The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Annual Awards evening is usually a glitzy and glamorous affair attended by academic as well as professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff. However, with precautions in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the event will take place virtually this year.
Despite the restrictions on gatherings under Level 1 of the lockdown, the university is honouring various members of staff for their efforts while in the employ of the university. One such individual is Anton Johnson, a technical electrical inspector for the Properties and Services department. Johnson will receive a long-service award for his 35 years of dedication to UCT.
Johnson is responsible for overseeing the electrical reticulation and maintenance on other campuses. This is a pivotal role in the department, ensuring that the electrical services run uninterrupted on these campuses. Among his long list of duties, Johnson manages contractors; supervises other Properties and Services department staff; plans, schedules and organises maintenance; and ensures that all health and safety requirements are met.
Keeping it in the family
For Johnson, a long-service award is a rite of passage, as he follows in the footsteps of his father, who received the same honour.
“My dad also worked at UCT; he was here for more than 35 years.”
He explained that it was his father who helped him land his initial role at the university.
“Circumstances were very difficult when I grew up. In 1985 I was 17 years old and in Grade 11 at Grassy Park High School. During the June exams there were boycotts and riots – unfortunately, it was a very difficult time for all learners,” he said.
“I was at home during this difficult period and my dad asked me if I would like to earn money to help the family out financially. I chose to help and walked into the maintenance division of the Properties and Services department on 1 November 1985. That was 35 years ago, and I’m still here.”
“I love my job and am happy at UCT.”
Although Johnson initially saw his job in the department as a temporary arrangement, this transitioned to a more permanent engagement as his family’s difficulties worsened.
“At first I saw this opportunity as a temporary solution, but it became a more permanent solution to my family’s financial predicament as I earned money. I had a stable job with benefits and perks,” he said, adding that he has stayed at the university over the years due to opportunities for growth as well as job satisfaction.
“As the years went on, I got promoted to a semi-skilled electrical operator. I then qualified as a three-phase construction electrician and later was promoted to the technical electrical inspector during the restructuring of maintenance in 2013. I love my job and am happy at UCT.”
Changing spaces and faces
Being a member of the Properties and Services department, Johnson has seen his fair share of changes in the university’s infrastructure in his 35 years of service.
“Over the years, I have seen many infrastructure changes. Maintenance used to have its own building on upper campus with all of the different workshops, like electrical, plumbing, carpentry, painting, masonry, roof repairs and refrigeration. Now maintenance is spread over all the various campuses and even in the residences. I was based at the medical school for more than 20 years before moving into an office space at Meulenhof in Mowbray.
“I have seen the Kramer Law Building, Masingene, Bremner Building and the School of Education [housed in the Neville Alexander Building] being built on middle campus in what used to be bush [below] the M3 freeway. I was also here for the erection of the Kaplan Centre on upper campus.”
For Johnson, the only changes on campus that have been more striking than the physical alterations are those in the ethos of the university. According to the technical electrical inspector, the greatest contrasts can be seen in the attitudes of the people who work at UCT as well as the opportunities that are now available.
“Besides career advancement, peoples’ attitudes and demeanour have changed tremendously. We have become like a family.”
“When my then foreman walked me down the stairs from his office into the electrical workshop, he said to me, ‘You are walking into dead man’s shoes; you will have no career movements or promotions.’ ”
With more than three decades under his belt at the institution – and plenty to show for it – this certainly did not ring true for him.
“I guess I proved him wrong,” said Johnson.
“That is one of the biggest differences though. The opportunities you have nowadays in comparison [with] yesteryear are like night and day. Besides career advancement, peoples’ attitudes and demeanour have changed tremendously. We have become like a family.”
This sense of family is strengthened by the long tenure of other departmental staff, he noted.
“I have two colleagues left in the office that worked in the electrical workshop with me when I started in 1985: Basil Sikenaris, who started in 1983, and Gregory Ford, who started on the same day as me in 1985.”
More than just a trophy or prize, the Long Service Awards enable UCT to recognise employees who have shown loyalty to the institution and demonstrate its appreciation for their hard work. With UCT as his first and only permanent employer, and a record of outstanding service to the university, Anton Johnson is certainly deserving of that honour.
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On Wednesday, 2 December, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng hosted the UCT Annual Awards 2020, which serve to honour and celebrate exceptional individuals at UCT for their contributions through excellence and dedication in research, teaching and service.
The celebration acknowledged 225 staff receiving Long Service Awards and the recipients of the Distinguished Teacher Award, the Alan Pifer Research Award and the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. The evening also recognised those staff members who have received ad hominem promotions this year.
The Distinguished Teacher Award is the highest accolade awarded to teaching staff at all levels within the university. Through the award, the University of Cape Town acknowledges the primary place of teaching and learning in the university’s work.
This award is the vice-chancellor’s annual prize in recognition of outstanding welfare-related research. It highlights UCT's strategic goal of promoting socially responsive research, and honours a UCT researcher whose outreach work has contributed to the advancement and welfare of South Africa’s disadvantaged people.