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Transforming the higher education landscape

Unisa has been the home of strong women for many years: Prof Puleng LenkaBula (former Dean of Students) and Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (former Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation) in 2015 at the university

The Unisa Council is proud to announce that, in a move unprecedented since the establishment of the university 148 years ago, it will have its first female principal and vice-chancellor with effect from 1 January 2021.

This follows the approval of the appointment of Professor Puleng LenkaBula as the incoming Principal and Vice-Chancellor during the special sitting of the Unisa Council on Thursday, 05 November 2020. The unanimous decision by the Unisa Council follows a rigorous selection process to fill the position, including the requisite consideration and recommendation of candidates by the Executive Committees of the Unisa Senate (SENEX) and the Unisa Institutional Forum (IF).

This appointment is further testimony of the commitment of Council to the transformation project it introduced and drove relentlessly in the university over the years; as well as ensuring that its workforce is alive to and reflective of the demographics of the country and the gender empowerment wave sweeping the country.

LenkaBula, who is currently the Vice-Rector of Institutional Change, Student Affairs, and Community Engagement at the University of the Free State (UFS), has extensive managerial experience in higher education. Prior to occupying the vice rector position at UFS, she was the Dean of Students at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where she was a member of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office (VCO) and the Senior Executive Team. She also previously held management positions at different institutions, including at Unisa where she had a successful stint as Dean of Students. LenkaBula is also an internationally revered scholar who has published widely and serves as a board member on local ecumenical and academic formations, including the Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

The right calibre of leader

“Council is of the firm belief that this appointment bodes well for the future of our university, as we intensify our endeavour to move towards a fully-fledged open distance e-learning (ODeL) dispensation and to solidify our stature as a truly African university in the service of humanity. In Professor LenkaBula, we have appointed the right calibre of leader, who is student-centred and shares our institutional vision on decoloniality and transformation, knowledge-production, innovation, and advancing the socio-economic development of South Africa, Africa, and the world, in particular for the benefit of Africa. As Council, we commit ourselves to providing her with the necessary support to ensure that she succeeds in taking our vision of transformation and excellent service delivery to the next level,” said Sakhi Simelane, Chairperson of the Unisa Council.

To ensure a smooth hand-over, Council resolved to extend the term of office of the incumbent, Professor Mandla Makhanya, for a period of four months after it expires at the end of the year, until April 2021.

Move towards addressing gender transformation

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science, and Technology has commended the appointment of LenkaBula, saying it is a milestone towards addressing gender transformation in the higher education and training sector.

“We celebrate this indeed. It took the university 148 years to appoint a female as the VC. This shows that the pace of transformation in the sector, especially at senior management level, is very slow.

“Gender transformation is critical to the development of the country, the African continent, and the global community in creating a sustainable world. We congratulate the Unisa Council for taking such a bold step in addressing the under-representation of women in the higher echelons of the university,” chairperson of the Portfolio Committee Philly Mapulane said.

The committee has also urged the university council to further expedite transformation in other sectors of Unisa.

"Unisa plays a very important role in expanding access to education and training through distance learning to the majority of people on the African continent. Recently, the university has been ranked in international rankings.

“The committee looks forward to an engagement with Professor LenkaBula and her management team at its earliest convenience during its oversight responsibility over the university to ensure that the management, through her leadership, discharges its mandate in terms of section 27 of the Higher Education Act, 101 of 1997 as amended.

“We wish her the best in this formidable task and we urge all university stakeholders to work together with her to collectively take this African university to even greater heights,” Mapulane said.

Transforming HE landscape is her top priority

Listen to Professor Puleng LenkaBula as she reflects on her new role and what she hopes to achieve at Unisa as she joins Bongani Bingwa of Radio 702 to discuss her appointment.

*Compiled by Sharon Farrell, Editor, Department of Institutional Advancement, using sources from Unisa,, UFS, and Radio 702.

Publish date: 2020-11-09 00:00:00.0