As we are wrapping up the last few weeks of the 2019 academic year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued contributions to our institution.
It has been a remarkable year for UCT with multiple milestones and achievements across faculties and departments. We also obviously faced serious challenges that tested us but hopefully left us stronger in their wake.
We have maintained our status as one of the best institutions of higher learning in South Africa, Africa and the world. A glimpse at the recent UCT Annual Awards ceremony drives home the impressive calibre of so many colleagues across campus.
In August we announced the election of Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe as the new chancellor of UCT with effect from 1 January 2020. She takes over the reins from Mrs Graça Machel, who was first elected chancellor in 1999 and whose second term will finish at the end of 2019. This week we will see Mrs Machel preside for the last time as chancellor at graduation, after which she will bid us farewell. I know she will remain in touch and committed to UCT. I very much look forward to welcoming Dr Moloi-Motsepe to the campus early next year.
One of the significant focuses of this year has been the restitution of the Sutherland remains, a process which started last year when we announced that 11 skeletons in the university’s Human Skeletal Collection were found to have been unethically obtained by our institution in the 1920s. Nine of these individuals were brought to UCT from Sutherland in the Northern Cape. We then decided to commence a restoration process with the ultimate goal of returning them to their home community for reburial. This is in process and we will see the matter through in 2020.
We went through an extremely difficult, unusual and highly distressing period when we lost five of our students within a short space of time from late August. This was particularly harrowing for the families, close friends and classmates of these deceased students. Two of the students passed away as a result of violent crimes. The terrible circumstances surrounding their deaths only added to the challenges we faced in accepting their deaths and finding ways to deal with our loss. While the situation was extremely distressing for many in our community, I believe it was also a moment that brought us closer together as a community.
Our last highlight of the year will no doubt be the upcoming graduation ceremonies – to be held on 12, 13 and 23 December 2019. We are looking forward to celebrating with the graduands, their families, friends and all the staff members who have supported them throughout their academic journeys. Please do remember that you can watch the live stream of each of the ceremonies on the UCT homepage.
In conclusion, please note the following two decisions taken by Council at their meeting on Saturday, 7 December 2019.
The first decision followed after the University Human Resources Committee (UHRC) recommended that Council approve an amendment to the staff tuition rate to regulate the benefit for all staff at UCT following the 2019 substantive union agreements. This was approved by Council. This means that staff are now covered 100% for studying at UCT and their dependants are covered for 90%.
The second decision relates to a proposal that the period between Christmas and New Year should (1) be a period of paid holiday in 2019 and (2) a period of paid holiday on a permanent basis going forward as a change in conditions of service for all staff. This proposal was informed by, among other factors, the decisions that were taken in 2016, 2017 and 2018 that the days between Christmas and New Year were granted as paid leave for staff.
This was implemented for the first time in 2016 as what was intended to be a once-off gesture by the executive in recognition of the challenging year that the university had navigated through in that particular period. When a similar challenging year was experienced in 2017, the executive decided to repeat this gesture. In 2018, although the campus was calmer, the leave was granted again.
Council did not approve the proposal, which it felt was too ad hoc and instead asked that the UHRC consider this matter further, and specifically review the proposal for leave granted within the context of a review of the current staff leave policy. This does mean that further work is required, and until such time that Council is able to consider a report from the UHRC the terms of the current leave policy will apply and the additional paid leave days between Christmas and New Year of the past three years will not be repeated in 2019.
We know colleagues were naturally keen for a different decision on the matter. We do need to respect the Council decision and allow the UHRC the opportunity to consider the matter of the leave policy more fully. This does mean that staff who will be on leave on 27, 30 and 31 December 2019 will have to formally apply for leave.
I take this moment to wish all of you well during the festive season. May you have a peaceful, safe and restful time. I hope to welcome you back in the new year and wish you all and our wonderful institution a blessed 2020!
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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