Reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor for a second term

31 March 2022

Dear members of the UCT community

It gives me great pleasure to announce that our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, has been appointed by Council for a second five-year term of office.

The university’s policy for re-appointing an incumbent vice-chancellor requires extensive consultation. This process included our Students’ Representative Council (SRC), staff bodies and organised labour, deans and the executive directors. We took into account the views of the university’s trusts in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Across all of these constituencies we found that there is a high level of confidence in our vice-chancellor and her leadership under difficult and challenging circumstances.

A key requirement of both the University of Cape Town (UCT) Statute and the policy for re-appointing a vice-chancellor is consultation with Senate. A special meeting was called for this purpose, and a resounding 78% of Senate members endorsed Professor Phakeng’s re-appointment for a second term.

The re-appointment of our vice-chancellor is about looking ahead to the future of our university. Professor Phakeng has already built strong foundations for recovery. She has recognised that the university’s international reputation and increased donor funding, while important, will not be enough; there needs to be a wider vision for financial sustainability in the face of ever-diminishing public funding.

To achieve this goal, a leader must be able to think differently. A good example of Phakeng’s ability to think differently has been the success of the UCT Online High School project. This was launched with close to 4 000 learners in January this year and is receiving outstanding reviews from learners and their families. More than one hundred of our staff members, from cleaners to professors, have enrolled their children in this unique combination of online learning and focused face-to-face support, with fees way below the level of many government schools.

UCT is a world university, and we need a vice-chancellor who asserts our place in the world. A recent example of Professor Phakeng’s leadership abilities in this regard is the reception that she held for the diplomatic community through the morning of the president's State of the Nation address to Parliament. This was for the heads of diplomatic missions in South Africa. Diplomats from no less than 63 countries across the world accepted the invitation and spent the morning listening to the Vice-Chancellor's overview of our work as a university and to presentations by three of our leading researchers.

One of the world’s most pressing crises is climate change, which is a priority for our peer universities in other parts of the world. At the last meeting of Council, Professor Phakeng presented Khusela Ikamva. This is her brainchild – the transformation of our campus into a model of good practice that sets a national standard. Climate change will affect our children and our children’s children. It will damage the lives of the poor and marginalised far more than others, further sharpening the economic inequality that is South Africa’s curse. It is our problem, and a premier challenge for the world. The Vice-Chancellor believes that addressing this crisis is a central leadership responsibility.

Teaching is at the core of our mission as a university. In Phakeng, we have a leader who understands the need to unleash the full potential of our students as critical thinkers, building people who will take on the problems of the world and leave it a better place. This is illustrated by a reception for this year's recipients of the Vice-Chancellor's awards for new students. These are star performers from across South Africa and from every background. They spoke about their ambitions, their passions and the pride they felt in being accepted for admission to UCT. The Vice-Chancellor already knew many of their names and had herself driven to the airport to meet some of them who were flying into Cape Town for the first time. This is why, for many students, she is known as “Deputy-Mother”, an accolade that is not just given to anyone.

In summary, Council is confident that Phakeng is the right leader for UCT at this time and that, through her second term, she will build on the foundations of the last four years. She leads with purpose and with passion. She is resolutely non-partisan in terms of race, gender, ethnicity or political affiliation. She is a future thinker who is committed to the academic project of research and teaching and to ensuring the long-term viability of our university.


Babalwa Ngonyama, CA (SA)
Chair of UCT Council

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