Wits v-c sets out stall for transformation

October 31, 2003

Loyiso Nongxa's appointment as the first black vice-chancellor of the University of the Wi****ersrand is a South African success story, writes Karen MacGregor in Durban.

Professor Nongxa, who had a poor childhood, became the country's first black Rhodes scholar, an Oxford PhD in mathematics and leader of a top university.

The 49-year-old has firm aspirations for Wits, a transformed university with a high research output, improved academic standards and a diverse population. He arrived at Wits in 2000, from a top management position at the University of the Western Cape, to become deputy vice-chancellor of research.

Soon after, the then vice-chancellor Colin Bundy left to lead the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and was replaced by Norma Reid Birley, Wits' first female head. But she resigned amid disagreements over management last year.

After two quick leadership turnovers and a rocky period of power struggles in mid-1995, the university seems determined to keep Professor Nongxa long enough, in the words of council chair Judge Edwin Cameron, to "place a decisive stamp on Wits". When he was appointed earlier this year, he secured a R1 million a year (£85,000) salary package and a job until retirement.

He said the appointment made him want to "dance with joy"; he is excited by the chance to steer a flagship South African university at a crucial, changing time. All South African universities still faced transformation demands, he said - but they would be resisted if transformation was seen as imposed from above, as an entitlement to make amends for wrongs of the past, or "as empowering some people at the expense of others".

The twin goals of transformation at Wits should be to eliminate race and gender stereotyping in academia, and to enhance the university's performance, effectiveness and reputation. Other goals on Professor Nongxa's agenda are embracing multiculturalism and diversity, leading a national intellectual project and "appropriation and reconciliation": ensuring that students and staff from different backgrounds "feel a sense of belonging".

Transformation would emphasise raising performance and quality, he added.

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