New UCT VC Prof Moshabela ready to lead with respect and humility

24 May 2024 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Lerato Maduna. Video Production Team Ruairi Abrahams, Boikhutso Ntsoko and Nomfundo Xolo. Read time 6 min.
Prof Mosa Moshabela will take up the UCT vice-chancellor position later this year.

Professor Mosa Moshabela will become the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) 11th vice-chancellor (VC) when he takes up his post on 1 October, as announced by Chair of Council Advocate Norman Arendse SC on Friday, 24 May.

Professor Moshabela joins UCT from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) with a career in leadership spanning many years. Moshabela is a professor of public health and deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for Research and Innovation. He is responsible for a large university-wide portfolio of research management, development, ethics and integrity, capacity-building, innovation, entrepreneurship, technology transfer and commercialisation.

While he won’t hit the ground running yet, Arendse said, “We are excitedly looking forward to having Moshabela join UCT; and we have no doubt that he will be an excellent appointment to take the university a notch higher.

“Throughout the recruitment and selection process, he demonstrated deep knowledge and an appreciation of the challenges the UCT vice-chancellor may encounter. He showed a sincere commitment to agile, transformative and values-based leadership. The selection committee believes that Moshabela is the best candidate for such a time as this in UCT’s history, and that he will work with conviction and vision to ensure UCT’s sustainability into and beyond 2030.”


“There are a lot of challenges we are dealing with, and I am prepared to address and manage them with respect and humility.”

Moshabela takes over from Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy, who has been serving as VC interim at the university for over a year. Emeritus Professor Reddy has committed to working with Moshabela over three months as part of handing over the VC baton.

Prof Mosa Moshabela was announced as UCT’s next VC during a media briefing on 24 May
Prof Mosa Moshabela was announced as UCT’s next VC during a media briefing on 24 May.

Speaking on his appointment, the affable Moshabela, said, “It is important for UCT to have stable leadership and I’m prepared to bring that stability. I bring with me values I have gained as a leader over the years, and I hope those values will inject a strong sense of care and respect for the people here.”

Moshabela said an institution like UCT sets the tone for higher education in the country, continent and the world. “I joined UCT to take on the challenge of leading the most prestigious [higher education] institution on the continent. There are a lot of challenges we are dealing with, and I am prepared to address and manage them with respect and humility and ensure we build trust and a sense of community. I hope the UCT community will be patient … I know everyone wants to see UCT succeed.”

Moshabela said his history with UCT began with a rejection letter when he was applying to study medicine, so this appointment is something of a ‘full circle’ moment. In fact, when he became DVC at UKZN, he thought he had reached his career zenith.

Honest conversations

He also revealed that he wasn’t intending to apply for the vacancy, but with encouragement and convincing from colleagues, he shot for the stars and has landed comfortably. He engaged extensively with staff of UCT who allayed his fears.

“I decided that I’m open to what UCT presents to me as I take over. It’s a milestone to be announced as the VC, but there is a lot of work to do going forward and I feel my mind shifting already into that space, asking questions of what it will take to succeed in this role, both personally and for the university.”

With the level of expectation rising tenfold for this position at Africa’s best university, Moshabela promised open and honest conversation. “I’d like to focus on building trust with the whole UCT community – from academic to support staff to statutory bodies. I tend to focus on the job and the people, more than I do myself. Even as a scientist, I’m a people-centred scientist.”

Prof Mosa Moshabela
Prof Mosa Moshabela.

He continued: “People often think you lose your authority or power by being humble and infusing principles of ubuntu, but if you are a VC, you needn’t worry about losing power or authority because you already have it; you need to ensure you’re accessible and can engage with people.

“I have no problem having difficult conversations … at the end of the day it won’t be about what I want, rather what UCT wants. The advantage that I’m seeing about UCT is that people have a lot of willingness to see challenges UCT faces solved and put behind to move forward. Everyone is keen to course correct and move forward and that willingness comes with a lot of goodwill,” he added.

“We must collectively focus on building a sense of community and trust [to overcome challenges]. I had a conversation where I was interested in how deep the fractures are and I was told they are not defining of UCT and if that’s true, it won’t be too hard to correct.”

Moshabela was in the final running for the post with Professor José Frantz, DVC for Research and Innovation at the University of the Western Cape (UWC); and Professor Nosisi Nellie, DVC for Research and Postgraduate Studies at the University of Venda.

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