‘You make us who we are’ – Phakeng on VC Excellence awardees

02 March 2022 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 4 min.
VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (right) greets Faculty of Health Sciences’ Assoc Prof Marc Hendricks, Prof Liesl Zühlke and Carlette Hlungwani.
VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (right) greets Faculty of Health Sciences’ Assoc Prof Marc Hendricks, Prof Liesl Zühlke and Carlette Hlungwani.

University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng hosted an in-person lunch to honour the 2021 Vice-Chancellor Excellence Award winners and acknowledge their outstanding work and service to the university and society.

The awards recognise members of the UCT community who make outstanding contributions to the university’s mission and objectives through innovation or improvement in services and/or sustained exceptional performance in areas beneficial to the university and its strategic imperatives.

There are three award categories: the Global Citizenship Award, Service Excellence Award and the Transformation Award. The 2021 awards were handed over at a virtual ceremony on 6 December 2021.

However, Professor Phakeng wanted to celebrate the winners’ and members of the adjudication panel and did so at an in-person lunch at her Glenara home on 28 February.

Global Citizenship
Global Citizenship awardees Liesl Hermanus (left) and Anne Isaac.

Cut above

There were two Global Citizenship awardees: Liesl Hermanus, for her service to the Hanover Park community, and Anne Isaac for her leadership in countering sexual and gender-based violence. This category recognises individuals or teams who demonstrate excellence in living out the UCT mission through service, the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human being and contributions to the common good.

The Service Excellence Awards were won by two entities in 2021: the Health Sciences Research Office for enabling the Faculty of Health Sciences research enterprise; and UCT Libraries for providing virtual services in response to the COVID-19 emergency. This category celebrates exceptional or significantly improved services to UCT’s staff and students.

Global Citizenship
The Baxter Theatre Centre’s chief executive officer, Lara Foot.

The 2021 Transformation Award went to Lara Foot and the Baxter Theatre Centre for the Zabalaza Theatre Festival. This category honours a faculty or department that has taken remarkable steps to drive institutional culture change.

Impossible task

In her address to the winners, Phakeng said the judges had an almost impossible task choosing winners last year. Not only were there more nominations than in any other year – and this at the height of COVID-19 – but each nominee deserved recognition at the highest level. This reflected the calibre of UCT staff, Phakeng said.

“The nominations happened in the middle of the pandemic when things were tough. We were all busy and tired. When we published the call, I wasn't sure whether we were going to get any nominees. And it was heart-warming to see the number and quality of nominations that came through.”

Global Citizenship
UCT Libraries’ executive director, Ujala Satgoor (right), and Kirshni Naidoo, Occupational Health Unit director.

Phakeng said she had been touched by the response in very difficult circumstances. It was also the first year that there had been more than one winner per category. There were two winners in both the Global Citizenship Award and the Service Excellence Award categories.

“So, I just want to acknowledge the work that you do; work where you go above and beyond what is expected of you and beyond your job descriptions. And this gives us [UCT] a good name. And we recognise that some of you do it under very difficult circumstances, and that you push the boundaries to do it. And that is very much appreciated.

Bigger impact

In many instances the awardees’ work had been recognised and appreciated well beyond the university, she said. Phakeng recounted how at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the country’s Constitution in Johannesburg recently, she met a former Zabalaza Theatre Festival participant. The festival had helped put him on the map, he told her.


“We are very grateful to have your calibre in our midst.”

“He said to me, ‘Thank you for supporting that initiative. You see where I am; that's where I started!’”

To the winners and nominees Phakeng said, “We are very grateful to have your calibre in our midst. You make us who we are … We are known because of your work.”

To conclude, the VC encouraged them to maintain their exceptional levels of excellence and service to the university and to society.

“I hope you keep doing more – and supporting others to do more – so that we [UCT] can become more.”

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