Creating an inclusive, nurturing space that embraces South Africa’s Rainbow Nation justly is what the University of Cape Town (UCT) should aim to achieve as it prepares to realign itself, Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe said.
Dr Moloi-Motsepe made these comments during a special webinar held on Friday, 28 August, which drew the curtain on the university’s Women’s Month celebrations.
The webinar was organised by UCT’s Development and Alumni Department (DAD) in association with Standard Bank. Hosted by UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, panellists included Moloi-Motsepe and chairperson of UCT’s Council, Babalwa Ngonyama. The event was moderated by Dr Mamphela Ramphele, UCT’s first woman and black vice-chancellor.
Discussions centred around the value of placing women in leadership positions, as well as UCT’s new Vision 2030.
“There are targets to transform access and create opportunities for the previously marginalised in our country.”
UCT is one of only a handful of universities globally that has a women-led executive team. A number of women also make up the university’s team of deans and executive directors.
“I am hopeful and optimistic about the university’s new vision,” Moloi-Motsepe said.
“I am excited that under the leadership of the vice-chancellor and the governance provided by our Council there are targets to transform access and create opportunities for the previously marginalised in our country.”
A journey of transformation
Addressing the gathering, Professor Phakeng said that the university’s Vision 2030 is centred around three key pillars: excellence, transformation and sustainability.
“The idea is that once we commit ourselves to excellence, excellence in and of itself is not enough. It can discriminate. It can marginalise. It can silence.”
So, transformation is fundamental. And the transformation project at UCT, she said, requires participants who understand its importance and who are committed and willing to lead the university’s transformation agenda.
“We have recommendations and a way forward on how we can take on the transformation agenda.”
Phakeng said that UCT’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission showed “the weaknesses in our system”, and the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Professor Bongani Mayosi, then dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, revealed “weaknesses in how we do things”. Those challenges need to be addressed. Similarly, she said, bridging the divide between academic, and professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff is high on the priority list.
“It is as a result of these that we have recommendations and a way forward on how we can take on the transformation agenda beyond employment equity and access to UCT,” she said.
According to Ngonyama, Council is committed to not just leading change, but also shaping change at UCT in the months and years to come.
“We have an aspirational dream that makes us come to work every day and we want to make sure that that dream, during our term, becomes a reality,” she said.
Ngonyama acknowledged that UCT continues to face several challenges in a number of areas and assured the audience that Council would be addressing these challenges, as well as areas where “the university has made the least progress”.
Women in leadership
The panellists agreed that having women in leadership positions at institutions and other private organisations is beneficial for several reasons.
Moloi-Motsepe said that global research shows that women leaders are collaborative, and she likened them to researchers who “look to their colleagues for peer review”.
“We do that; we want to test our ideas. It’s a good thing, especially now with all the challenges in the world where leaders are just bold and want to do things on their own,” she said.
“This approach, like doing things on their own and not being collaborative, can mislead us.”
“Research shows that women handle crisis situations better.”
She said that South Africa needs to create more platforms outside of Women’s Month that feature young successful women to help facilitate and encourage mentorship.
“Mentorship is important; we need to see ourselves in others.”
For Phakeng, in a rapidly evolving world, having women at the helm of an institution means that the organisation is led with compassion, patience and empathy.
“Research shows that women handle crisis situations better. Perhaps that is just what women do in their daily lives and so when they come into leadership positions, their ability to handle crisis situations comes through and serves institutions well.”
There is still work to be done
While UCT is moving in the right direction, there is still work to be done.
Sharing her sentiments, Dr Ramphele said that the university has come a long way from being an all-white male college when it first opened its doors in 1829, but the institution can’t afford to be complacent.
“We’ve been on a very long journey. But transformation is a marathon – it is not a sprint.”
Ngonyama agreed. She said that Council is dedicated to deracialising and transforming the university, but that it can’t do it alone.
“We need you to walk this journey with us. We know that alone we can run fast, but together we can go far.”
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