Meticulous and principled: Stella Musungu receives VC’s Service Excellence Award

27 November 2023 | Story Niémah Davids. Photos Robin Thuynsma. Read time 6 min.
Stella Musungu receives her VC’s Service Excellence Award from Emer Prof Daya Reddy.
Stella Musungu receives her VC’s Service Excellence Award from Emer Prof Daya Reddy.

Stella Musungu’s crowning moment came in an afternoon email, sent by University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor (VC) interim Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy. And the email brought good tidings. To her delight, she was named the winner of the 2023 UCT VC’s Service Excellence Award – a salient honour, and her UCT career highlight by a mile.

Musungu is a student capacity-building specialist in UCT’s Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC). She manages and coordinates the Agents for Change Peer Education Programme (ACES) – established to build student inclusivity competencies, to enable students to become better change agents and lead difficult and uncomfortable conversations in campus residences and during co-curricular activities. But Musungu wears many other hats too. She facilitates the Transformation Inclusivity and Diversity training programme for various student leadership groups across the university, and also leads the Active Bystander Intervention training programme – geared towards empowering student volunteers to take proactive steps to disrupt sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

In recognition of her ongoing work in the service of UCT students – the university’s largest constituency – Emer Prof Reddy presented Musungu with her award during the university’s annual staff awards evening, held at the Baxter Theatre on Thursday, 23 November.


“This recognition is a prestigious gift, and being honoured in this way fills me with pride and fulfilment.”

The VC’s Service Excellence Award recognises “outstanding service by staff, including activities, initiatives, practices and/or projects that have contributed to the delivery of exceptional or significantly improved services to UCT’s staff and students”.

“I am in awe. This recognition is a prestigious gift, and being honoured in this way fills me with pride and fulfilment. I am so grateful that my service and contribution to this premier university has been recognised and is appreciated,” said Musungu.

Influencing behaviour

The rewarding and valuable work that has earned Musungu this highly acclaimed award lies close to her heart. Her passion and drive for capacity building among student facilitators and leaders is second to none. She is committed to shaping and influencing their thinking and behaviours on critical national issues, including HIV/AIDS, SGBV, sexuality, transformation, racism, power and privilege.

To date, and in line with her work, Musungu has trained dozens of volunteer peer educators to deliver an array of capacity-building workshops like the ACES programme. And this means that once they graduate with their degrees, they will be equipped to step confidently into the world of work, and use the skills they’ve acquired during her training programmes to contribute meaningfully to crucial discourses

“In this way, excellence manifests through the students I’ve trained. They can take forward what they’ve learned during these sessions and create spaces that facilitate courageous conversations about complex social justice issues, teach others, and create a pipeline of changemakers who will make a difference in the world,” she said.

Stella Musungu

Committed, tenacious, principled

How does Musungu define excellence? Plainly put, she said, it comes down to adopting good habits and sticking to them to achieve your goals; supporting colleagues to be the best versions of themselves, celebrating their victories, and collectively learning from setbacks and disappointments to improve outcomes in the future; and practising consistency and adaptability in the workplace.

But excellence doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t arrive overnight. And once excellence is achieved, Musungu said, it requires hard work, commitment, tenacity and a meticulous, principled spirit to sustain it.

“It’s been more than a decade of hard work for me at UCT to be celebrated this way. That’s more than a decade of investing time, learning from my colleagues, and improving the way I work. More than a decade of setting goals, working hard and making endless sacrifices to achieve them. It didn’t just happen at the drop of a hat; and once you achieve excellence, you need to maintain it,” Musungu said.

Teamwork – a catalyst for excellence

As she prepared to receive her award, Musungu said she has so much to be thankful for: a supportive family, who understands that a large part of attaining excellence means putting in extra working hours (the ‘graveyard shift’ on weekdays, and on weekends), and sometimes sacrificing sacred family time. And there’s more to it than that. The continuous support and wisdom offered by her colleagues in the OIC is one of the driving forces of her success. Their commitment to their craft and UCT’s growing cohort of staff and students motivates and inspires her.


“A strong team spirit is a great catalyst to help you attain excellence in your work.”

“A strong team spirt is a great catalyst to help you attain excellence in your work. I work alongside a wonderful team. They believe in me and my capabilities, encourage me to do better, and are constantly rooting for me. I learn from them every day, and I remain deeply inspired by our shared commitment to fostering transformation and inclusivity at UCT,” she said.

“We have developed a true spirt of ubuntu, of love and togetherness, and we nurture it daily to help us attain excellence in our work.”

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