and highlights UCT’s strategic goal of promoting socially responsive research.

A world-renowned paediatrician and scientist, Professor Zar has gained a reputation for rising above the challenges posed by a lack of resources to create new strategies to address key childhood illnesses that cause death among children – pneumonia, tuberculosis and asthma. One of Professor Zar’s recent projects is the Drakenstein Child Health Study, which will follow the lives of 1 000 mother–child pairs living in low-income communities on the outskirts of Paarl to investigate the early life determinants of child health and causes of illness.

Four academics – Gregor Leigh (Department of Physics), Associate Professor Jacqueline Yeats (Department of Commercial Law), Professor Pradeep Navsaria (Division of General Surgery) and Professor Robert Dunn (Division of Orthopaedic Surgery) – were recognised for their commitment to teaching and learning through the Distinguished Teacher Awards. This honour represents UCT’s highest teaching accolade, which acknowledges and celebrates excellence and innovation in teaching. The awardees have made distinctive contributions to teaching and learning at UCT, in their respective fields, by incorporating teaching philosophies and pedagogical approaches that take into account the teaching and learning challenges in South African higher education.

A total of 134 PASS staff were recognised for their commitment and extensive years of service to the university. Of these, 101 were honoured for having served for 15 years, 22 for having served for 25 years and 10 for 35 years of service. What a strength we have as an institution to have such dedicated and loyal staff.

Mr Robert Samuels, the senior laboratory assistant in the Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, was a highlight of the evening and deserves special mention. He has served UCT for 45 years. Mr Samuels loves to play squash and he starts his day in the lab often before 06:00 to allow free time for sport. One of the people he met on the job was the late Mr Hamilton Naki, the lab assistant to the late cardiac surgeon, Professor Christiaan Barnard.

A total of 104 academic, scientific and technical staff members were promoted to higher ranks as part of the ad hominem promotions process. These included18 staff members promoted to professor, and 37 promoted to associate professor. When asked what their inspiration was, many of these staff members had one answer in common – students. The notable performance of UCT academic staff who engage directly with the academic project can be illustrated by the fact that in 2017 UCT recorded the highest number of National Research Foundation-rated researchers in South Africa: 542. This number includes 41 A-rated researchers and eight P-rated, or promising young researchers. Congratulations to you all.

The approaching festive season offers another small opportunity for the university to recognise the hard work that has been put in by staff members since the beginning of the year.

I wish to inform you that the UCT Executive has approved that, except where operational requirements do not allow for this, departments within the university will close at 12:30 on 24 December 2018 and reopen on 2 January 2019. This will apply to all staff (academic, research and PASS).

Other than the half day before Christmas, this will be a total of three working days, which will fall outside a staff member’s annual leave entitlement. Leave forms must not be submitted for these days. Where staff have already submitted leave forms for these days, Human Resources will ensure that they are not deducted from leave balances. This is a once-off decision for this year only and was made in consultation with the union leadership.

As in every organisation, some key services must remain functional during this period. Where staff members are required for critical services, line managers will need to put the necessary systems in place to record this in order to make the necessary arrangements for staff to take these three days, operations permitting, at another time.

Where approvals for compulsory leave, which would normally have to be taken by 31 December 2018 have been granted, and includes these three days, these compulsory leave days will automatically be rolled over to the end of June 2019, when they must be taken.

We hope that you take this time to look after yourself and your loved ones, both mentally and physically, and return to UCT refreshed. My deepest appreciation to you all for your hard work and continued commitment to UCT.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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