Vice-Chancellor’s reflection

30 September 2021 Read time 4 min.

The onset of COVID-19 in 2020 provided a dramatic backdrop for the work of the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD). In an organisation as large and complex as the University of Cape Town (UCT), clear, informative and inspiring communication is a high priority at any time.

As the pandemic progressed and forced South Africa into lockdown, CMD played a crucial role in keeping the university community connected and up to date with the many critical decisions that had to be made at executive level, but also across campus.

COVID-19 meant that the UCT executive team had to manage extreme interruptions to the regular functioning of UCT and critical, high-impact decisions had to be made at almost all levels of governance which had a severe operational impact on almost every level of our institution. Every new decision became a communication priority – often requiring a very short turnaround time.

The talented and seemingly tireless colleagues in CMD were always on call to convey every critical message to the campus community – often at late hours or over weekends. They ensured that the latest decisions were in people’s hands immediately – posted via email, social media and on the UCT website. CMD served as the critical bridge between UCT leadership and every interested stakeholder, including colleagues and students who were working from home across South Africa and in other countries.

In addition, CMD helped other departments to manage and respond to the many questions sent by staff members, students and journalists. It prepared and maintained a comprehensive webpage and series of frequently answered questions about UCT’s response to COVID-19 for easy reference. The team also transferred UCT events seamlessly into virtual experiences that not only helped us to maintain the university’s role as a thought leader, but also extended our reach to friends and alumni around the world who could connect with us online.

Virtual gatherings such as the UCT Staff Annual Awards and Graduation became not-to-be missed online events, featuring top-class musical performances, dance numbers set in campus venues, fascinating interviews and short documentaries about university members – all supported by vibrant logos, artwork and set decorations and woven into a seamless tapestry by CMD videography. Even staff assemblies took on a special atmosphere, as more colleagues than ever before were able not only to tune in, but to also ask questions and receive immediate responses from the relevant department heads. We hope that CMD’s efforts helped keep the UCT community spirit alive.

The executive’s Vision 2030 roadshow continued despite the pandemic. CMD organised and managed virtual engagements with staff members and students across campus. Proactive media and social media, insightful news stories and specially branded items continue to inspire staff and students to think creatively about how they can unleash human potential to help create a fair and just society.

As always, CMD was the focus point for multitudes of media questions – many related to the pandemic, others focused on UCT itself as a prominent public institution and how it was handling the many challenges confronting it. The professionalism and responsiveness of CMD colleagues no doubt helped UCT maintain its reputation in the global higher education landscape.

CMD chased down news items and personal stories that showed how we were responding positively to the crisis – whether by staff serving on campus under lockdown conditions, or by supporting the global search for medical solutions, by volunteering to help others, or working from home under challenging conditions.

CMD’s dedicated online technical team ensured that the user experience of virtual communications ran smoothly.

Thank you to CMD for the huge difference you have made during these challenging times and to have contributed to the overall wellbeing of UCT.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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