By Chantell Nxumalo
This article can also be found in the print Edition 1 of VARSITY Newspaper.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Internationalization, is amongst the first womxn of colour to obtain a PhD in Mathematics in South Africa. She is a pioneer and currently the most qualified candidate for VC. However, is UCT ready for a womxn of colour as Vice Chancellor?
The racially divided, patriarchal power structure of the university is notorious for circulating authority inwards to the bureaucracy. In that accord, Professor Phakeng is the ray of realistic hope that Black excellence is existent and inspires all womxn of colour to pursue their goals and ambitions. Professor Phakeng not only stands tall in academia but has proven to be a leader, and offers reassurance of negotiation and support to student movements.
How prepared are the white patriarchal individuals for this imperative transition? Phakeng said “If you say they have to be ready, then you are directly saying that whatever they have against that person is justifiable. If she is rejected when brought in then it shows that even if people were given time to change their minds, they still wouldn’t be ready.”
It appears as though appointing her is a method to mollify the student movements. Professor Phakeng is already being likened to Mmusi Maimane, and sometimes being portrayed to be an apologist. However, the student movement was never against Dr Max Price, it was against the system itself. As such, Professor Phakeng is sure to realise that our student struggle is not an individual vendetta but a generation’s motive for equality, justice and accessible education.
If the system remains untransformed, student movements will proceed regardless of the Vice Chancellor. Transformation is a slow process. Professor Phakeng, alone, in a white male dominated environment, cannot transform such a system. However, her reign will force the process to speed up. The students and the senate have been antagonists for some time, this could unify this university.
Bringing in Professor Phakeng as Vice Chancellor is revolutionary. She is our hope of decolonizing this institution and transforming this system. Being raised by a domestic worker must mean that she suffered from the same system during her time as a current student would, wanting transformation to get underway. The black students will no longer be limited to ground workers and cleaners for parental figures, but will be able to relate to someone deeply revered.
The Selection Process is in progress and it seems like the odds are in Professor Phakeng’s favour. What we can be sure of is that Professor Phakeng is the change we deserve, the Black excellence we have been waiting for.