South Africa: A Joyous Communal Celebration of Staff

Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng called it a "joyous communal celebration" and it certainly was. The University of Cape Town's (UCT) Annual Awards on Thursday, 28 November, celebrated the achievements and milestones of a multitude of UCT staff, including 127 long-servers, 98 ad hominem promotees, two Distinguished Teacher awardees, the recipient of the Alan Pifer Research Award and the winners of the three inaugural Vice-Chancellor's Awards.

The VC's inaugural Service Excellence award was presented to Monique Muller of the Department of Chemistry, and the VC's award for Global Citizenship was won by Dr Susan de Witt and Barry Panulo of the Innovative Finance team at the Bertha Centre, a specialised unit at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB). The VC's award for Transformation went to Associate Professor Suki Goodman and the team from the marketing section of the School of Management Studies.

Hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), the gala evening also featured a cast of home-grown entertainers: dancers, singers and musicians. Speaking at the event, Phakeng said the winners demonstrated excellence in "their A-level service", through their pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of human beings and their contributions to the common good.

Dedication and commitment

"One evening is not enough to convey the full gratitude you each deserve for all that you do for the university community," said Phakeng.

"My view is that one of the reasons UCT remains at the top of the international rankings is because you bring a passion to change the world."

"My view is that one of the reasons UCT remains at the top of the international rankings is because you bring a passion to change the world for the better and that passion translates into quality that's measurable. Each of you do that in your own way.

"You come to campus day after day, in hard times as well as rewarding ones, to do the work that marks UCT as the top university on the continent and one of the top 200 universities in the world. This is no single achievement. This is the result of your dedication to excellence in your own life and your work."

Phakeng said that this kind of passion and dedication could be encapsulated in one word: love. In the foreword of the UCT Annual Awards booklet, she said, "We speak freely about our passion for teaching and research, for working with our colleagues and students or for keeping our facilities in working order. But what we are really saying is how much we love what we do, and the people we do it for."

She added: "In our campus community we nurture, we encourage, we assist, we discipline and offer advice ... We share each other's breakthroughs and wonders ... When tragedy strikes, as it did this year by the death of student Uyinene Mrwetyana, we unite and grieve and pray."

The shapes of excellence

The VC made it clear that the institution was not without challenges for staff - tackling transformation on campus, for example, remains difficult.

"[But] you are helping to show the world that excellence can come in many shapes and forms, in different races, sexual identities, nationalities and culture. You are helping make UCT sustainable by embracing the diversity that makes us a South African community. We want to help South Africans take their place in a changing world."

Phakeng encouraged the UCT community to remain strong in building community in their own distinctive ways and by embracing transformation and the transitions that accompany it.

"I hope this evening is not just an enjoyable interlude but also gives you a sense of your importance to this institution. Another way of showing love is saying thank you. And the UCT leadership is saying thank you for everything you do."

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