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Pathfinder to illuminate the path for more women

- Wits University

A woman of many firsts, Prof. Nthabiseng Audrey Ogude has been appointed CEO of the Female Academic Leaders Fellowship programme.

Prof. Nthabiseng Ogude appointed CEO of the Female Academic Leaders Fellowship (FALF) programme

Ogude is a groundbreaker who has more than 30 years’ experience in higher education. The Analytical Chemist and Science Educator took her seat on 1 June 2024 and brings critical skills into the position having climbed to the highest echelons of academia – both as an educator and a leader.

Launched in 2021, the Female Academic Leaders Fellowship (FALF) programme advocates and provides financial support and mentorship to African and mixed-race (coloured) South African women. The main objective is to transform the racial and gender profile of academic leaders and transform knowledge production and promote inclusion and equity.

Professor Ogude has held senior management positions as Vice-President of the Pan African University, Vice-Chancellor at Tshwane University of Technology, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Student Affairs at the University of Pretoria, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic (Research and Teaching & Learning) at the former University of Port Elizabeth as well as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research, Technology and Innovation) at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. She was the first Black woman to hold these strategic leadership positions.

Ogude says her current position feels like a dream come true and is an opportunity to continue contributing to women empowerment. Having left for exile with her parents shortly after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, Ogude says she was devastated upon her return to witness the legacy of apartheid.

“Growing up in Lesotho (where she completed her BSc degree), I was always surrounded by women scientists.” Black women scientists were also common at the University of Nairobi where she read for her Masters in Analytical Chemistry. It was thus both a moment of triumph and sadness when she became the first Black woman to receive a PhD degree in Chemistry at Wits University in 1992.

Although she knew that apartheid was aimed at keeping black people intellectually and materially inferior, the full gravity and extent of its impact only dawned on her, on her return. She was disturbed on realising how it impacted on her students and how females of her generation were disenfranchised by being denied a decent education. Just because of the time and place they were born, “Somebody decided their future,” she says referring to the apartheid regime which limited the educational attainment of the African population.

Her belief system was severely tested by the intractable legacies of apartheid and resolved that “as black women we should not allow such injustice to happen again.”

Her upbringing and ascent in academia is captured in her book The Making of a Sharpeville Girl: Narratives of Educational Experiences in Exile and on the Return to South Africa, published by Staging Post in 2023.

Frontrunners contributing to the transformation of academia - Prof. Nthabiseng Ogude, FALF CEO, with Dr Judy Dlamini, Wits Chancellor and Founder of FALF

Progress but limited mobility

Although the face of academia is changing, the mobility of women into strategic positions is still a problem, she says.

In her role as the CEO and working closely with the FALF Board, she will provide strategic leadership and direction to FALF and ensure that its mission and vision remain compelling. Key to her role will be to manage the Fellowship Programme and ensure that it continues to grow to all 26 public universities and become sustainable.

Dr Judy Dlamini, Wits Chancellor and Founder of FALF says it is an honour to have someone of Prof. Ogude’s calibre with a passion for upliftment, lead the FALF organisation.

“While all public universities have initiatives to redress what was well structured and implemented apartheid policies, none use an intersectional approach to transformation. As shown by several studies the current approach that assumes that all women are the same leads to inequitable benefits for different racial groups, leaving African and Coloured South African women at the bottom of the value chain.”

 “South Africa’s commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially SDG 5 and 10, require an approach that prioritises those that are most left behind, first. This is what FALF seeks to achieve starting at Wits University and scaling to all 26 public universities with the next three years. FALF is on track to have 100 Fellows in her first five years, with 91 after only four years. The FALF CEO will lead the launch of two Research Chairs, the GBVF Research Chair at Wits and the Entrepreneurship and Financial Inclusion Research Chair which will be hosted at Tshwane University of Technology. We look forward to Prof. Ogude’s leadership, growing FALF to be a national movement,” explains Dlamini. 

Ogude is passionate about mentoring academic leaders especially women to succeed and excel in their careers. She has wide experience in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, has several papers published in accredited journals. Her research interests are in the areas of science / chemistry education, women in science, student access and success, higher education policy, and academic management and leadership. She is an American Council on Higher Education Fellow, a member of several professional organizations and served as chairperson and member of several university committees and external Councils and Boards. 

A full life

She is married to Professor James Ogude, Director of the Centre for Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria and has two children, Dr Didi Refiloe Ogude, a lecturer at Oxford University, London and Dr Omondi Thabo Ogude, an Oncologist based at Sandton Oncology Clinic. She is a proud grandmother of three children, Leo, Mila and Naia.

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