Welcome to 2021

17 February 2021 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

My warmest greetings to you. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

We sadly start the year with the news that Dr Stuart Saunders, who previously led UCT as Vice-Chancellor for 16 years and continued to be part of the UCT family for many years after, peacefully passed away after a short illness. Whilst our hearts are broken, there is much to celebrate from the life of this extraordinary individual. It is hard to overestimate how much he has given to our institution and to society. Our deepest condolences to his family and many friends. We are preparing to host a memorial to honour him in the coming days.

As we prepare for the 2021 academic year, I trust that you will have enjoyed some rest and restored your strength after a tumultuous 2020. I’d like to commend our students again for their achievements last year in tough circumstances compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. I also extend my gratitude to a special cohort of students and colleagues who have been on the frontlines since the COVID-19 crisis hit us, working long hours to treat patients, researching the virus and finding effective strategies to fight it. Their remarkable dedication is sincerely appreciated.

We continue to hold up those who have lost loved ones and who are grieving; those who face or fear an uncertain future. Please support one another; COVID-19 is still with us and we must care for one another and be vigilant.

There is welcome news from Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize that the country’s vaccine rollout will soon begin. For the sake of our future, please support this. Here I’d like to applaud our academic staff who have so willingly shared their experience and expertise: in vaccine development and epidemiology and in understanding the social, psychological, and economic fallout of this disease.

Many are becoming household names through the media, making their research and knowledge accessible to the public and underscoring the importance of cutting-edge research shaped to African circumstances.

Many of our colleagues have been working long hours to prepare for the new term starting on 15 March. With only two days between the release of matric results and UCT’s offers of admission, our colleagues in the allied departments will be hard pressed to process the thousands of applications. Thank you. We recognise your efforts.

I am also indebted to the UCT executive team who have spent many hours around the planning table to ensure everything is in place to welcome new and returning students. It has not been plain sailing, but we’ve taken the lessons of 2020 to shape teaching and learning and research, by using technology to its fullest potential.

Hybrid model of teaching and learning

UCT will pursue the physically distanced, low-density campus approach to teaching. The same will apply to residence accommodation. Senate has decided that all undergraduate courses will be offered via a combination of online lectures and face-to-face activities in small groups.

Top of mind is health and safety. Strict protocols will be in place and staff and students are reminded to continue practising vigilance, wear suitable masks and follow strict sanitising regimes. We are confident that all teaching venues are safe, with appropriate ventilation.

Please make every effort to familiarise yourself with the latest academic calendar, below some events to note:

  • 23 February – National Senior Certificate results available
  • 25 February – Completion of undergraduate admissions processing. Residences open for postgraduate students
  • 1 March – Residences open for undergraduate students
  • 2-12 March – Student registrations and orientation
  • 12 March – Parents’ Orientation (virtual)
  • 15 March – Academic term starts

(Please note that the Faculty of Health Sciences works on a different schedule.)

Three new P-ratings

As a prelude to the academic year, I’m delighted to share some good news. Dr Christopher Trisos (African Climate Development Initiative), Rosalie Tostevin (Geological Sciences) and Ryan Nefdt (Philosophy) have the rare honour of being awarded P ratings from the National Research Foundation. This recognition is reserved for young researchers (normally younger than 35 years of age) who have held a doctorate for less than five years and are considered likely to become future international leaders in their field. This is wonderful news for UCT and the sustainability of our research enterprise. As you know, sustainability is one of three pillars of Vision 2030.

Staff and student support in a time of COVID-19

I’d like to return to this point to emphasise its importance. We have robust systems and technology in place for the academic year. But we also want to nurture robustness in our staff and students. We’re aware that people are carrying different emotional loads: grief, health problems, anxiety, hopelessness. Last year, the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS), under UCT’s Employee Wellness Programme, assisted hundreds of staff with these challenges. Please don’t hesitate to call them. Our Staff Wellness team offers comprehensive health resources.

Students, too, are struggling: with fees, other resources, health and a sense of alienation. UCT has put many services at your disposal. Please reach out to Student Wellness to tap into these.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, teaches us that hardships should not leave us intact. They should change us – if we can change the way we see them. As he said, “The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.

Looking ahead

When we launched UCT’s Vision 2030, we asked, “The world is changing, are we”? Vision 2030 asks us to be adaptable, innovative, and brave. Here we’re guided by the three interdependent pillars: excellence, transformation and sustainability. The question, ‘the world is changing, are we’?, is a challenge to all of us who call UCT home.

But at the start of this new academic year, I can say with certainty: “Yes we are.” In this I am humbled to be part of a strong and creative leadership team. But we’re led not only by an executive. Every one of us – students, staff and alumni – is an essential leader as we work towards realising Vision 2030.

I wish you all well, for 2021.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Read previous communications:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March 2020. UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, has in June 2022 repealed some of South Africa’s remaining COVID-19 regulations: namely, sections 16A, 16B and 16C of the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions under the National Health Act. We are now no longer required to wear masks or limit gatherings. Venue restrictions and checks for travellers coming into South Africa have now also been removed.

In July 2022, the University of Cape Town (UCT) revised its approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic on UCT campuses in 2022.
Read the latest document available on the UCT policies web page.


Campus communications


Adjusting to our new environment 16:50, 23 June 2022
VC Open Lecture and other updates 17:04, 13 April 2022
Feedback from UCT Council meeting of 12 March 2022 09:45, 18 March 2022
Chair of Council
March 2022 graduation celebration 16:45, 8 March 2022
Report on the meeting of UCT Council of 21 February 2022 19:30, 21 February 2022
Chair of Council
COVID-19 management 2022 11:55, 14 February 2022
Return to campus arrangements 2022 11:15, 4 February 2022

UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre

On Wednesday, 20 July, staff from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences came together with representatives from the Western Cape Government at the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre at Forest Hill Residence to acknowledge the centre’s significance in the fight against COVID-19 and to thank its staff for their contributions. The centre opened on 1 September 2021 with the aim of providing quality vaccination services to UCT staff, students and the nearby communities, as well as to create an opportunity for medical students from the Faculty of Health Sciences to gain practical public health skills. The vaccination centre ceased operations on Friday, 29 July 2022.

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.


“After almost a year of operation, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, located at the Forest Hill residence complex in Mowbray, will close on Friday, 29 July 2022. I am extremely grateful and proud of all staff, students and everyone involved in this important project.”
– Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.

Thank You UCT Community

Frequently asked questions


Global Citizen Asks: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe & Effective?

UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) collaborated with Global Citizen, speaking to trusted experts to dispel vaccine misinformation.

If you have further questions about the COVID-19 vaccine check out the FAQ produced by the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF). The DTHF has developed a dedicated chat function where you can ask your vaccine-related questions on the bottom right hand corner of the website.

IDM YouTube channel | IDM website


“As a contact university, we look forward to readjusting our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in 2023 as the COVID-19 regulations have been repealed.”
– Prof Harsha Kathard, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.