Vice-Chancellor Message - 22 May 2020

Vice-Chancellor Message - 22 May 2020


Publishing Date: 5/22/2020 11:00 AM

After weeks of switching to remote online teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 national lockdown, there is a glimmer of hope that universities may resume with contact face-to-face academic activities, albeit in a phased manner. This week’s announcement by the Minister of Basic Education Hon. Ms Angie Motshekga that schools are to reopen in phases as from the 1st of June could be a precursor to what is likely to happen with universities. As the Minister rightly observed, countries around the world have been easing lockdown restrictions to enable limited economic activity while putting in place measures to contain the spread of the virus.

I have also noted with keen interest the assertion by Gauteng Premier Hon. David Makhura that while more work still needs to be done to curb the spread of the virus, the province is ready to move from lockdown Phase 4 to Phase 3 at the beginning of June. Notwithstanding this, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Hon Dr Blade Nzimande has indicated that he will soon announce his plans for the post-school education and training sector. Without pre-empting anything, we await his directive with a sense of optimism that some campus-based academic activities will soon resume in a phased manner while prioritising the health of the university community.

It is encouraging to see that despite the national lockdown, academic activities continue at our University. In many respects, the COVID-19 pandemic has, once again, brought to the fore the excellence of our staff through your resilience, agility and commitment to students’ education and wellbeing. Through your efforts, lectures have been zooming on to our students’ smartphones and other devices, live from your homes. In strange times like this, when worldwide panic and uncertainty creep in, society expects universities – as the reservoirs of knowledge, skills and research – to reimagine and redefine the future. This resonates with our University’s Global Excellence and Stature (GES4.0) initiative, through which UJ seeks to position itself within the context of the changing social, political and economic fortunes of Africa, as a leader in the 4IR conversation.

Against this backdrop, UJ hosted its second session of the webinar series that reimagines the world after the pandemic on Wednesday, 20 May 2020. It was a valuable experience to listen to panel members provide their insights into what they think the world will be like “after” COVID-19.  Of course, as I pen this message, reference to “post” could also be metaphorical and a “new norm” could constitute “co-existence” with COVID-19. The focus of this week’s debate was on global powers’ (US and China in particular) responses during the pandemic, which provided for a lively and robust discussion. The panellists were Hon Dr David Masondo (Deputy Minister of Finance), Mr Grant Harris (former Advisor to President Barack Obama on Issues Related to sub-Saharan Africa); Prof. Dong Wang (Executive Director Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding, Peking University, Beijing, China); and UJ’s Dr Oluwaseun Tella (Senior Researcher, Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK)). I hope that those of you who joined in found the discussions enriching.

As you know by now, this webinar series is hosted by the IFK in collaboration with the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) and the Library and Information Centre (LIC). The series is coordinated in conjunction with our University Relations Divisions, which is responsible for its marketing and publicity.  It is designed to provide a holistic examination of the post-pandemic future: from the impact on humanity, the economy, health, education, the environment, and the future world of work. I urge all of you to join next week Wednesday’s event. Please register online at https://universityofjohannesburg.us/4ir/covid-19/ to receive updates and participate in this very important series. You may also subscribe to UJ's YouTube channel to be notified when the full webinar is available. Details of our next episode will be announced soon via our various communication platforms, including our website and social media accounts.

Our Library and Information Centre (LIC) will also participate in another exciting webinar on 3 June 2020 alongside other member communities of The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). The webinar entitled “University libraries beyond the campus walls” will share experiences in good practices and support services in order to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on their work. It will also explore how university libraries are continuing to function and support students, staff, and others, during various forms of lockdown at a global level. Speakers in this webinar will include our very own Prof Maria Frahm-Arp (Executive Director: LIC), Anne Horn (Director of Library Services and University Librarian: University of Sheffield, UK), and Ishwarduth Dassyne (Chief Librarian: University of Mauritius). To tune in and participate, please register here.

More good news is that our colleagues Prof Kapil Gupta, Ms Valentine Khumalo, and Dr Madindwa Mashinini within the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment recently won the People’s Choice Award at the U21 Symposium hosted by the University of Zurich. Their project, On Making University Workspace Clean, Efficient, and Safe Using 5S Technique, aims to contribute towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Their poster received the most votes from those who visited the online exhibition. Additionally, UJ had another shortlisted poster from the LIC, “Creating a Sustainable Academic Library in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. You may view all the Symposium posters here.  Thank you all for flying the UJ flag with pride!

Yesterday evening, I heard of another stellar achievement. Prof Ben-Erik van Wyk, Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, Faculty of Science (FoS), received the 2020 M.T. Steyn Award for Natural Sciences and Technology research and excellence. The award, bestowed by the Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, recognises creative contributions to the exploitation, organisation and continued development of the natural sciences or technology and its successful application, in the national interest. The prestigious prize looks at a lifetime’s commitment to this and can only be awarded to a person once.

On a different note, our University’s partnership with Namola is still ongoing. Namola is a free crime response app that allows users to share their name, GPS coordinates and nature of the emergency with a 24/7 response call centre. It has introduced a number of COVID-19 features and is accessible 24/7. The app features important COVID-19 updates, contact numbers, latest news, the WhatsApp line, and Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. With the current restrictions on movement, the app comes in handy for access to medical, emergency help and supporting loved ones. If you do not have the app, please download it here.

Lastly, please continue to visit our COVID-19 portal on the UJ website for important information, including health and wellbeing. Only information issued via the university's official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting: https://www.uj.ac.za/coronavirus/.

Should you experience any flu-like symptoms which include a cough, difficulty in breathing, fever and tiredness, or if you test positive for COVID-19, please contact the following healthcare practitioners at our UJ Clinic:

  • For staff and postdoctoral research fellows: contact Sister Elana Venter on 082 341 0299 or eventer@uj.ac.za.
  • For students: contact Sister Miemie Geya on 082 455 8451 or mgeya@uj.ac.za.

You may also contact the NICD via the hotline number 0800 029 999 or the WhatsApp line 0600 123456

We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and social distancing at all times.

The University leadership will continue to monitor the situation and any updates regarding the lockdown and the impact on teaching and learning will be communicated to you. 

With my very best wishes,

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg



 Prof Tshilidzi Marwala: Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ)