Dear colleagues, students and members of the university community
I trust that you, your families and loved ones are coping under these difficult circumstances.
When I last communicated with you on 28 March, we were two days into the first stage of the COVID-19 lockdown, with little idea of what was to come or how long we would be in isolation; our families, work and studies disrupted in a way none of us could have imagined.
While I am grateful that the number of infections at UCT have remained low, I know that the situation in our communities and homes can change quickly as the virus infections begin to peak.
I am thinking of you all and standing by you at this time. I want to voice my support and gratitude by way of this letter.
Like institutions across the globe, UCT is facing a highly complex and evolving situation. I applaud the UCT executive and the Leadership Lekgotla of deans and executive directors, headed by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng who lead and manage this institution, a community of 34 000 staff and students, with courage, dignity and compassion.
I applaud our academic staff, for their dedication and resilience, which I know has been experienced by all our students in the form of the many remote teaching innovations you had to create and launch at very short notice. I also applaud those UCT researchers who are a part of the collective drive to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. I am most grateful for what each of you is contributing to this fight.
I applaud our professional, administrative and service staff for their work to keep the university’s systems operational under trying circumstances. Thank you also to our alumni who so generously support us. Your continued support is invaluable to keeping our institution operational.
We do not know when the stages of lockdown will end. Indications are that COVID-19 will be with us until a viable vaccine has been found and that we know from the scientific community and media reports, is many months down the line.
I am very aware of the difficulties students face in adapting to new ways of being taught and learning, especially when your environment is not ideal. Again, may I urge you to stand together. Look after one another, practise self-care, reach out to those who are struggling, and take one day at a time. Do your best every day, and in the end you will look back and be rewarded for your resilience and strength shown during this time.
I am also mindful of the leadership, past and present, that we are able to draw on at this time. We look to leaders such as Ma Sisulu, Albertina, one of the great mothers of our Nation, whose story and legacy can guide and inspire us now.
Pandemic was a word well known to her. Ma Sisulu was born into a global pandemic. It was 1918, the year the Spanish flu swept the globe; killing 50 million people worldwide and 30 000 alone in the Transkei, her birthplace.
The flu, or ‘umbathalala,’ was especially dangerous for pregnant women and babies. But Ma Sisulu survived. With her unfaltering spirit, she became one of the great inspirations of our nation, steadfast in her leadership and beliefs in the face of apartheid.
Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu said of Ma Sisulu, “…try as they might, they could not break her spirit, they could not defeat her love.” At the height of the struggle in the 1980s, she called on communities to “stand up and protect each other”.
We must stand up and protect one another, too, with strength and compassion. Seek help when you 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 if you are far from campus.
May I urge you to also visit the Coronavirus Disease 2019 page on the UCT website regularly for more information and updates.
This too shall pass. The pandemic will not last forever. But our lives will never be the same again. It will take all of us to bring this pandemic to heel and then to begin dealing humanely with its impact on our society, and our UCT community. In the months ahead, we’ll be called on to start reimagining our nation. I believe we will do so with new insight, energy and empathy.
Once again, I am thinking of you and standing with you in the knowledge that our collective responses will make us stronger together.
Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe
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