‘Changes at UCT have been phenomenal’

03 December 2019 | Story Carla Bernardo. Read time 6 min.
VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng and COO Dr Reno Morar with some of the recipients of the Long Service Awards. <b>Photo</b>&nbsp;Michael Hammond.
VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng and COO Dr Reno Morar with some of the recipients of the Long Service Awards. Photo Michael Hammond.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Annual Awards 2019 took place on Thursday, 28 November – an evening of glitz, glam and celebration of the outstanding service and achievements of both academic and professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff. The Long Service Awards was one of the categories in which staff members were recognised and honoured. These awards celebrate the service of staff who have been in the employ of the university for 15, 25, 35 and 45 years.

UCT News asked four of the 13 recipients of the 35-year Long Service Awards to share some of their most memorable moments during their time spent at the university.

Russel Williams (principal library assistant in the Interlibrary Loans Department): “Change has been constant”

Changes at UCT have been phenomenal
Russel Williams (centre) and UCT Library staff at the UCT Long Service Awards Presentation Dinner, held on Tuesday, 1 October 2019. Photo Supplied.

“When I arrived at UCT straight from school, it was the rise of student unrest and protest in the township Manenberg where I grew up. Dr Stuart Saunders was the VC at the time. During that time, I encountered the presence of the police and South African Defence Force as there was protesting on campus and we were chased by police into the library and up the golden stairway.

“I went from cleaner (1984 to 1986) to departmental assistant: branch libraries (1987 to 1990) to departmental assistant: Interlibrary Loans Department (1991 to 1996) to library assistant in the same department (1997 to 2008) and, finally, in the Interlibrary Loans Department as principal library assistant.

“Change has been constant and is still happening – physical buildings, human interaction, attitudes towards one another, student protest has changed to such an extent that it influences the future direction of UCT. Then there’s technological changes like moving from MS-DOS to Windows 10; transformation in leadership seen in the move from [Dr Stuart] Saunders to Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng [as vice-chancellor]; transformation in the library directorate – moving from Tony Hooper to Ujala Satgoor; and the start of trade unions for general workers. I am very proud to see [a] black VC and library director at UCT.

“UCT opened a new world to me. Growing up on the Cape Flats was my other world. I was exposed to books, technology and learning opportunities. Seeing and being part of some undergraduates moving on their journey to professorship in academics at UCT and professional careers. Just contributing in a small way in their research to the end of their journey gives me much satisfaction.”

Asia Brey (administrative officer in the College of Accounting): “I have found great fulfilment and career satisfaction”

Changes at UCT have been phenomenal
Asia Brey began her career at UCT during one of South Africa’s darkest periods. Today, she sees the university as representative of the Rainbow Nation. Photo Supplied.

“The 1980s were a turbulent time in our country’s history with student protests and unrest. Back then, there were only a handful of non-white students and staff. I had to obtain a permit to study at UCT as it was a criminal offence for a black student to register without special permission from the government. I felt disconnected and divided from my peers and colleagues and it stunted my personal development as one had to pay to attend courses which were not part of one's job.

“The changes at UCT have been phenomenal. With the formation of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements, the transformation that was spoken about years ago is now being realised. UCT is becoming a place that truly celebrates diversity and is welcoming to all and it is a privilege to be part of this transformation.

“I find UCT to be the ideal work environment. The job security and stimulating academic environment which the university offers is the main reason I have continued to work for UCT. I like the autonomy; managers allowed me to innovate which has challenged me to excel in my work. It has been a long and wonderful journey.”

Sokhaya Dlelapantsi (library assistant in Libraries: Built Environment): “I have rights and access to everything”

Changes at UCT have been phenomenal
Sokhaya Dlelapantsi says he is thankful to be a part of UCT. Photo Supplied.

“This is my second university I have worked for. I enjoy working with students; all my life I have worked with students. What I remember most is the students’ way of communications, their jokes! It became apparent to me, as a parent, if I treat students like my own [then] there are students that treat me like a parent. It shows me that they value me in life.

“There was one time that I lost my job because I was informed by HR that I shouldn’t be in the Western Cape, but in Ciskei because in those years, we were not allowed in Cape Town. If a person has been in Cape Town for 10 years, one could stay in the Western Cape. At that time, I already had 10 years’ experience working in Lanzerac Hotel from 1974 to 1978 and the University of Stellenbosch from 1978 to 1984. The late Professor Tim Dunne (then Warden at College House) personally took me to Nontsumpa in Nyanga to sort out my problem. I am grateful to him to this day.

“There are big changes that have happened over the years. The Pass Laws pushed us in a corner. I now see a lot of change in the workplace. In those days I felt like a ‘slave’. Nowadays, I have rights and access to everything. I feel honoured and have a sense of being. I am part of the university and not the outsider as it used to be.

“At the library, where most of my colleagues will know me as Timothy Dlelapantsi, I was given the opportunity to be responsible. I was encouraged and as a result moved four pay classes to where I am today. I am leaving the library, but I am thankful to [here]. It is where I had worked in a good environment and people treated me as a human being. I am going to miss the people I have worked with for 20 years.”

Belinda Southgate (principal library assistant in Libraries’ Published Collections): “[The library] continues to evolve into a space conducive to teaching and learning”

Changes at UCT have been phenomenal
Belinda Southgate says working at the university has helped her purchase her own home, car and enabled her to travel the world. Photo Supplied.

“It’s been such a positive adventure working at UCT and even though 35 years sounds like a really long time, it feels like just the other day to me. I remember the library specifically being a bit of a dull place, but it has evolved into a more inviting space and continues to evolve into a space conducive to teaching and learning for staff and students. In addition to new buildings going up, there are constant renovations taking place.

“A wonderful highlight was when President Mandela was awarded an honorary degree by the university on 30 November 1990 and I could bring my ten-year-old daughter along to witness this historic event which took place on the rugby fields.

“Another stand-out moment was when UCT celebrated 175 years of its existence in 2004. Some of my colleagues and I felt so special attending a few of the events.

“There are countless colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work with and learn from over the years. I love working in the libraries as it caters to my need to be of service, productive, orderly, quiet, introspective, to impart information and has been the calm amidst the challenges which beset us all from time to time.

“I appreciated immensely the staff professionalism which I encountered from the moment I was employed at UCT. Job security and earning a regular salary has enabled me to travel extensively, own a house and a car, raise my daughter as a single mother, do voluntary work, pay attention to my health and well-being, plan for my future and retirement.”

Recipients of the 35-year Long Service award

Willie John Slaverse – Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment

Mark Kevin Christians – Faculty of Science

Faezah  Davids – Faculty of Science

Riedewaan Jacobs – Information and Communication Technology Services

Lionel Keith Smidt – Office of the Registrar

Desmond Simpson – Properties and Services

William Claasen – Student Affairs

Ernest Mandla Simelela – Student Affairs

Beverline Engelbrecht – Student Housing & Residence Life

Russel Owen Williams – University Libraries

Asia Khanam Brey – Faculty of Commerce

Sokhaya Timothy Dlelapantsi – University Libraries

Belinda Theresa Southgate – University Libraries

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