New UCT head fosters inclusivity

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng sang with the congregation.

UCT’s new vice-chancellor told a church meeting in Langa at the weekend that the university catered for all; not only a select few.

Speaking at the Langa Methodist Church on Sunday, during a prayer meeting to welcome her to her new position, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said people shouldn’t view UCT as a foreign institution.

She told the packed church that UCT was open to criticism and should be challenged if it fell short of what was expected of it.

“I can tell you, there is no perfect university. My first thing is to introduce the university to the communities. This is to say, UCT belongs, to people.

“For some reasons UCT is not seen, especially by black communities, as theirs. But I want to assure you that UCT is theirs. They should challenge it when it is wrong. But they need to embrace it, speak well of it, protect it and love it,” she told a journalist after the prayer meeting.

She said communities should be prepared to have a conversation with the university before criticising it.

She wanted to create a culture of openness in which students felt their voices were heard, so that there were no repeats of the violent protests that had rocked UCT in the past.

“I will be running that institution for us and our children. We want our children and their children and their great-grandchild to get quality education.

“We want to create a culture that when others want to destroy it, we protect it. I want people to give care to the university.

“I know what it is when people talk about black pain. I have experience of that. I am one of them.

“But we cannot stop at the black pain. We need to move on,” she told the congregation.

She disagreed with those who destroyed property during protests, saying people should not destroy the little they had.

She admitted her journey would not be an easy one and pleaded for public support.

The church leaders Bishop Michel Hansrod and Reverend Nkosinathi Geja said the faith community would support Professor Phakeng because of her ethical and moral leadership.

Bishop Hansrod said her appointment to lead an institution, which he said had a history of undermining Africans, had come at the right time for churches too, and he vowed to stop patriarchy at the church.

“You began your journey at a place that connects us all (Langa). We want to assure you how proud we are that a black woman is to lead an institution that made us believe that we are not human enough.

“Your appointment also challenges us as a church to deal with patriarchy and recognise that a woman can lead.

“Under your care will be young minds that will look up to you. So, we pray as you begin your journey. We are proud of you. Go with our blessings as one of our own,” he said.

Reverend Geja said he had been following news reports about Professor Phakeng and he had been particularly impressed with one comment she had made.

“In one article, you said, ‘Damn, I am a human,’ and, damn, please be a human. Maybe all our institutions, including government ones, need a human face. May God empower you.”