“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” – Meister Eckhart
As Mihloti Mkhatshwa packed up her home in Johannesburg to start her new job at the University of Cape Town (UCT) a year ago, Eckhart’s words rang loudly in her ears. Although she’d be hundreds of kilometres away from home in a new, unfamiliar city, with no family or friends close by, she was ready to experience the magic of this new beginning.
Mkhatshwa was appointed as deputy registrar of UCT in 2022 and a year on, she has now settled into her new home, and her office in the Masingene Building on middle campus. And it’s safe to say that UCT and the Mother City are now home.
“It’s taken a bit of time, but I’m finally at ease. I’m comfortable navigating Cape Town’s roads – I even know a few shortcuts now. I know my way around campus, and I’ve settled in well at the office, which means I can easily get on with the business of the day,” she said. “None of this would be possible without my wonderful colleagues, who have taken me under their wings and really showed me the way. It’s daunting when you’re the new kid on the block, but they’ve made things so much easier for me”.
Office of the deputy registrar
It all comes down to executing effective academic administration processes across the university. Mkhatshwa said the office supports the teaching enterprise so that academic staff can teach, and students can learn. And having reliable and effective administration processes in place is essential to perform this job optimally.
“Today’s requests are not the same as yesterday’s and to provide the right answers you need to apply your mind differently every day”.
It’s an enormous task on which so many academic administration functions rest, including various general and academic rules and regulations that are key to providing governance and support to statuary bodies like Senate and Council. The job carries a large amount of responsibility. And because the goal posts are constantly moving, it’s not a job that you can do with your eyes closed.
“With some jobs, once you’ve got it all figured out, you can do it in your sleep. But not this one. It’s constantly changing. Today’s requests are different from yesterday’s and to provide the right answers you need to apply your mind differently every day. This stretches my thinking and means I’m always growing and that’s a huge advantage,” she said.
A career goal ticked
Passing the rigorous UCT interview stage and making the cut for deputy registrar has been a career dream come true. As the former head of the Student Administration Department at the University of Pretoria, Mkhatshwa said the role of deputy registrar was always one of her long-term career goals.
But it all came sooner than she had planned.
“Getting this job has been an achievement for me – a milestone, in fact, because it came knocking sooner than I expected. But I am grateful that I’ve been entrusted with this responsibility and I look forward to making a positive contribution to the office and those who we serve across the university community,” Mkhatshwa said.
After a full year in office, she now understands the nuts and bolts of the job. She has already hooded dozens of undergraduate and postgraduate students during three graduation seasons – a job that brings her great pride; and she continues to work alongside the registrar, Royston Pillay, former deputy registrar Dr Karen van Heerden and other colleagues in the office to optimise and streamline some of the university’s existing administration processes.
Mkhatshwa said her goal is to ensure that UCT develops the best higher education institution academic administration process in the country, and, in time, on the continent.
“I would like to see more universities coming to UCT to benchmark and to use us as a pristine example when it comes to best practice of our academic administration processes. I believe that with commitment from the team and internal stakeholders, we can do it,” she said.
She acknowledged that change is not always as simple as it seems. But added that when processes have reached their lifecycle, new and improved ways of working are necessary and must be embraced to refine old systems to advance the department.
Lead with empathy
As a woman in leadership, Mkhatshwa said it’s important to acknowledge the tough days and to show appreciation for colleagues’ hard work and dedication to their jobs. She said she owes her success to date to multiple individuals in the workplace who have encouraged and motivated her during difficult times, provided constructive criticism and assured her of a job well done.
Today, she endeavours to replicate this approach with her colleagues.
“I’ve learned early on that as a leader, it is so important to lead with empathy, to show appreciation for good work, and to be intentional about it”.
“I’ve learned early on that as a leader, it is so important to lead with empathy, to show appreciation for good work, and to be intentional about it. This helped me along the way. So, I always endeavour to do that with my colleagues. It builds morale, it builds trust and fosters good working relationships, which improves outputs. And what’s better than that? You don’t have to be a leader to follow this philosophy – it’s necessary from colleagues at all levels,” she said.
Mom of two
When Mkhatshwa logs off from her computer and locks her office at the end of every day, it’s family first. This mother of two said her children – a 16-year-old daughter and six-year-old son keep her grounded and give meaning to each new day. She described motherhood as one of the hardest, yet most rewarding jobs in the world, which teaches her patience, unconditional love, selflessness and how to lead by example.
“It’s been 12 months of hard work, but it’s also been a lot of fun”.
She’s happiest when at home. Although she admitted that since moving to Cape Town, she has accepted many invitations to explore and get to know the city, has enjoyed being out and about and has even discovered a few new interests.
“It’s been 12 months of hard work, but it’s also been a lot of fun. In this short space of time, I’ve made friends who have become family and I’m so grateful for that. They’ve made my transition easier, which has made my job easier too,” she said.
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