Universities South Africa (USAf) News Update

A fearless strategist will be missed in South Africa's higher education sector

The outgoing Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Adam Habib, was this week described as a fearless strategist who will be sorely missed in South Africa's higher education sector. These were the words of Professor Wim de Villiers, Deputy Chairperson of Universities South Africa (USAf), who is also Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Stellenbosch University.

Professor De Villiers

At the last ordinary sitting of the Board of Directors of USAf on Tuesday, Professor De Villiers (left) said he had first met Professor Habib at his own (De Villier's) inauguration to vice-chancellorship in April 2015. At that ceremony, Professor Habib represented USAf as the organisation's Chairperson. That occasion marked "a wonderful start to a relationship with Adam - professionally and personally," Professor de Villiers said. He recalled a remark that he, himself, made at this event, about Stellenbosch University not being an Afrikaans or English or Xhosa university but a national asset. "There was a gasp in the audience. But Adam made a remarkable comment in my support. Even the then Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training tore up his written speech to respond to that remark."

He lauded Professor Habib for having served the higher education sector extremely well "as a fearless strategist." Referring to Professor Habib's new role as Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London as of 1 January 2021, Professor de Villiers said "their gain in London is our loss; but we hope to still interact with him in future. On my own behalf, and on behalf of the USAf Board, we all wish him farewell."

All of this transpired on a virtual platform, with all 26 vice-chancellors linking in from their respective institutions. This was by no means a farewell event. Professor De Villiers was speaking during a slot created within an ordinary meeting to bid goodbye to a peer, in accordance with a tradition of many years within the USAf Board. Professor Habib did not offer a response, though, except to announce that invitations would be distributed in due course to vice-chancellors to a formal farewell function at Wits.

However, that did not stop members of the Board from expressing their own well wishes on the zoom chat platform. Among them was Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Pretoria. "Wishing you well for the last stretch," he wrote.

Professor Adam Habib, outgoing Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, will be remembered, in South Africa, as a fearless strategist and public intellectual.
Professor Adam Habib
Professor Adam Habib, outgoing Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, will be remembered, in South Africa, as a fearless strategist and public intellectual.

Professor Tyrone Pretorius

"Go well, Adam," Professor Tyrone Pretorius (left), Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of the Western Cape added. "Have the same impact in the UK higher education, my friend."

"Thank you very much, Adam, for your immense contribution in our higher education sector," was yet another accolade, this time from Dr Sizwe Mabizela (right), Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Rhodes University, who served on the USAf Executive Committee with Professor Habib for many years. "You have also contributed hugely as a public intellectual and as a fearless challenger of the fascists and those who have sought to stoke racial intolerance in our society."

Dr Sizwe Mabizela
Professor Francis Petersen

Hailing from South Africa's city of roses, Professor Francis Petersen (left), Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of the Free State, said: "All of the best Adam. I know that you will make a similar impact in higher education in the UK."

"My very best wishes Adam," Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (right), Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Cape Town, also scribbled on the chat platform. "We look forward to working with you in your new role."

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Professor Tawana Kupe

And the concluding shot, "Farewell thee well Adam, ex fellow Wits Musketeer," would be fired by Professor Tawana Kupe (left), once an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Wits, who went on to serve under Professor Habib as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Advancement, Human Resources and Transformation. "Fight the good fight for impactful higher education."

As he expressed his appreciation for the sentiments shared, Professor Habib introduced his successor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, who is set to take over the reins at WITS as of 1 January 2021. "Zeblon, these are the people that you will be in the trenches with, for the coming years," he said, pointing to the faces probably displayed on Prof Vilakazi's screen. In the twilight of his illustrious career in South Africa's higher education, Professor Habib said he was doing this on multiple platforms as part of his handover. Turning to his peers in the virtual room, he pleaded: "Please be gentle to him, in his honeymoon."

On that note, Professor Bawa, USAf's Chief Executive Officer, welcomed Professor Vilakazi aboard. "There are four physicists on the USAf Board now. The balance of forces is shifting", he quipped to general laughter.


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