Vice-Chancellor’s reflection

28 February 2023

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is not just a microcosm of South Africa’s society – it is also a complex community. Every day brings a new set of events that call for public recognition and accurate communication. Most events inspire celebration, but as with any community, we must also share sad news. The hardworking team in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) is at the heart of every one of these events throughout the calendar year.

The year 2021 was a tough one for my CMD colleagues. From the devastating wildfire that threatened our historic campus and destroyed buildings such as the Jagger Library, to the complexities of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, to the triumphs and tragedies experienced by students or staff members, CMD members expertly managed the university’s internal and external communications. In doing so, they have strengthened the sense of community across our campuses as well as with friends, alumni, research partners, donors and other stakeholders in South Africa and around the world.

Keeping such a large community updated through times of challenge and change is only part of CMD’s mandate. These diverse professionals also build cordial relationships with national and international media; highlight the exciting accomplishments of students and staff members in enlightening written reports, moving photographs and engaging videos; and manage complex events such as the annual VC Awards, VC Open Lectures, VC Inaugural Lectures and, of course, the highlight of every year: graduation. I’d like to make special mention here of CMD’s dedicated online technical team, without whom none of these events would have been possible.

For the past two years, CMD has orchestrated creative and moving virtual ceremonies to provide a very special experience for graduands and their families and friends around the world. While we missed the party spirit of in-person ceremonies, we had the satisfaction of protecting the health of our graduands, their families and UCT staff while still providing a memorable celebration. And I know that it was particularly special for all of us when in December 2021 we could host our December graduands in a walk of celebration in front of the iconic Sarah Baartman Memorial Hall.

News about UCT’s several responses to COVID-19 was top priority in a year when lockdown levels were adjusted as many as eight times in response to the scale of the pandemic. As our institutional operations changed accordingly, campus communications had to be prepared and disseminated, often with very short turnaround times, to update every stakeholder with the latest information.

The CMD team generously supports departments across the university while also acting as the critical bridge between the UCT executive, Council and our myriad stakeholders. They help the university to address sensitive and complex issues such as diversity, transformation, sexual assault, mental health and death with sensitivity and tact. They act as first responders in any event that requires rapid and accurate communication. They keep an eye on both social and traditional media to gauge the effect the university is having across South Africa and the world.

Thank you to every CMD member. You are an extraordinary group of UCT colleagues. You work above and beyond normal standards to keep the UCT spirit alive, helping to uphold the international reputation of Africa’s top university and further UCT’s Vision 2030. On behalf of the entire institution, I thank you.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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