Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi installed as 16th Wits Vice-Chancellor
Professor Zeblon Zenzele Vilakazi was installed as the 16th Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University at a ceremony held at the Great Hall on Thursday.
Wits has the opportunity to transcend many latitudes and ultimately to impact on society for good. This was the message delivered by the Wits VC at his installation.
“The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally altered our world, but it also provides Wits with a fortuitous moment to hit the reset button and to envision our moonshot that could dramatically change society for good,” said Vilakazi. “You do not usher in a vision in a moment of euphoria. You do it because the vision you are articulating is as important as the other challenges which must be overcome.”
Challenges serve as catalysts for change
Vilakazi listed higher education funding and sustainability, the changing world of work and the digital divide as some of the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. “These challenges should not hold us back. 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,” he added.
Vilakazi was hooded by the Wits Chancellor Dr Judy Dlamini, in the presence of the Chairperson of the Wits Council, Mr Isaac Shongwe, the Director General in the Presidency, Ms Phindile Baleni, intellectual luminaries, vice-chancellors, representatives from the private and public sectors, civil society, and members of the Wits community. The event included remarks from the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Future focus areas
In his address, Vilakazi 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. He also outlined three focus areas for Wits: “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.” Finally, he emphasised the need to develop the African academy of the future. “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.”
Developing formidable graduates
The importance of developing ethical graduates with a strong sense of civic responsibility was emphasised by Vilakazi. “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, factful-ness, and deep thought. This looks like a moonshot right now,” he added.
“An inspiring exemplar for all Africans”
The Chairperson of the Wits Council, Mr Isaac Shongwe, described Vilakazi as the epitome of a world-class scholar, globally recognised for his scientific work, and for his contribution towards developing higher education in Africa. “He is a truly talented individual and an inspiring exemplar for all Africans. He is a symbol of hope for our students and an inspiration to our young scholars. He will lead Wits to its centennial next year, put forward a new vision for the institution, reinvigorate the African academy, and in so doing chart a way forward that will impact on our collective futures. I am inspired by his passion for progress and I look forward to working with Professor Vilakazi as he catapults Wits into its next century,” concluded Shongwe.
Download full speech: Remarks by I Shongwe Chair of Council.
QUOTES FROM THE SPEECH OF PROF. ZEBLON VILAKAZI
On creating hope for young people
“I would like to share a story of a child who in 1981, growing up in a dusty township east of Johannesburg watched as the Space Shuttle Columbia, the STS-1, take off until it was just a tiny speck of dust in the sky. This child was inspired to reach for the stars and transcend the latitude that apartheid imposed on him. This child found himself representing his country and continent at the CERN laboratories in Geneva, in what was the largest scientific experiment of its time. It is this child who, 40 years later, stands here to address you today as the 16th Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Our mission at Wits is to be the place where thousands of highly-talented young individuals from all backgrounds have the opportunity to strive for excellence and emerge as leaders who will impact positively on society.” – Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
On the important role of universities in society
“The role of universities in society is fundamental, especially in times of difficulty. In times of disruption, we need strong public institutions to remain steadfast and not buckle in the face of challenges. Our universities are treasure troves of knowledge that need to be protected, valued, guarded, and strengthened.” – Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
On developing active citizens
“We must continue to take people from different ideologies, races, religions, cultures, classes, and genders and transform them into active global citizens who are equipped to deal with the complexities of this world. Citizens that break away from their narrow enclaves. Citizens that will inspire the world. Citizens that are beacons of what is possible. We must continue with this tradition and push beyond our latitudes.” – Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
On research and academic excellence, and leading from the Global South
Vilakazi outlined three focus areas for Wits as it transitions into its next century in 2022. “We must focus on developing academically excellent graduates who leave their mark on society; conduct world-class research and foster innovation; and use our location in the economic heartland of Africa to lead from the Global South. We must transcend these latitudes if we are to compete with the best in the world from our vantage point.” – Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
On higher education
“The higher education landscape is changing rapidly and we need to move with the times but remain true to our core academic business of producing the next generation of leaders and knowledge that will have an impact on society. We need to be ready to adapt and embrace change in order to stay ahead of the curve.”
On developing the African academy
“We must aspire to create the African academy of the future,” said Vilakazi. “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. Africa needs to produce its own scholars who understand and can leverage the local context to contribute original knowledge to the global academy. We must create our own academic pipeline of academics so that we develop the next generation of scholars who excel in their disciplines, and who bring our unique, diverse backgrounds, contexts and knowledge to the global academy.”
On innovation and entrepreneurship
Vilakazi described plans to reinvigorate Braamfontein, with the help of public and private sector partners, in order to develop an ecosystem of knowledge generation, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and an innovation hub which could soon spawn Africa’s own tech companies, which will grow and multiply to scale. “We must create an enabling environment for the flourishing of great ideas that will herald this continent into an era of innovation, change, and growth.”
Download the full media kit including the media release, citation, images, voice notes, full speeches, sound and video clips from http://bit.ly/Wits_Installation.