A courageous leader who opened doors for many

23 February 2021 | Tribute Mamphela Ramphele. Photo University of Cape Town. Read time 2 min.
Dr Stuart Saunders (centre) next to Mamphela Ramphele (back right) and Prof Njabulo S Ndebele (back left) at the farewell gala dinner in 2018 for the outgoing vice-chancellor Dr Max Price (front left) and the incoming vice-chancellor Prof&nbsp;Mamokgethi Phakeng (front right). <strong>Photo</strong> Je&rsquo;nine May.
Dr Stuart Saunders (centre) next to Mamphela Ramphele (back right) and Prof Njabulo S Ndebele (back left) at the farewell gala dinner in 2018 for the outgoing vice-chancellor Dr Max Price (front left) and the incoming vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (front right). Photo Je’nine May.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Stuart Saunders for the courageous leadership he provided to the University of Cape Town (UCT) at a time of great risk and uncertainty for a country struggling to shed its racist legacy and embrace the opportunity of inclusion.

I am one of the beneficiaries of Stuart Saunders’ visionary leadership, which enabled me to not only enter academic life in my mature years, but to rise to becoming his successor as vice-chancellor of UCT. His ability to transcend the boundaries of his upbringing and to embrace the truism that there can be no excellence without equity, at a time when racist and sexist views were widespread in our society, placed him ahead of his peers and set UCT above the rest.

I had the privilege of not only being on his team as one of his deputies, but also to learn from his generosity during and afterwards. He taught me much more than can be enumerated here, but more importantly he ensured that I was connected into his networks, that to date remain critical to UCT’s fundraising successes. Above all, he remained my mentor after his retirement, welcoming me to the stoep at his home in Oranjezicht for much needed advice and sharing of the burdens and opportunities of leadership.

Stuart Saunders’ leadership style was enabling and combined hard work with fun for the team. The team bosberade (council meetings) were critical moments for learning to work together and to know one another as people. His wisdom and wit was remarkable 

He has left an indelible, deep footprint on the institutional framework of UCT, for which we will remain grateful.

May his soul rest in peace.

Mamphela Ramphele


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Dr Stuart Saunders

1931–2021

The University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted an online memorial service for former Vice-Chancellor Dr Stuart Saunders on 24 February. Dr Saunders was a dedicated servant, steward and supporter of UCT. He passed away on Friday morning, 12 February 2021.

Stuart John Saunders was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 28th August 1931. After graduating MBChB with honours in 1953 at the University of Cape Town, he did post-graduate research at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in London and at Harvard University. He received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1965 (University of Cape Town). He began his administrative career as the University of Cape Town’s Head of the Department of Medicine (1971-1980) and was co-founder of the university’s Liver Clinic & Liver Research Unit (a field in which he wrote some two hundred articles and co-authored a study that has become a classical reference). He was Vice-Chancellor from January 1981 to August 1996.

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