Professor Zeblon Vilakazi excited about taking Wits into next chapter
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Johannesburg - Wits University has formally installed Professor Zeblon Zenzele Vilakazi as its 16th vice-chancellor and principal.
In a dual ceremony at the Wits Great Hall and online last week Thursday, Vilakazi was officially welcomed by the chairperson of the Wits Council, Isaac Shongwe, and fellow colleagues and students.
Vilakazi was appointed as the vice-chancellor in January, taking over from Professor Adam Habib.
The Katlehong-born nuclear physicist joined the institution in 2014 as deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs, and in April was appointed vice-principal.
Vilakazi was installed and hooded as the vice-chancellor and principal by former Wits chancellor Dr Judy Dlamini in the presence of former Wits chancellor Dikgang Moseneke, Shongwe, the director-general in the Presidency Ms Phindile Baleni, intellectual luminaries, vice-chancellors from other universities, representatives from the private and public sectors, civil society, and members of the Wits community.
The event included remarks from Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande who described Vilakazi as no stranger to the academic community and university community.
Nzimande said he welcomed Vilakazi in the new position.
“We send our congratulations to Professor Vilakazi. We welcome you. Our warmest well-wishes to you. I am confident that Wits is in safe hands under your leadership.
“Professor Vilakazi needs no introduction to the academic community at large and certainly not to the university community.
“He has been an eminent scholar in his field of nuclear physics and a distinguished leader within the South African higher education landscape. He is widely recognised by his peers as the epitome of a world-class researcher who is globally recognised for his scientific work and for his contribution towards developing higher education in Africa.
“He has played a pivotal leadership role in the sector both as deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs here at Wits and as the chairperson of the Department of Science and Innovation,” said Nzimande.
Vilakazi spoke of his plans for the university and expressed his excitement about taking the university into its next chapter.
“Our world seems to be polarising and facing unprecedented challenges. It needs brave, principled, formidable graduates from our institution, and others, to meet these challenges, to explore and navigate the future guided by the compasses of reason, factfulness, and deep thought.
“This looks like a moonshot right now,” said Vilakazi.
The challenges faced during the pandemic such as higher education funding and sustainability, the changing world of work and the digital divide should not hold the university back, he said.
“Rather, they should drive us to aspire for a better future and spur us to new heights. Moonshots, combined with perseverance, will open up new worlds of possibility. It is time for Wits’ moonshot moment. It is time for perseverance,” said Vilakazi.
He emphasised the importance of universities and strong public institutions in society and reiterated the role of universities in developing active social citizens, leaders, intellectuals, innovators and critical thinkers.
Outlining three focus areas for Wits, Vilakazi said: “We must focus on developing academically excellent graduates who leave their mark on society; we must continue to conduct world-class research and foster innovation and entrepreneurship; and we must use our location in the economic heartland of Africa to lead from the global South. I believe that in the decades to come, we could have research that comes out of our university that will be Nobel prize-winning, and that work starts now.”