Thanks and farewell to Chancellor Graça Machel

13 December 2019 | From the Chair’s Desk

Dear members of the UCT community

I am writing this letter to honour a woman whom I admire, who has served the University of Cape Town (UCT) faithfully for 20 years and who has enhanced our reputation through her association with our institution.

In 1999 Mrs Graça Machel became the first woman to be appointed Chancellor of UCT and the first black person to assume this role at the university. This is not a distinction to be taken lightly, as the academic sector around the world still proves to be difficult ground for women to break, especially for African women.

As the titular head of the university whose role includes presiding at graduation ceremonies and attending high-level university engagements, Mrs Machel has been an individual of the requisite stature with exceptional personal qualities and integrity. She has embodied the values of the university and has garnered support locally and internationally to advance the mission of UCT as part of this crucial ambassadorial role.

Mrs Machel has graciously declined the opportunity to be honoured at a formal farewell function, as she would prefer that UCT allocate that expense towards the needs of students. So I am writing this letter to honour and thank her for her service to UCT.

Her messages have helped to navigate Africa in its global role. “Chart a new future for democracy,” she told delegates in September 2019 at the start of the Democracy in Central and Southern Africa Conference, organised by UCT’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance in partnership with the Kofi Annan Foundation.

Mrs Machel has used many opportunities to remind us that we are all members of one community. In 2004 she called on members of UCT to raise R175 million to put needy students through university. In 2014 she united with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to speak out against gender-based violence – and has spoken out again, and again, with the same call: to take action against this crime against all of society.

This year she called on us to assist communities in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi that were hit by Cyclone Idai in April. She has spoken out against xenophobia, reminding us that there are four million people in South Africa from African countries that don’t have effective democracies and economies, and that some of these people are persecuted in their own countries, just as South Africans were during apartheid.

Mrs Machel has stood with UCT during times of sorrow – most recently when, as a campus community, we mourned the memory of murdered first-year student Uyinene Mrwetyana – and during times of celebration, especially in the many graduation ceremonies over which she presided. She reminds us of the greatness that each of us has inside of us.

Her leadership is recognised around the world in the form of numerous awards and honours. The Graça Machel Trust is widely respected for its work for women’s social and economic advancement and for the rights of children.

Great leadership is something that is needed around the world. We see many examples of loud leadership, of the old boys club and the glass ceiling. Mrs Machel has shown us that we don’t need to be cowed by the loud voices, or be held back by any ceilings. We only need to listen to and act on our conscience, and keep moving forward to accomplish our goals with integrity.

Mrs Machel embodies in so many ways the vision of UCT: not to deny our past, or the evils of the present day, but to remember and elevate the symbols of beauty that helped us to change history. Most critically, she has called on us to take a stand against the global trends that threaten to divide us. She has built her life into a lasting legacy to help us shape our future.

For this example, and for her 20 years of dedicated service to the university, on behalf of UCT and its Council, I thank Mrs Machel and wish her a well-deserved rest and continued social impact.


Mr Sipho M Pityana
Chair of UCT Council

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