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This morning I experienced a multi-faceted insight into the role of an insightful, articulate and profound leader.   The newly appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, who in the days of Apartheid belonged to the previously disadvantage population in South Africa is now leading transformation at the University of Cape Town.    This institution is one of the leading universities on the African Continent and Mamokgethi Phakeng articulated her vision for retaining the excellence of the institution she is now leading.  The Professor addressed members of the University of the Third Age on her ongoing challenges in creating a multi-cultural hub for tertiary education.   This is despite the fact that a short twenty years ago this institution was reserved for White South Africans only.

The past three years there has been ongoing confrontation around student fees and what is considered to be a Colonial educational system.  The Vice-Chancellor has a critical role in helping this place of learning to become a truly multi-racial institution.  The present incumbent impressed me with her ability to do a great job in masterminding these critical changes in orientation.

She set a precedent by refusing to have the customary Inaugural Ceremony and asked that the money which would have been spent on ceremony, be contributed to pay the fees of students from impoverished backgrounds.   In addition she has donated 10% of her salary to a fund which assists post-graduate students in acquiring the means necessary for further study.

She emphasised the importance of the freedom of speech on a university campus.   Unlike in politics, in business, or even in a family situation, no reasoned discussion can be discounted because of its subject matter.   All points of view and all perspectives must be tolerated on the Campus and freedom of thought and expression could never be compromised.

Professor Phakeng articulated brilliantly the three cornerstones of her approach to leading this illustrious educational institution.   Excellence must never be compromised; transformation is a top priority whilst attention must be given to retaining the stability of the institution at all times.  The profundity of her wise outlook and her practical approach was beautifully articulated during her presentation.   However it was when question time arrived that her true brilliance was demonstrated.

The Professor was asked how she planned to create a sense of homogeneity in a campus where people hailed from such a diverse array of cultural backgrounds.   “On the contrary,” explained the guest speaker, “it is our aim and ambition to embrace diversity at UCT”   She went on to quote many education institutions around the world which were able to cope with students from different external cultures, as well as the diverse ethnic groups in their own homeland.   She continued to articulate a policy in which all values can be respected, debated and encouraged.   No attempt would be made to formulate a limited value system.

A doctor in the audience questioned the speaker about what she had learned when a talented member of staff at UCT had last year committed suicide because of the pressure of not being able to accommodate what he considered the rightful demands of students.   This man was universally considered not only a top scholar but a man of the greatest integrity who belonged to the Xhosa nation.

Without flinching came the response.   “What I have learned is that the mental health of staff and students must at all times be a priority.   Insufficient attention has been given in the past to the psychological challenges which are experienced by both staff and students during the present process of change.”   She went on to explain, “We have set up special mechanisms to encourage members of UCT staff to discuss their personal challenges.   There will be regular meetings at which they can receive proper support and counselling.”

I left the presentation feeling that my Alma Mata is in good hands.   The University of Cape Town would retain its reputation for excellence in both teaching and research under the direction of this hard working lady who understands the challenges of transformation and has both the commitment and the ability to bring her vision into reality.

 

 

 

In Cape Town we have been adapting during the past few years to a severe shortage of water, and how with our public supplier of electricity Eskom, going through major supply problems we are having to cope with regular electricity outages lasting a couple of hours, twice a day.

It is Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2019, and I have just returned from a game of early morning tennis and a swim. On reaching my home, I find there is no electricity and this situation will only be rectified in about two hours time. Under normal circumstances, my computer would be my next port of call, but due to the lack of electricity that activity is no longer viable.  Alternative occupations need to be found. No cooking, because the stove is similarly out of action. So I have decided to write this blog with pen and paper and transfer it to a digital format later when power is restored.

February is the middle of our summer, and we have a Mediterranean climate which means rain falls in the winter. Last year our dams were 30% full, this year is better as they currently stand at 66% full. In the good old days when local rainfall had not been influenced by the new hazards of climate change, dams were frequently reported as 101% full.   The only watering allowed in gardens is with the use of a bucket.   This can be done on only two days a week and only within a two-hour time frame. Washing up the dishes happens once a day. Showers are a rare luxury and ablutions in the summer most often consist of a swim at the gym or in the pool at the residential village where I live. Toilets are flushed, only when needed.

Capetownians have adapted to using about 25% of the daily water consumption when compared to the days when no concerns existed about saving water. This is the ‘new normal’. I will never use water from the tap without being conscious of the fact that I am utilising a scarce resource which needs to be consumed carefully and with circumspection.  This new respect for a commodity which had been taken for granted until recently now feels deeply embedded in my current lifestyle.

Having adapted to minimising the use of household water, we now need to cope with daily outages of electricity. The political conundrums behind this most unsatisfactory state of affairs, I will not attempt to analyse, as that I do not see as my role. However my interest as an observer of human behaviour requires means I wish to comment on the capacity of the man in the street to alter daily habits which may have been practised for many decades previously.   In the past commodities like water and electricity were consumed without any consideration for their finiteness.   Necessity has dictated that we are now constantly aware of saving water. In addition, we need how to adapt to having no electricity for extended periods.  Many businesses have had to invest in private generators to ensure they have a constant energy supply.

The present situation brings back a memory of a conversation I overheard some forty years ago. This was between my children at play with the offspring of some American visitors. These children from abroad were talking about pollution and environmental degradation,  concepts which were new to me.   It was the first time I had become aware that one should not throw foreign objects out of the windows of your car.

Again, in those days there were few cars on the roads, and traffic jams were unknown in this country. Today I am aware on a daily basis that more and more vehicles are on the road and I must budget for more and more time to reach my destination. Time, electricity and water are all in short supply!

My grand-daughter who is in her 20’s is doing her bit for the preservation of the environment. Whilst she has a post-graduate degree in the History of Art, she has decided to put her energy and idealistic tendencies into doing her bit for diminishing the amount of plastic that pollutes the environment. She is manufacturing re-usable cotton bags for shoppers for use when they go about their regular purchases of fruit and vegetables. By providing these bags for the temporary storage of their purchases, she is helping to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  Her range of products is sold at local markets and she is making her mark as a young person who is not only environmentally aware, but actively doing her bit to preserve the balance of nature and the natural ecology. https://www.instagram.com/kare_bags/