New Cape Town vice-chancellor promises ‘stable leadership’

Mosa Moshabela says he will seek to learn from the challenges faced by his predecessors

May 26, 2024
University of Cape Town
Source: University of Cape Town. Source: iStock

The newly appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town has pledged to provide the “stable leadership” that the institution has struggled for in recent years.

Former leader Mamokgethi Phakeng was forced out amid accusations of intimidation and mismanagement – later substantiated by an independent inquiry – while her predecessor Max Price’s office was firebombed during violent student protests, leading him to describe the role as a “poisoned chalice”.

More than a year after Professor Phakeng left office with a hefty payout, UCT has appointed Mosa Moshabela as its 11th permanent vice-chancellor, to take over from interim leader Daya Reddy.

Professor Moshabela, currently deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and with a background in public health, said he would provide the “stable leadership” that UCT needed.

“UCT has gone through a rough time the last few years,” he told Times Higher Education.

“There’s been reports that have been produced on governance failure issues, and a sense that the community within the university is fragmented and polarised and they need to be more cohesive.”

Professor Moshabela said there were “leadership gaps” at many South African institutions, and that UCT had had difficulty appointing someone from within the organisation, which caused further uncertainty.

The medic said that “keeping the ship steady” would depend a lot on relationships and appointing the right people to the other vacancies within the executive, but he was ready for the challenges that previous leaders faced.

“I can’t avoid them. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have my own experiences,” he said.

“Just because I’m going to face the difficulties doesn’t mean that I should avoid or shy away from it.

“I’m hoping that I can form a relationship somewhat with the previous vice-chancellors of UCT…in order to learn how one might limit the pitfalls, or their impact, that I’m sure I’m going to face, I’m not naive about that.”

Professor Moshabela said he was honoured to become one of just a handful of black leaders in UCT’s history, but was very happy in his former position as a deputy.

“I loved the job, and I didn’t have to deal with politics or problems that v-cs have to deal with.

“But I understand the imperative and how important it is for UCT to do this – it will inspire a lot of people to still be associated with UCT.”

When he takes over on 1 October, the chair of the governing board at the National Research Foundation will assume one of the most high-profile jobs in the country.

But it is one his public role as health commissioner to the premier (provincial government leader) of KwaZulu-Natal during the pandemic will have prepared him for.

“I’m quite aware of the big responsibility,” he said.

“UCT is not just an institution for the Western Cape province of South Africa, it’s for the whole continent and it’s a really an entity for the world.”

The wider sector is also facing many problems. Professor Moshabela said that the next higher education minister needs to sort out the country’s flailing National Student Financial Aid Scheme, help come up with solutions to the massification of education, and increase funding in research and development.

Norman Arendse, chair of the UCT council, thanked Professor Reddy for “renewing some of the lost confidence” in the university.

He said Professor Moshabela was joining at a “crucial, critical period”, and would help UCT to maintain its position as the premier university in Africa.

“It’s very important that we do attract and retain the cream of the crop in the academic world,” Mr Arendse said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

When Rhodes and fees both fell and Africa’s top university appointed its third black leader, hopes were raised that South African higher education was moving into a new era of equality. But several years on, funding pressures and governance failures still abound. Patrick Jack reports from Cape Town 

Related universities