PROFESSOR BUHLUNGU DELIVERS THE 2021 OPENING CEREMONY ADDRESS

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Delivering his fifth state of the university address, otherwise known as the Opening Ceremony speech,  Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu officially welcomed the University of Fort Hare community to the 2021 academic year. For the first time ever, the event was held  at the historic Christian Union Hall located in the majestic Clock Tower Building on the main campus in Alice.

The event which was streamed live to other campuses and via YouTube,  was held under strict adherence to Covid-19 health and safety regulations.

The VC’s  address was set on three pillars:  

  • Troubled decade,
  • Celebrating resilience, and
  • Decade of renewal.

New Students  

Welcoming new students to the 105 year old institution, the VC encouraged them “to know every day that they are walking in the footsteps of leaders who have set high values. He urged them to make great use of each minute and pass their grades”.

Returning Students and Staff

“It is with gratitude that  I welcome back old students and staff at these trying times.  I want to take off my hat to this group for their fortitude, determination and resilience after the university saw dreams being extinguished as Covid-19 went on the rampage, claiming fatalities, some within the university community”, said the VC.  At some point there was concern that the UFH would not be able to conclude the 2020 academic year.  However, we finished the year successfully and on schedule.  He thanked frontline staff who braved the pandemic and took care of university property.  

The Troubled Decade

Prof Buhlungu took a swipe at the troubled decade that culminated in the independent assessor’s report which identified failure of internal controls,  a culture of self-enrichment and the university being a source of income for some.

 All of the above “contributed in compromising admission policies, staff and students trading with the university,  serious glitches of immigration laws, unsavory relations with service providers and abuse of university property.  The moral fibre of the university took a knock as some good men and women were silenced, people failed to show courage and report irregular activities”,  he lamented.

The VC also reflected on the recent Bhisho saga that has “seen the university in the media for all the wrong reasons. It’s a shame that the Professor (Ijeoma) had become a law to himself”.  He explained that law enforcement officials had to visit all university campuses to drill down more into the professor’s activities.   “The university is burdened by low trust dynamics and several political sideshows”, he said.  

Celebrating Resilience

Prof Buhlungu said the university should see beyond its setbacks and continue to produce knowledge, demonstrate resilience, attract the best academics and support services staff. He hailed the cutting edge research outputs that has seen the university being awarded another SARChI Chair in Sexualities, Genders and Queer Studies. 

 

DECADE OF RENEWAL 2020 -2030

Emerging out of Administration

The university ended the 18-month period under administration, as well as the inauguration of the new Council, which marks the beginning of the decade of renewal. The university has emerged out of administration with a new statute.

 During administration, the university worked very well with the two Administrators  (Prof Loyiso Nongxa and Mr Nhlanganiso Dladla) to craft a turnaround plan in response to the independent assessors’ report.  “We are poised to meet each and every element of the turnaround plan”, said the VC.  He was confident that Council would be pleased with the strides made by the university to respond to the independent assessors’ concerns.

He urged the university community to build towards strengthening the university to excel over the next decade.  “All of us must shift our mindsets and encourage others to do the same and take this university to new heights”, he urged.

Research Focus

One of several imminent shifts towards renewal is the unbundling of the academic affairs portfolio to create a new Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Partnerships and Innovation.  We need to raise the number of research chairs. The university is looking to launch a broad base research theme in order to energise the research unit (GMRDC) and attract more funding.

Senior Appointments

The university is in the final stages of recruitment to make the following senior appointments:

  • Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Partnerships and Innovation
  • Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Institutional Support
  • Dean: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Dean: Student Affairs

 

Supporting Alice Town

On the relationship with the town of Alice, the VC said Fort Hare should root itself as an anchor institution in the town of Alice and continue to support the town as it does with the wastewater treatment plant.

Student Village

In March 2021, the university announced completion of the state of the art student village on the Alice campus. The project is currently the biggest in South Africa and will accommodate 65% of students who are based in Alice.

Honorary Degrees

During the winter graduation in June the university is expected to confer three honorary doctorates  to:

  • Revered author - Ms Sindiwe Magona,
  •  President of the Suprement Court of Appeal,  Justice Mandisa Maya,  and
  •  Retired Deputy Chief Justice  Dikgang Moseneke.

Prof Buhlungu encouraged universities to honour people while they are still alive and it should be people who have made a mark in society.

Towards New Heights: A Shared Responsibility

In conclusion, the VC urged all stakeholders to shift to a mindset that seeks to lift the UFH to new heights and for all stakeholders to play a role in nurturing student talent.

“Everyone should be conscientised to be aware of their contribution to the growth of the university – regardless of their position or job description. All of us must grow and nurture these young people”.

Discussions that will culminate in the adoption of a new 5-year strategic plan for the university from the beginning of 2022 are already underway.  The VC encouraged all of us to use such discussions to say  to ourselves:  “How do we want to renew, reimagine, revitilise this institution?” 

He cited infrastructure refurbishment and digitization as areas that require urgent attention during the period of renewal.

Fort Hare needs sound financial management.  The CFO will design a new plan that will see all departments as costs centers, and in order to build reserves, UFH will have to take tough decisions”, he said. 

By Mawande Mrashula