Unisa’s new vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula vows to tackle gender-based violence
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Pretoria – The first female vice-chancellor and principal of the University of South Africa (Unisa) Professor Puleng LenkaBula has vowed to tackle gender-based violence and champion the rights of marginalised communities, particularly people with disabilities and the LGBTQI+/queer persons.
“One of my priorities is to prioritise the needs, including the safety, of the historically marginalised in our midst, that is women, people with disabilities and the LGBTQI+/queer persons. Our society is a particularly violent one, and gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the worst scourges which stare us in the face,” LenkaBula said at her inauguration and investiture ceremony, themed “Reclaiming Africa’s intellectual futures”.
“Unisa has to offer its staff and students an environment that is safe from GBV. Unisa must do more than raise issues of GBV, but as a university community, we must hold the perpetrators accountable.”
She said her vision for the leading university includes heightening intolerance of social injustices, including gender-based wrongs. She vowed to steer the institution to lead among those lending voices to those who seek and pursue justice, and fight poverty.
“Poverty is a form of violence and a pervasive injustice that we cannot ignore in our pursuit of higher knowledge. It is only when our students can learn in an environment that supports their learning, regardless of gender or socio-economic background, that we can improve our graduation rates,” said LenkaBula.
“I have asked the executive deans and other managers in colleges to focus on the provision of a solid and relevant education to our students. This can only happen when we make available to our students the resources and support which they need.”
She said there is no doubt that Unisa students have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and its “concomitant” effects.
“If the larger world beyond the confines of the university has been so deeply upended by the arrival and impact of the pandemic, it’s clear that the effect on the most vulnerable amongst our students has been devastating. With this in mind, I intend to ensure that as a university we prioritise support for students facing mental health issues,” said LenkaBula.
Meanwhile, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande said LenkaBula’s inauguration is a historic moment for the university to install its first female vice-chancellor since its establishment about 148 years ago.
“This is an important development to be proud of, but also it is an indictment on us as a society that 26 years into democracy it is only now that one of our biggest institution of higher learning is having its first female head. This is a clear indication that perhaps we are not moving as fast as we should in ensuring gender equality and representation in key leadership positions in various institutions across the country,” said Nzimande.
“This is something that we need to pay close attention to as we march forward with our transformation agenda and efforts to make our institutions fully inclusive and accommodative to all the people of South Africa, irrespective of race, gender and class.”
Nzimande said LenkaBula brings extensive experience to the position, having been vice-rector for institutional change, student affairs and community engagement at the University of the Free State and dean of students at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she was a member of the vice-chancellor’s office and the senior executive team.
She previously held management positions at different institutions, including at Unisa, where she had a successful term as dean of students.
“I believe that Unisa Council has made the right decision in appointing a person of your calibre as vice-chancellor to lead and steer this institution in the right direction, especially during these challenging times in the life of our universities,” said Nzimande.
African News Agency (ANA)