Justice Mandisa Maya was on Tuesday installed as chancellor of the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) at a ceremony attended by His Majesty amaNdebele King Makhosoke II Mabena.
“I am honoured and grateful to have the privilege of serving as the second chancellor and, might I say, the first woman chancellor of this pioneering centre of knowledge and education, the University of Mpumalanga.
“May I take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to Vice-Chancellor Mayekiso, the Council, the Senate, the Institutional Forum, my brother and colleague Judge President Legodi of the Mpumalanga High Court, who persuaded me to accept the nomination.”
Justice Maya also thanked “everyone who was involved in the search process and my ultimate appointment, for this exceptional recognition and for trusting me with this very important responsibility for the next few years”.
Justice Maya said a “special thanks to my husband, children, and sister, who are here this morning, and other family, colleagues, and friends who could not make it”.
She added: “I would not be standing here without your love and unstinting support, always.”
Justice Maya acknowledged and thanked “the giant that I succeed, His Excellency President Ramaphosa” – who is on a week-long four-nation visit in West Africa.
When Ramaphosa was installed as UMP’s first chancellor he described the institution as “an instrument of progress and a beacon of hope … whose identity and posture is unashamedly African”.
“And as huge as the shoes he has left for me to fill are, his legacy shines a bright light on our path, and the knowledge that our university has his support makes the task at hand a little less daunting, and even exciting,” said Justice Maya.
The new chancellor said she also found the prospect of working with a talented and hardworking group of professionals exciting.
Justice Maya remarked at how the minnow university that offered only three undergraduate programmes to a cohort of only 169 students at its commencement in February 2014 has grown to a “towering giant”, a mere eight years later.
UMP has a magnificent new-age infrastructure that continues to be developed.
Completed developments include student residences, various support facilities, hospitality, and tourism building with a fancy training hotel.
There is a training restaurant that can compete with the best of them, a student wellness centre and clinic, science research facilities, and IT laboratories.
Student pavilions are under construction.
The university offered 32 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to a 5 392 strong student body this year.
Justice Maya said UMP will offer its first three PhDs in Agriculture, Philosophy and Philosophy in Development Studies, LLB “which excites me greatly as a lawyer” and 13 more, new programmes in the new year.
“It is another matter of great pride to be part of an institution that recognises and affirms the ability of women to lead and participate competently in all spheres of society and the benefits to society flowing from the empowerment of women and gender equality,” said Justice Maya.
“One hopes that the appointment of women to critical positions of leadership will grow until it is commonplace in our society as that is a most effective way of eliminating patriarchy, which is actually a huge component of the scourge of gender-based violence that threatens the very soul of our beautiful country.”
Justice Maya said when she asked her children what their contemporaries would like to hear the most from their new chancellor, the consensus was that she should talk about how she got the opportunity.
“I am not certain that I have a coherent answer to that question. I suspect that my success is born of a collection of random events, and coincidences, and a huge dose of luck,” said the new chancellor in her lengthy acceptance speech.
“Many of my earlier memories have faded over time and some, the more painful ones, have been buried deep in my mind.
“What I can tell you is that this university was created to serve a student like me in my youth, a young person risen from adversity.
“Like my late parents before me, I come from a very humble, rural background. My parents, who were teachers and came from very poor families, were strict disciplinarians.
“Despite their meagre earnings, they took in many children to live with us, in a home where there was no separation of work for the different sexes and they drilled in us that education and hard, honest work were the passport to a successful life and taught us to love reading books.”
Justice Maya recalled that she started working during school holidays at the age of 15 – it was lawful then – and that was to be the course of my life.
“I want to believe that all those experiences – learning the value of hard work, learning to share and care for others, the love of books which evoke a deep curiosity in one, and the belief that if I got enough education I could achieve any dream, led me here, to this incredible opportunity,” she said.
“I started working during school holidays at the age of 15 (it was lawful then) and that was to be the course of my life.
“I want to believe that all those experiences – learning the value of hard work, learning to share and care for others, the love of books which evoke a deep curiosity in one, and the belief that if I got enough education I could achieve any dream, led me here, to this incredible opportunity.”
Justice Maya said she joins the university at a critical moment.
“This is a time when our deeply fractured country, which ranks among the most unequal and violent places in the world, and the world as a whole, face a host of crises such as corruption, poverty, unemployment especially among young people, extreme violence especially against women and children, serious and rampant crime,” said the new chancellor.
She said climate change that wreaks terrible storms and flooding, drought, power outages, and other life disruptions and strange diseases was another challenge facing the world.
“Humanity is torn by greed, envy, anger, mistrust, lack of understanding of its different norms, cultures, and languages, ignorance, confusion, and conflict,” said Justice Maya.
“It is completely out of tune with itself and the world surrounding it. The Covid-19 pandemic has only deepened these fissures and created additional ills and a need to redefine all aspects of human life.”
However, not all is lost, said Justice Maya.
“There is a powerful tool, education, which must be accessible to all so that no one is left behind, that we can use to heal ourselves, repair our country and the world and achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals we set for our world by 2030, which is suddenly just around the corner.
“Institutions of learning and education, the lighthouses of society, have never been more important than now.
“But it is well to note that a true education system is no longer just about imparting knowledge.
“It can no longer be kept within the confines of university corridors. Sustainable, developmental research and community engagement are critical.”
Justice Maya said there has to be a harmonisation of species to the world and a harmonisation of cultures, genders, and other differences.
She said the fast-changing nature of the world has made it necessary to reskill and re-educate the human population to meet the new needs.
“Our teachers and staff must be encouraged to be advocates for this change we seek; to develop new teaching methods and solutions through education and experiences gained in the classrooms and in general life,” said Justice Maya.
“We must inculcate the values of integrity, empathy, trust, and mutual respect and agitate even more fiercely for the agenda of equality, inclusion, and diversity too.
“We need to instil the ethos of ethical leadership in our young people and empower them to be agents of change for a sustainable world order.”
Justice Maya urged lecturers to stimulate curiosity among students for them to explore ways in which sustainable development can be used to lift people out of poverty, open frontiers, and reconstruct society.
She said students should interrogate world issues so that they may gain an informed worldview and global citizenship to achieve world unity, peace, security, and prosperity in South Africa and the rest of the world.
Other notable attendees at the installation of Justice Maya as chancellor included Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, Chair of Council of the University of Mpumalanga Professor David Mabunda, Vice-Chancellor Professor Thoko Mayekiso, and Student Representative Council president Vuyelwa Magagula.