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New Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre gives meaning to Unisa’s mission

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The Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre in Polokwane is a thing of beauty, but is also a tangible testimony to the mission of the university to ‘shape futures’ and improve the success of the university’s academic programmes in the Limpopo province.

The first thing that strikes one about the new Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre in Polokwane is its modern exterior and imposing presence amongst all the buildings on Landdros Maré Street, Polokwane. It’s inviting, elegant and contemporary yet unassuming. Once inside, you are immediately struck by its utility, as evidenced by the availability of seminar rooms for discussion classes and study space, additional computer laboratories, a main hall for events, examination sittings, and graduation ceremonies, as well as an administration office for the Regional Student Representative Council (RSRC). The sleek infusion of African wood design into the contemporary style completes this elegance.

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Pictured at the official building opening: Prof. Moloko Sepota (Regional Director: North Eastern Region, Unisa), Tebogo Mabidilala (Chairperson: Limpopo Regional SRC), Sakhi Simelane (Chairperson: Unisa Council), Councillor Hafiz Shaikh (City of Polokwane Municipality), Ishmael Kgatjepe (MEC for Education, Limpopo Provincial Government), and Prof. Mandla Makhanya (Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa).

Not only is this student support centre a thing of beauty, but it is also tangible testimony to the mission of the university to ‘shape futures’ and improve the success of the university’s academic programmes in the Limpopo Province—a point so eloquently advanced by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Professor Mandla Makhanya, on the occasion of the official launch of the student centre.

The launch took place in Polokwane on 29 September 2017, during an occasion that saw the spirit of the late Professor Es’kia Mphahlele fill the air. It was an occasion that saw the convergence of the launch of the student centre and its naming, the eighth Unisa Annual Es’kia Memorial Lecture and the announcement of the 2017 Es’kia Mphahlele Reading and Writing Competition into a seamless tapestry.

In attendance at the occasion were social, political, legal and intellectual giants such as Dr Mosibudi Mangena, former Minister of Science and Technology and former President of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), Justice Makgabo Ngoepe, retired Judge President of the Northern Gauteng High Court, former Chancellor of Unisa and current Tax Ombudsman of South Africa, Ishmael Kgatjepe, the MEC for Education in the Limpopo Provincial Government, Councillor Hafiz Shaikh, from the City of Polokwane Municipality, Sakhi Simelane, Chairperson of the Unisa Council and other council members as well as executive management of Unisa and national and regional student leaders, amongst others.

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Opening of the Baobab hall.

In his introductory remarks, Professor Moloko Sepota, the Regional Director of the Unisa’s North Eastern Region expressed joy at the conclusion of the project and the eventual launch and opening of the centre, a project he said started almost ten years ago.

“We now have a modern facility that will assist us in offering access to an increased number of students who would otherwise not be accommodated in our old buildings, and that will support our students on their academic journey,” said Sepota.

Echoing these sentiments, the VC emphasised that the new regional campus was indeed emblematic of the university’s mission to shape futures. He reminded the audience that Unisa has had a strong presence in Polokwane since the 1980s, offering study facilities to a growing cohort of students in the region. “The first class centre we see today is the result of years of planning. It is the realisation of our ambition to be a national, continental and African diasporan university, in the spirit of Es’kia Mphahlele. As we cut the ribbon, let us reflect on our academic leaders and let us emulate their courage, imagination and scholarly transformation,” he urged.

Sakhi Simelane, Chairperson of the Unisa Council continued with the theme throughout his address, and also explained the significance of the naming of the both the building and the main hall.

The building has been named the Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre, after a hard-working and selfless student leader from the Limpopo Region, the late Clifford Tleane, who fought tirelessly for better facilities for Unisa students in the region. The main hall, on the other hand, was named the baobab, after the tree mostly found in Limpopo and known for its capacity to store large volumes of water in its trunk, making it a key water resource during dry seasons. The Baobab can also be used for multiple purposes such as shelter, food and medicine, amongst others.

The new Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre in Polokwane is inviting, elegant and contemporary, yet so unassuming.

“We are convinced that naming the student centre after Clifford Tleane shows that Unisa is committed to re-writing history by recognising and honouring local leaders as well as local fauna and flaura,” said Simelane.

The naming of the building and the main hall was done in accordance with the Unisa policy on the naming and renaming of Unisa buildings and other properties. It was an inclusive process where all relevant stakeholders, particularly students; participated by nominating and voting for the preferred names. The recommended names were submitted to Council, which approved the final names in line with the relevant policy.

The official launch of the Clifford Tleane Student Support Centre concluded with congratulatory messages from the Chairperson of the Limpopo Regional SRC, Tebogo Mabidilala, Councillor Hafiz Shaikh on behalf of the City of Polokwane and Mr Ishmael Kgatjepe, the MEC for Education in the Limpopo Provincial Government.

Dr Marcia Socikwa, the Vice-Principal of Operations and Facilities at Unisa and champion of the project delivered the vote of thanks. She echoed the same sentiments shared by the other speakers, reiterating the commitment of the university to ensuring that Unisa students have access to the necessary facilities that will facilitate success with their studies. Socikwa has successfully led similar projects that yielded student-centred and student-friendly facilities, including in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

*By Martin Ramotshela