The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) celebrated change and welcomed in a new era of leadership with the inauguration of the newly appointed Chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi and Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Gordon Zide on 12 August.
On this day at the Vanderbijlpark Campus, a new moment was recorded in the history books of the university, witnessed by leaders, staff, students and the community.
“It’s a privilege and honour to walk this journey for the next five years,” said Dr Mkhwanazi.
Dr Mkhwanazi is a scientist and an internationally experienced senior business leader, serving as a director with several reputable companies. He is also the former Executive Chairman of BHP Billiton Southern Africa. He holds a BSc in Maths and Physics from the University of Botswana and Swaziland and completed an MSc and PhD in Applied Physics at the University of Lancaster, in the United Kingdom.
In his role as the chancellor, he said he wishes to see the university reach extraordinary heights. His vision is to see VUT competing as a world-class institution for higher education. He also wants to spearhead the training of more youth in the fields of science and technology.
In her congratulatory speech, Dr Anna Mokgokong, the Honorary Consul General of Iceland and Chairwoman of Community Investment Holdings as well as a close friend of Chancellor Mkhwanazi, echoed the sentiments of many close friends, colleagues and family.
She said there is no better person suited for the position of chancellor, that he is more than ready to take up is his new role as an ambassador and that he will do so with vigour and valour. Referring to him as “Ndonga”, which is his clan name, she said that with his experience as a businessman and scientist, VUT will surely move to greater heights.
“Ndonga, this is a milestone and significant achievement. Worldwide, women comprise 26% in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] industries. I’m confident that one of your first tasks in this new role will be to ensure that gender issues are of a high priority,” she said with enthusiasm.
In his inaugural address, titled: “The role of ethics in service excellence: a management challenge for the current and future leaders in the 21st century”, Prof Zide focused on his strategic vision for the university.
To the obvious pleasure of his audience, he emphasised the importance of leading with dignity and complete transparency. He added that during his tenure he will annually hold a public budget speech and a State of the University address as he feels it is important that a culture of accountability and transparency is perpetuated. He further said he wants VUT to produce many PhDs which may ultimately assist in decolonising education. His vision is to make VUT one of the best universities in the country.
“Prof Zide ushers in a new era at VUT. Speaking on behalf of all 26 universities in South Africa, we welcome him as the vice-chancellor and principal. Although he is not new to the field, we’re all confident that he’ll bring in a new flavour of management and leadership,” said Prof Ahmed Bawa, CEO: Universities South Africa (USAF), during his congratulatory speech.
Reiterating the importance of good leadership, Prof Bawa said that VC Zide has joined the university at a time when student and political actions are rife. He was referring to the high levels of activism and the current problems that are faced by universities. He says these cannot simply be solved at university level but require attention at a national level.
“Prof Zide understands that a university is nothing more and nothing less than its community. USAF pledges its full support and will work closely with VUT towards building a sustainable university environment for all,” said Prof Bawa.
Former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of VUT and long-term friend of Prof Zide, Professor Irene Moutlana, also shared a congratulatory message with her successor. She said that he is definitely not a stranger to the concept of making a difference. She confidently stated that she trusts him because he is a man known to spearhead transformation and bring about positive change.
Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa congratulated Dr Mkhwanazi and Prof Zide and wished them well in taking up the mammoth task of leadership in these uncertain times. Minister Molewa’s powerful message focused on the various challenges which South Africans, as a whole, currently face.
“Nothing prepares today’s vice-chancellors for what awaits them. They may think they are always better prepared but institutions are changing at a phenomenal pace,” she said. Touching on the university space and its dynamics, the Minister said that vice-chancellors often need to brace themselves for the impact that information technology introduces. “Knowledge is accessible and ubiquitous. So the authority shifts from the lecturer to the Internet,” she said.
“Universities must compete for students and funding. Unfortunately, the competition is not a level playing field. We know that historically disadvantaged universities such as VUT are still hamstrung by poor facilities and as such have to find innovative ways to ‘catch up’. Your appointment coincides with an economically constrained environment. Within this context, the demands are often unrealistic against diminishing resources. So, navigating through this space is a managerial challenge that must be overcome,” she said.
She further noted that neither Dr Mkhwanazi nor Prof Zide were obligated to take up these leadership positions. Instead, they were chosen and accepted the roles. In doing so, they have infused everyone in the university environment with a sense of optimism and resolve to work harder to make VUT a premier centre of learning for the country and for the continent.