By signing her name in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Golden Book on 10 December, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe cemented her place in UCT’s long history; its sixth chancellor since 1918. Dr Moloi-Motsepe was formally invested with her robe at a ceremony hosted by UCT Chair of Council Babalwa Ngonyama.
The chancellor is the titular head and representative of the university, and confers degrees in its name.
The event was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Friday, 10 December, and followed stringent COVID-19 protocols. Guests included chancellors and vice-chancellors of other universities, heads of diplomatic missions and many other VIPs from the diplomatic corps, traditional leaders, civil society and government.
Among the special guests was UCT alumnus and renowned Cape Town ballet master Johaar Mosaval, who received an honorary doctorate from the university at the age of 93. Virtual messages were received from former chancellor and First Lady Graça Machel, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, and Hilde Schwab. Schwab is the chairperson and co-founder of the Schwab Foundation with her husband Klaus, who is the executive chair of the World Economic Forum. Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Buti Manamela delivered a virtual message on behalf of Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.
Although Moloi-Motsepe has been chancellor since 1 January 2020, her installation and investiture were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning the proceedings, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the installation of a chancellor was a significant moment in UCT’s history.
“It is a way of connecting the longstanding tradition and symbols of our past to the promises of a bright and inspiring future.”
“This marks the second time in our rich history that this role [chancellor] has been held by a powerful woman and is an immense reason for joy and celebration.”
The installation also marked transformational strides in UCT’s recent history, Ngonyama said in her address.
“This marks the second time in our rich history that this role [chancellor] has been held by a powerful woman and is an immense reason for joy and celebration … What a wonderful gift has been bestowed on us! We are so privileged.”
Ngonyama said Moloi-Motsepe was “the right leader to help steer UCT as an African university committed to the continent, its people and its development”.
“And today we are celebrating a leader willing to take the step to shape us as a powerful force in the global arena.”
“We [Africa] must be innovative and inventive. We must learn how to do things ourselves. We must become our own regional tigers so that we can support our people here, on this continent,” Ngonyama added.
“We, as Africans, must stand for something beyond being just African, dispensing with Afrophobia. We must create a prosperous future for this beloved continent that stands as an exemplar for the world. As Africans, we have value to add in the global stage. We have access to resources and knowledge. And today we are celebrating a leader willing to take the step to shape us as a powerful force in the global arena.”
UCT ideally placed
In her address Moloi-Motsepe alluded to the importance of the event taking place on International Human Rights Day, commemorating the United Nations adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
“We remember and honour all those who have worked and suffered for the realisation of these rights and reaffirm our individual and collective commitment to work for a world where everyone is truly free,” she said.
Moloi-Motsepe said her take-home message from the event is the nation, as individuals and collectives, must set goals that are “truly important, and then to start from where we are, working tirelessly and with a focus on that goal”.
Alluding to UCT’s proud record of recent achievements and its resilience in the face of a pandemic and a fire, she urged the country to consider the role of higher education in general, and the role of a centre of teaching and research excellence such us UCT, in creating the societies and economies needed, and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Five key themes
Moloi-Motsepe explored five key themes she believes should guide UCT in the next decades.
“This university is ideally placed to help South Africa, Africa and the world negotiate the next few decades, which for me are defined both by pressing challenges and a wealth of opportunities.
The first theme is inclusion. COVID-19 had shown that the world is not inclusive enough, she said.
Second is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the opportunity to shape the impact of accelerating and converging technologies on societies and labour markets.
“These technologies hold immense potential, not least for better inclusion, but they can also be disruptive, and could potentially put jobs at risk.”
Third is a focus on Africa with its huge youth population, which with support and opportunities could herald an African century, where the continent takes its place as a “full global player”.
Fourth is climate change. The next two decades will be crucial in addressing climate change decisively, Moloi-Motsepe said.
“The longer we wait, the greater the future costs are likely to be. On the other hand, there are opportunities in moving quickly now, and universities can play a catalytic research role in this area.”
“We need to put values and ethics back into how we think about our economic system, and how we understand the institutions that form part of them.”
Fifth and last is a values shift.
“Interacting with these themes, shaping them and being shaped by them, I feel there is a growing global sense that we need to put values and ethics back into how we think about our economic system, and how we understand the institutions that form part of them.”
She added, “It is the potential synergies between these trends, the way they can positively reinforce one another, that really excites me, and makes me hopeful that we can recover lost ground and accelerate towards achieving the ever-elusive Sustainable Development Goals, and the overarching goal of a better and more sustainable future for all.”
But these synergies would not happen automatically.
“As chancellor I would like to see the University of Cape Town grow even further as an inclusive centre of excellence, embedded in the society around us, nurturing compassionate citizens and helping to prepare Africa take its rightful place in a technology-oriented world.
“I want to pose this as the challenge for all of us, and for this university: to bring to all the challenges we face, and will face, the same sense of compassionate urgency that we saw during the fire, and that we have seen in those helping the poor and vulnerable during the [COVID-19] pandemic.
If we keep to this sense of what is truly important, if we truly do our best, tirelessly and selflessly, then we will maintain and nurture what is already excellent at this great institution, and in our society, and we will further shape it into an institution for the future, for our children and their children.”
Endorsing African women leaders
In her virtual message, former chancellor and First Lady Graça Machel endorsed UCT’s African women leaders.
“I leave UCT with an African woman chancellor and an African woman vice-chancellor at the helm. It is easy to effect a change in gender and race. What is more difficult is to commit to a path of leadership that will plant a long growing harvest of change across all of South Africa’s society.
“In selecting the optimal remedy to succeed, UCT has made such a commitment. [Precious] represents the same values I have committed my life to: the empowerment of women, [and] the establishment of a future of hope for African children; the importance of education in unleashing the skills and talents of all Africans and the key role Africa needs to play in the future of this planet.”
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