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Unisa concludes its milestone 150th anniversary on a high note

On 28 June, Unisa concluded its 150th anniversary celebrations with a gala dinner at the Maslow, Time Square, Tshwane, with over 50 diplomats and other luminaries in attendance.

Impactful education

In his welcome address, Dr Dan Mosia, Chairperson of Council, stated that this celebration  acknowledges and celebrates the university’s remarkable achievements over its 150 years of shaping futures, changing lives and being of service to humanity, anywhere in the world. Furthermore, Mosia said the university is the only one in South Africa that has a physical footprint outside the country’s borders. He continued: “We have a regional learning centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which functions as a hub that extends our impactful education. In Eritrea, the university trained and graduated about 30 law students.”


From left: Dr Dan Mosia, Chairperson of Council, Nkosinathi Mabilane, NSRC President, and Advocate Shireen Said, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services

Mosia said the university has played a significant role in that many individuals who would not have access to study elsewhere, including many struggle stalwarts such as Presidents Nelson Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa, among others, were able to study with the university, thanks to its impactful open, distance and eLearning (ODeL) modality of teaching.

Concluding, Mosisa said: “For the next 150 years and beyond, may the university, with has students and alumni in 130 countries worldwide, and has served over a million students during its sesquicentennial existence, continue to provide impactful education.”


Nkosinathi Mabilane, President of Unisa’s National Student Representative Council (NSRC), lauded the university’s responsiveness towards the needs of students. He added: “The university fosters an atmosphere where individuals can reach their full potential, providing students with the necessary resources and support to reach their dreams.”

Mabilane stated that the university, in its 150 years of existence, has always stood at the forefront of promoting inclusivity and diversity, which, he added, “includes a welcoming environment for all student regardless of their background. We celebrate this diversity as we endeavour to create a culture that underscores respect and values enshrined as the cornerstone of the university.”

Major milestone

“This is a major milestone for the university that has stood the test of time in a constitutional democracy that has turned 30 years,” said Advocate Shireen Said, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services.

Said stated that inequality remains a challenge globally, however, the university has taken steps to address this issue by providing accessible, affordable and high-quality education to the marginalised, and through partnering with local and international organisations to promote equality.

Concluding, Said stated: “As we commemorate the 30 years of the country’s constitutional democracy, let us be reminded that Unisa will always be the grandmother of all universities in the country, with its unparallelled and globally accessible education.”

Non-negotiable quality education

Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), said that the university was the first to teach through distance learning, and during the aftermath of COVID-19, when many institutions including those of higher learning, were grappling which change due to lockdown measures, “Unisa was among the few fully functional institutions of higher learning in the country and globally.  Many universities drew inspiration and lessons from us.”

The VC stated that the university, with over 380 00 students, is responsible for between 33% to 37% of the higher learning intake, adding, “our success and our quality of teaching and learning are non-negotiable, as we not only produce graduates to look for jobs but to create them.”

Concluding, the VC reminded the audience that as the 150th anniversary of the university draws to a close, “we are reminded that the sky is not a limit, but a mere horizon.”

150 years and beyond

In his keynote address, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, CEO of the National Research Foundation, said that very rarely do organisation or companies make it to 150 years. He continued: “It is a rare occurrence in this day and age to come across an organisation that has managed to exist sustainably for over a century. Given the market and political turbulences associated with the 21st  century, very few organisations survive into their centenary years. The Harvard Business Review tells us that in the United Stated, the average lifespan of S&P (Standard and Poor) listed companies has fallen by 80 per cent in the last 80 years (from 67 to 15 years), while in the United Kingdom, FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 companies have a lifespan of a mere 30 years.”


From Left: Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, CEO of the National Research Foundation, and Tsakani Maluleke, Auditor-General of South Africa

“Therefore,” he continued, “Unisa must take pride in the fact that it has not only surpassed its centennial but has sustained itself until this very significant moment – celebrating its sesquicentenary and firmly on its way to another 150 years.”

“This year alone,” he said, “we rated additional researchers from Unisa, thus bringing the total number of NRF-rated researchers from Unisa to 235.”

Concluding, Nelwamondo commended the Council and the executive management of the university for their contribution in advancing the vision of the university of shaping futures in the service of humanity. “I am confident that under Professor LenkaBula’s decisive leadership, Unisa will be propelled to even greater heights, leaving an indelible mark on our continent and the greater global arena, for the next 150 years and beyond.”

Accessible education

In her congratulatory message, Tsakani Maluleke, Auditor-General of South Africa,  commended the university for being among the largest higher education institutions that provide access and quality education to a diverse range of students, regardless of their age. Maluleke inspired the audience through sharing stories of the university’s globally recognised alumni, who are making a difference around the world.

During the event, Matsiababa Motebele, Unisa’s Vice-Principal of Operations and Facilities, presented the university’s iconic Mmabatho Rose.

This anniversary marked an opportunity for the university and its stakeholders to not only reflect on its rich past, but also to look towards the future; the next 150 years. With the ever-evolving educational landscape, the university is certain to continue its tradition of excellence, embracing new technologies and methodologies of teaching and learning, to provide accessible and transformative learning experiences for all.


* By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

** Photography by Mduduzi Khathamzi

Publish date: 2024/07/02

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