Pretoria - The newly-inaugurated principal and vice-chancellor of Unisa, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, has been given the gauntlet to fight against patriarchy at the institution by ensuring that “people will be judged not based on their gender but on their competence to execute their duties”.
This was the sentiment of Unisa’s women forum, represented by its chairperson Professor Moahabo Magano, during the inauguration and investiture ceremony of LenkaBula at the hybrid event that took place under the theme “Reclaiming Africa’s Intellectual Futures” on Thursday night.
She said the women’s forum was delighted by the fact that LenkaBula was the first woman to take over the reins at the university after 148 years.
While Magano sang the praises of LenkaBula on her appointment, she also outlined women’s forum’s expectations of her in office.
“The 148 years of dominance at Unisa by males is a microcosm of the stronghold of patriarchal society we live in… It is reasonable for women at Unisa to have an expectation for a new dispensation, where people will be judged not based on their gender but on their competence to execute their duties,” Magano said.
She emphasised that LenkaBula’s ascendancy to the top post should “catalyse the demise of patriarchy in the entire higher education sector of our country”.
She expressed regret that only four of the 26 universities in the country were headed by females. Others that conveyed messages of support were the student council, Unisa black forum, as well as the labour unions Nehawu and the Academic and Professional Staff Association.
Speakers wished LenkaBula well with others encouraging her to take courage as she prepared for “a bumpy road” ahead.
She embraced the messages of support, saying they invited her to “ensure that Unisa becomes a site of excellence, care, community transformation and economic flourishing”.
She warned against mimicking the colonial past that “we want to overcome”.
“We cannot produce scholarships that continue mimicking the very colonial systems that we want to overcome, hence we need in our university to really exercise this idea of shared knowledge systems with the continent, but also within the country in order that we move from the margins to the centre and we shape, recreate and realise the potential, but also the important and congruent ideas that universities ought to form,” she said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa sent a congratulatory message to LenkaBula, expressing confidence that Unisa “will play even a greater role in our national life” under her leadership.
“As we collectively strive to realise the UN sustainable development goals and meet our own national aspirations, the role of academia will be as important as ever. Universities have a key role to play in preparing our young people for the new way of work, and for producing graduates for the work to help society to solve many problems,” he said.
Minister of Higher Education Dr Blade Nzimande, commended LenkaBula on her appointment, saying the move was also “an indictment on the country” that after 27 years of democracy it just witnessed the first black female vice-chancellor of the biggest university in Africa.
Former President Thabo Mbeki, chancellor of Unisa, pledged his support of LenkaBula and wished her “success as you lead this important centre of learning, teaching and of research to even higher level”. He said the university should grapple with a question about its role to bring about change in line with Africa’s agenda 2063 and the 2030 sustainable goals.
“The task of the university is to say in the context of the transformation visualised by those two agendas where does Unisa stand? How does it itself become an instrument of the change that is visualised in those documents?”