Tell us more about the new position you have taken up. What does it entail?
My new portfolio consists of two central focus areas. Firstly, it is about Stellenbosch University’s impact on society, inter alia through our research, and how society can help SU become more relevant to our country and continent. Secondly, it is about so-called “embedded transformation” – entrenching transformation in what we do and how we do it. In this way, SU seeks to renew itself to keep pace with global trends, but at the same time remain sensitive to our unique national context. We will therefore be transforming to be more geared towards addressing the challenges of our context. We will also be transforming to rid ourselves of the burden of injustice associated with our share in history. Hopefully, we will be able to point out the constructive possibilities associated with transformation and renewal by helping South Africa and other parts of the world showcase the potential of true, radical and embedded transformation. And in the process, we hope to have an impact on our immediate society also.
Your title differs from your predecessor’s – how has this changed the focus of the job?
What has changed is that the Division for Social Impact, the Transformation Office, the SU Museum as well as the SU Woordfees now report to me. I am convinced that collectively, these divisions could have a profound and positive impact on the campus community, our town and our country. Using art and critical conversations, the SU Museum does excellent work to ensure that we are aware of our history as well as the part we can play in society. The SU Woordfees, in turn, enhances our impact on our town and the broader South African society by harnessing the arts to get and keep us talking, to truly see and understand one another and to co-exist in an interconnected way.
Having adopted SU’s Social Impact Strategic Plan as well as the Transformation Plan, we have changed the way we think about our impact on society and society’s impact on us. We have also changed our thinking about transformation in the context of SU and of South Africa. My portfolio, along with various other SU environments, must assist in further activating the plans, measuring the outcomes and gearing up our university community for new possibilities.
You previously headed up the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development. What were some of your highlights during that time, and which of those experiences may be useful in your new capacity?
The direct interaction with students as well as internal and external partners was undoubtedly a highlight. We could think and engage critically about the challenges and opportunities of our country. The students took me on a journey of fresh perspectives on the development opportunities of our country, and their role in the process – true to Van Zyl Slabbert’s legacy. I hope to maintain this direct contact with the students.
Perhaps this very notion of critical discourse and interaction with students, staff and various internal and external partners will assist me in the new position, which comes with plenty challenges and opportunities.
How can your new division help to gear SU for the future?
SU is at a wonderful stage of its history. With Centenary 2018 approaching, we’re looking back and looking forward at the same time. This enables us to recall SU’s story – including the painful part of a university that was loyal to a political philosophy characterised by exclusion, discrimination and putting up walls. Now we can also think differently about our story, and by making structural changes, we hope never to repeat the mistakes of the past. This is something in which we’ll invest a lot of effort.
We have also adopted a completely different view of our role in the country and on the continent. Within the framework of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, all our social impact initiatives as well as our strongest research themes are for example geared towards making SU’s role and impact felt in our country and particularly also on our continent. So, my environment will support the broader university community to truly realise the potential of a new African university in a global world.
You have been with SU for some time – what about the institution inspires you to stay?
SU is a place of vast opportunity. The human capital offers immense energy and many possibilities for our immediate community and beyond. As long as we stay closely connected to our communities and open to the impact of our contexts, SU will be able to take its place as an agent of renewal in South Africa as well as an increasingly relevant global player. It is incredible to be part of a community humble enough to admit its own mistakes and to start thinking differently, particularly also about how we could help create a better life for others.
Five Stellenbosch University professors delivered their inaugural lectures over the past two months.read more
On 18 July, Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated across the world. KIM WALE asks how we can tend to the unfinished work of Mandela’s legacy.read more
This quarter, the inaugural lectures of four new SU professors were held.read more