Together, we can face the challenges of our time

01 February 2021 | From the Chair of Council

Dear staff, students, and friends of UCT

The year 2021 is upon us and as we stand here today, we are presented with a great set of challenges. We find ourselves in a space of fear and of deep pain as a result of the health, social and economic challenges the pandemic has presented to us.

Many of you have had to return to work or to study, some with little opportunity to rest whilst facing challenges of loved ones being either sick, or in hospital or having passed away as a result of Covid-19. What amplifies this pain is our current inability to physically meet and reach out for comfort, for love and for support.

We see all of you, we stand with you; know that you are supported, know that you are guided, know that you matter. In the words of Amanda Gorman, the United States’ first National Youth Poet Laureate: “While we might feel small, separate, and all alone, our people have never been more tightly tethered. The question is not if we will weather this unknown, but how we will weather the unknown together.”

Our sense of normality has been turned upside down, the world is going through collective pain. The pain of our current conditions will continue to endure unless we choose something new. We have a choice to rebuild, to regenerate, to replenish ourselves from this crisis. The wound is the place where the light also shines through. So, let us shine our light to those in need, to those in pain. Let us shine our light and cast it towards creating a future together in unity. Let us use this time as a tool to mould and shape our character and forge a powerful context for our future and the future of our beloved university.

It is an incredible achievement for UCT to have concluded the 2020 academic year. I’d like to recognise our students’ significant achievements in the last year given formidable challenges that they have faced. This is testament to your own courage and character.

To those that may have fallen short, do not be discouraged, this pandemic has shown us that even when we are in an uncertain space, we can rise again. For a star to be born, it must first implode, take this as an opportunity for you to create a new reality and platform to grow.

To our returning students, UCT stands ready to support you during this new academic year. I wish you every success and may you enjoy the journey along the way.

Let us welcome our class of 2021 with open arms and embrace their uniqueness. They have faced numerous upheavals ahead of their exams and disruption of normal classroom interactions. They have missed important rites of passage, such as matric dances and valedictory ceremonies as a result of the pandemic. Their experience in the last year has built up an enormous capacity for resilience, which has prepared them for university life. I welcome you and wish you success on your journey at UCT.

Our students’ successes would not have been possible without the dedication and efforts of our committed staff. Many staff members turned their homes into lecture halls, labs and offices and supported the students and each other through the year. I salute you. Your selfless service, your ability to give unconditionally, the value that you add to the lives of students’, and to this university is immeasurable. The future of all the students has been shifted by your aggregate efforts and sacrifice.

I would also like to recognise all the donors, alumni and friends of UCT who have remained committed to our institution and have done much to support us during this challenging time. Your generosity allows us to continue our mission of developing leaders that are equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow and to respond to Africa’s challenges.

One of the core strengths of UCT is its embedded dedication to constantly improve and re-invent itself. The heart of our academic endeavour predisposes us to be critical, self-reflective, and also to celebrate our achievements. As we do this, lets us not lose sight of our vision, let us recognise that we still must walk the journey we set out for ourselves to its end.

Together as a community we have committed to Vision 2030, to unleash human potential, to develop thinkers, leaders and individuals who will create ripples in their communities and on a global stage, who will provide a different set of solutions for the world’s challenges and in so doing creating a better future for all.

Who we are tomorrow will be determined by our commitment to this vision. During these unprecedented and uncertain times, our focus on our vision has become more important than ever before. So, like a flame, let us ignite our vision and let us use this as a catalyst to launch us towards our goals.

Building a fair and just society

Vision 2030 calls upon us to create a just and fair society, this is our aspiration and we remain committed to this cause.

There can be no great progress without challenges. As a university, our commitment to creating a fair and just society has been challenged and questioned, in the reports carried out at the University, including the Report of UCT’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC), the report on the Professor Mayosi Panel, our inclusivity survey and the 2019 Report of the Ombud, whereby bullying was identified as a root problem at the university.

We are all human, however, being humane and keeping our humanity towards each other is a value. A value that this university strongly believes in and remains a core pillar of our institution. Having this value in mind, we at UCT have no tolerance towards bullying.

In previous communications we updated you on how Council is working to resolve these issues of bullying raised by the University Ombud.

The Ombud’s terms of reference require that the specific details relating to the complaints should not be disclosed. This confidentiality is sacrosanct to the university and to the Ombud grievance process. Although this may limit UCT’s ability to investigate these specific allegations, we remain steadfast in commitment to dealing with these matters in a systematic and phased approach, which respects the confidentiality of the complainants, whilst implementing the necessary reform to deal with this matter.

Decisive and firm actions have been taken to deal with these systemic issues with a view to eradicate bullying, and to set proper procedures and protocols that will enable a safer environment where all those affected are empowered to safely report their complaints, without fear of victimisation and where allegations are addressed in a timely manner.

It is important that we create a sense of safety as it enhances the learning process. It is imperative that our rights to a safe space are upheld as we pursue our academic goals.

Council has made significant progress on this front and has made the following four important decisions:

  1. Developing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy

    We have put in motion the process of developing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy under the leadership of the University Human Resource Committee Chairperson, Pheladi Gwangwa. This has been discussed at Senate and will come to Council for approval in early 2021.
  2. Appointment of Professor Pierre de Vos as advisor to Council

    We engaged the UCT constitutional law and governance expert, Professor Pierre De Vos, to advise council on establishing appropriate mechanisms to deal with complaints and allegations made to the office of the Ombud. He will also ensure that we institutionalise the reports of the office of the Ombud to ensure that the executive, deans and heads of department engage more formally with these reports. As well as to implement processes to strengthen the office of the Ombud.
  3. Commitment from the executives

    The leadership team has done much reflection to challenge themselves to be the change that they wish to see and to contribute through their daily behaviour to building a fair and just community.

    I wish to thank the executive for their commitment to this endeavour. Council will continue to support the executive and equally hold them accountable in nurturing and developing a culture that values humanity.
  4. Appointment of Professor Ihron Rensburg as interim Ombud

    Last but not least, Council appointed Professor Ihron Rensburg, a highly respected and experienced individual in the higher education sector. He will advise Council on the overall review of the Ombud’s office at UCT, given our institutional experience of having had such an office for the past ten years, it is an appropriate time to conduct a 10-year review of the office and ensure that it is still fit for purpose and will serve our vision 2030 aspirations. He will ensure that during this interim period services provided by an Ombud continues uninterrupted until a substantive appointment is made.

I urge the UCT community to support Professors De Vos and Rensburg and the executive in this important work.

Darkness and injustice exist in the world only because it exists in our hearts. Let us all examine ourselves, let us all unite, let us all hold each other accountable in creating a powerful context, one that does not condone discrimination in any form.

Looking ahead to a successful 2021

We must celebrate, even in these difficult circumstances and recognise the positive aspects that these challenging times have made distinct for us.

For the first time in many years, governments, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and industry came together in unity to do something that has never been done before: a COVID-19 vaccine was developed within a year, more than the decade it usually takes to develop a vaccine! This is testimony to the importance of human collaboration. When we stand together, the limitations placed upon us dissolve and we open ourselves up to endless possibility. We trust that South Africa will begin its inoculation rollout soon. I urge you to participate, not only for the benefit of yourself but also for those around you. It is the ultimate act of selflessness. Vaccination needs a collective response. Together, we can turn this pandemic around and rebuild.

As Chair of Council I remain committed to the sound governance of this great institution. As I said after taking office, this university is a public treasure, a precious resource for society and its people. Let us build this institution to embody what is right, good and just.

May I quote Wangari Maathai who said: “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk”.

We must nurture, guard and build it as a home for all – for generations to come. Together, we face the challenges of our time. Let us do so in a spirit of service to one another.

I wish all of you strength, courage and resilience during 2021, may we all rise.


Babalwa Ngonyama
Chair of UCT Council

Read previous communications:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.