Dear colleagues, students and other members of the university community
We are approaching the two-week mark of the national lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa. This is part of a global effort to stop the pandemic. It has required discipline from every individual and I am very grateful for all that each one of you is doing in your respective roles to keep the university going during this difficult time. Our lives have changed dramatically and every member of the University of Cape Town (UCT) community has had to adapt to a new and demanding reality.
While no one knows yet what will happen on 16 April 2020 (the date that has been set for the end of the lockdown), as a community we will have to respond to what is to come. This will take an extraordinary collective effort.
Across South Africa, higher education institutions are facing similar challenges and seeking inventive, sustainable solutions. There are sector-wide considerations being worked out in the spirit of protecting the academic endeavour and the future of higher education. As vice-chancellors across the sector, we are discussing problems and sharing insights.
I want to assure you of the commitment of the UCT executive and the Leadership Lekgotla (comprising the deans and executive directors) to do all that is practically possible to steer the institution through this difficult and uncertain time to the new normal. At all levels of our institution, colleagues are working extremely hard to ensure that the academic enterprise and its many necessary support operations continue, even in this new, remote working environment.
The hard work that is necessary to shift to online learning is placing enormous additional pressure on academics in particular, but also on the professional, administrative and support staff who contribute to the online enterprise with their expertise. In addition, the complexities of the times are demanding from all a new level of flexibility, transparency, and action-oriented adjustments to protect the academic enterprise and our institution. UCT’s response to COVID-19 is an enormous undertaking, requiring us to overcome multiple challenges, and I am humbled by the efforts I am seeing in our community. We owe a debt of deep gratitude to those involved in this undertaking.
But these are not the only heroes at UCT: across the entire institution, staff members and students are making extraordinary efforts – from their homes, working remotely, they are responding with resilience, creativity and endurance. Thank you!
Many members of the UCT community are volunteering to help serve people with many different needs. Experts and specialists are assisting at provincial or national level, serving on the front-line of this health battle. There are many other examples of the collective efforts of departments and teams, all of them focusing their creativity, energy and selfless commitment to keep UCT’s services and systems in working order.
The necessity to work remotely, coupled with the difficulties of lockdown, is putting unprecedented additional pressure on everyone. Colleagues are working harder than before, in more complex circumstances, as they deal with the demands of home, family and work in the same time frame and space. Students are facing their own complexities as they prepare for the possibility of studying while at home. The practice of social distancing is demanding in itself. It takes special, focused effort to keep from feeling isolated.
It is absolutely necessary to reach out to each other in a positive way during this time. One of the sure ways to overcome this challenge, as a community and as an institution, is to make a committed effort to connect with each other: with loved ones, with social groups, with networks and teams, albeit in a new way and with perhaps a renewed commitment to support and to hold one another.
It is uplifting to hear about members of the UCT community finding creative ways to do exactly that. Colleagues, for instance, are settling into new ways of working, finding ways to balance the 24/7 demands and to remain healthy and positive in their outlook. It is so important for each of us to take responsibility for our own wellness and for those around us. This is a commitment we all can make to ourselves and to those we love.
Another important commitment is to seek help when we need it. If you are battling with the stress of lockdown, please make use of the services that are available to UCT staff and students, even while you are off campus.
Every effort, no matter how small and personal, is a source of hope, along with all the tireless efforts being made on a provincial and national level to bring the pandemic under control. And for these efforts, both great and small, I thank each of you.
Please visit the Coronavirus Disease 2019 page on the UCT website regularly for more information and updates.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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