Change the world


An air of pride and absolute excitement was in the air as newly installed Nelson Mandela University Chancellor, Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, robed the institution’s first black African female Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, at the historic inauguration yesterday.

(Photo: Fredlin Adriaan, The Herald)

The hundreds of University staff and students who gathered at the Madibaz Indoor Centre to bear witness to history in the making ululated and erupted in song as Prof Muthwa, with hands pressed together as in prayer and head bowed down in humility, took to the stage.

Delivering her inaugural address, Prof Muthwa gave a moving tribute to her family, particularly her grandfather whom she said had a tremendous influence on her life.

“I wish to thank my family … but I would like to pay special tribute to my late grandfather, Mfezi Muthwa. I come from a humble but confident stock of peasants who, while they had little material means, had a huge conviction of a great possibility that lies in education as a game-changer,” she said.

She thanked colleagues and friends who had been a support network and, in particular, her most recent predecessor Dr Derrick Swartz.

“[Dr Swartz] has been generous in his support, and exemplary in his moral and ethical courage. Dr Swartz has been a steady pillar of support when the University’s quest for transformation was tested,” she said.

As the only university in the world to bear the name of one of the 20th century’s most revered leaders ushers in a new era with an all-female leadership trio, transformation has been placed firmly at the centre of the institution’s endeavours.

“We are a world, a continent and a nation in transition. Both the higher education sector and our University are also in a state of change,” Prof Muthwa said.

“We, as Nelson Mandela University, stand on the threshold of the next exciting stage of our evolution. It is up to us to define the trajectory we take into the future in the context of national, continental and global challenges.”

Referencing scholarly work on notions of transformational and transformative leadership, Prof Muthwa highlighted the University quest for tranfromation.

“In transformational terms, we need to work to make the University organisationally more efficient to serve our students, staff and community better. In transformative terms, we must give our University a sharper social justice purpose and praxes,” she said.

“Efficiency and social justice here emerge as interwoven objectives of the University. These are principles that permeate various higher education policy documents.

“Since the mid-1990s, higher education policy has been grappling with transformation. Significant progressive shifts in terms of expanded access and integration have been made.

“This is, however, simply the first entry point. Our student and our community protests rip open a key ailment in our society: our apparent tolerance for socio-economic inequality, and our acceptance of hardship and suffering made possible by the delusions of meritocracy.

“The role of higher education must inevitably engage with these challenges; and as Mandela University, we must purposefully generate a just institutional culture within which we can all contribute to the renewal of the curriculum and the academy in order for us to play this wider role more successfully.”

Prof Muthwa, who has been engaged in a listening campaign since taking office in January, said she had taken note of the themes that emerged as critical from those sessions with staff and students, committing to working collectively on dealing with them.

In her inaugural address, Dr Fraser-Moleketi – who was also inaugurated yesterday – echoed some of the sentiments around transformation.

“If we fail to accelerate, comprehensively, addressing apartheid power relations in our land – socially, psychologically, educationally and economically – we render non-racialism vulnerable and run the risk of threatening the realization of a transformative developmental state, besides failing the legends in whose footsteps we tread,” she said.

“Our universities have a critical role to play in this regard. Now is not the time for anger or aggression. As an institution we must grasp the opportunities that real transformation presents.”

Chancellor Dr Fraser-Moleketi (centre) and Vice-Chancellor Prof Muthwa join another equally formidable woman, Chair of Council Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill (left), making up the institution’s triumvirate leadership.

The trio are honourable and respected women, with an unwavering commitment to steering the University in emulating the global stature of Nelson Mandela and living his legacy of nurturing the most vulnerable in our communities, of integrity, respect and humanitarianism, and developing communities through high quality students.

Prof Muthwa succeeds Professor Derrick Swartz, whose 10-year tenure ended last year, and who hailed her appointment as an epoch-making moment in the history of the university. Dr Fraser-Moleketi succeeds Ms Santie Botha, who also hung up her gown at the end of last year.

For the full inaugural speeches, please follow the link:

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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