“Personal assistants (PAs) are the heart of any organisation.” These were the words of Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Social Justice Chair, Prof Thuli Madonsela, who was speaking at the first meeting of the newly-established PA Forum, which took place at Lanzerac Wine Estate on Wednesday, 17 April.

The aim of the intimate gathering organised by Wildré Kok, the PA to SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim De Villiers, was to show some appreciation to Personal Assistants working at SU and to recognise the important role they play within the institution.

Madonsela left the group with encouraging words emphasising the importance of administrative staff and reminding them of the big role they play in the puzzle that is Stellenbosch University. “There can never be good governance without PAs who are leaders; each role is important and there is no such thing as ‘I am just a tail’. It takes a village.”

The day consisted of an overview address by the Rector who took the group through important university matters. “Today is about empowering you so that you can help us to achieve greater goals. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you and I fully support this initiative,” he concluded.

The Senior Director of the Corporate Communication Division (CCD), Dr Phumzile Mmope, informed the group about the services offered by her division to the University. During her talk, Mmope introduced the Acting Deputy Director for Brand and Corporate Identity, Marguerite Cloete, who spoke on the importance of branding identity.

The session included time for questions and answers, and the group was also taken through the Corporate Identity and University brand manual and toolkit.

Kok said, “As far as I know, there has not been this kind of forum for the past ten years. Apparently, there was some type of forum in the time of Prof Chris Brink (SU Rector from 2002 to 2007), when Johanna was still his PA.”

She said the focus of the forum was to create a space where PAs could feel comfortable while networking with each other – especially the new PAs who have just joined SU.

Kok added that the platform would be used to share information and best practices among the administrative staff. “This platform aims to create a shared sense of cooperation between the assistants and to build trust among them. I would like to empower other PAs and share my knowledge and experience with them,” said Kok.

“The role of a PA is a very diverse one and it changes constantly. In order to keep up with an ever-changing environment you have to stay on top of new trends and new technologies. This is what makes it so exciting; your work does not stay the same year after year.

“PAs really have to be good at multi-tasking because one has to do 110 things simultaneously – from travel arrangements, bookings and coordinating meetings, diary management and appointments, liaising with internal and external stakeholders, running errands, etc.”

Shedding light on the various responsibilities carried by a PA, Kok said, PAs carried a big responsibility to represent their heads and their institution. “It is never about you alone; you always have to keep the bigger picture in mind because what you do or don’t do, reflects on your head, your office and your institution.”

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