UCT’s new VC, Prof Phakeng

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By Thandizo Chigona

This article can also be found in the print Edition 2 of VARSITY Newspaper.


UCT’s appointment of a new Vice Chancellor and beginning of a new phase


A new era was ushered in for UCT on the 17th of March 2018. Professor Rosina Mamokgethi Setati-Phakeng became the university’s Vice Chancellor (VC) elect amidst considerable support. She is set to take over from current Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price on the 1st of July this year. Phakeng holds an NRF B1 rating and a PhD in Mathematics Education.  She served as deputy vice chancellor (DVC) for research and internationalisation last year. Phakeng received a council approval rate of 75% during the deliberation process that occurred on the 17 March.

The VC elect accepted her position with humility, stating that initially, she believed herself not to be worthy of the job. However, following numerous nominations and given the current issues faced by the university, she felt compelled to apply. “Institutions need particular kinds of leaderships at particular times, so I was persuaded by the argument about the timing, the importance of the moment, to have my kind of skills and attributes being in the leadership position now,” said Phakeng.

Image from windsofchangemedia.com

She has also credited the majority of her success to the struggles of many who had preceded her and fought for the idea that “black people matter, that black people can lead.”

The VC elect expressed desires for increased strives in transformation, stating she wishes for the university to be “unapologetically African”.  She states that the university does not have to resemble the typical universities in order to be an academic leader. “In fact, what would give us the edge is that unapologetically African edge that we can foreground,” said Phakeng.

With regards to students, Phakeng made a point of affirming that they are the primary. She continued with empathetic words towards students’ issues stating that in a radically changing world it should be expected that student’s demands, needs and aspirations change as the context changes. She went on to say that she wants to find constructive ways of engaging with current students and the visions they have come to fulfil, alongside the executive. “We need to be able to teach the students we have now, not the students we had thirty years ago.”

Professor Adam Haupt (a member of the Black Academic Caucus) have not only expressed his congratulations but rather his surprise as to why someone of such exceptional credentials such as Phakeng was still deemed unworthy of appointment by some. He believes that this part of the story is not as clear as it may seem and questions the hesitations to appoint a highly competent black female, especially given the times.

Some students have conveyed their compliments toward the appointment of Phakeng, but few still hold some doubt. One student who wished to remain anonymous had this to say, “the fact that she was the DVC before this I think means that she is very much still part of the same authority structure that UCT had so I don’t see things changing very quickly after this.”

Phakeng takes over during an interesting time for UCT given the past few years. It can be said with certainty that the academic world watches and waits with bated breath for the era of soon-to-be VC Mamokgethi Phakeng.

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