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Unisa bids farewell to a servant leader

Unisa recently hosted a farewell ceremony to honour a leader of high distinction, its former Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya. The event was attended by leaders from various sectors, including government officials, leaders of other higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa, and prominent local and international guests.

Front, from left: Prof Mandla Makhanya (former Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa), His Excellency Dr Thabo Mbeki (Chancellor, Unisa) and Prof Puleng LenkaBula (Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa)
Back, from: Mashukudu Maboa (Chairperson of Council, Unisa) and Mandu Makhanya (Prof Makhanya’s wife)

In his welcome address, Chairperson of the Unisa Council, Mashukudu Maboa said: "We are here to pay homage to a great Unisan, who is closing a chapter of academic journey that started at this university of the land 33 years ago." He added: "While the chapter closes, the journey itself in pursuit of academic excellence will continue as Prof Makhanya surely still has a lot to offer to both Unisa and the broader higher education sector locally, continentally and globally." Maboa applauded Makhanya’s commitment to the university and the higher education sector, and remarked that he is worthy to be honoured.

Unisa’s internal stakeholders who took to the stage to bid farewell to Makhanya included the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU), the Academic and Professional Staff Association (APSA), the Institutional Forum, the Unisa Women’s Forum, the Black Forum and the National Student Representative Council (NSRC). Each of the stakeholders spoke highly of Makhanya’s management style and his servant leadership. They lauded him for the development of the 11Cs+1 and how he lived them.

They also spoke with great appreciation of the respect and understanding he showed to staff and students, which made it possible for them to respect him in return. Many appreciated that under his leadership, Unisa saw the insourcing of cleaners, security officers and previously excluded academic, professional and administrative staff members, which changed the lives of many Unisans for the better. Wandile Giwu, of the NSRC, challenged Makhanya to write about the relationship between the student leaders and vice-chancellors or management of South African universities. A talented Unisan and well-known poet, Natalia Molebatsi, rendered a poem worthy to be remembered.

Embracing the wisdom of a thought leader

In her message, Unisa’s current Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, said: "On behalf of the Unisa community, I would like to thank you for the dedicated service of many years to the university. You gave your God-given talents, energy and intellectual insights to Unisa, but not only to Unisa – you served selflessly at local, intercontinental and global levels."

LenkaBula reflected on Makhanya’s academic journey at Unisa from a junior lecturer to heading the university while promoting the academic agenda. She added: "Those who worked with you will remember you as someone who cares, respects and loves his family, staff and students, and who is a good listener."

"You have accomplished a lot, Prof Makhanya, from being appointed in 2011 as the Principal and Vice-Chancellor to the renewal in 2015. This implies that there was understanding and appreciation of your leadership in academia and in this particular institution,"
she remarked. LenkaBula lauded Makhanya for steering the university to success and dealing with contradictions in spite of challenges. "May our country and continent continue to have people who are committed to higher education, for they contribute to transforming our society," said LenkaBula.

Unisa’s Chancellor, His Excellency Dr Thabo Mbeki, highlighted that the university is held in high esteem even from a distance. Mbeki had worked with Makhanya’s predecessor, Prof Barney Pityana. "I came to know and understand this university even better when I worked with you as a chancellor." He added: "What struck me about Prof Makhanya is that during his time as Principal and Vice-Chancellor, he has done an excellent job of defining the university in terms of what it is, its mission, character and how it responds to national and continental challenges."

With reference to the speech made by Makhanya when he accepted the position as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa in 2011, Mbeki said: "Universities are not merely about teaching and learning, but a much wider outreach is represented in a number of initiatives, including the participation by Prof Makhanya in the launch of some books published by the South African Democracy Education Trust."

Mbeki praised Makhanya for addressing gender issues at the university and the decolonisation of knowledge. He concluded: "Prof Makhanya and family, well done and thank you for everything you have done, and best wishes for the future."

Bidding farewell to Makhanya, Chairperson of the Unisa Council, Mashukudu Maboa said: "Prof Makhanya did his best during trying times to keep the university on course. After his inauguration, he had to steer the university and deal with the transition by flattening the hierarchical structures of the past to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the university."

He asserted that Makhanya would be remembered for the radical transformation and Africanisation of Unisa, which impacted the entire institutional functioning and mandate. "Prof Makhanya introduced servant leadership, which is about considering others before oneself. The university must remember this contribution in its future interactions," said Maboa.

Closing the academic chapter, not the contribution

Prof Mandla Makhanya at his farewell ceremony hosted by Unisa

With a glow of contentment, Makhanya addressed the audience. "Since everything has a beginning, it must also have an ending. When I commenced my tenure at Unisa, there was a very clear understanding in the back of my mind that this day would come. This means that the work one commits to has to be done without any delay – each day counts and is significant when it is understood in this context."

Makhanya said that having served at Unisa for 33 years, he believed that Unisa is a home to most. He said: "Unisa is an institution that has equipped us to grow intellectually and develop professionally. It has given us multiple opportunities to see the world, experience fantastic celebrations of truly illustrious people and momentous occasions. It has also helped us to build a special Unisa community."

He added: "Unisa paved the way for the breaking of the cycle of disadvantage and 'otherness' that so many of us experienced, resulting in well-educated people who build on new foundations of flourishing and responsible citizenship."

Makhanya thanked those who had mentored him as without their contributions, he would not have become the person he is. "Also, it is appropriate for me to thank my wife, Mrs Mandu Makhanya, for the choice that she made to be married to a fellow like me." Makhanya also took the opportunity to thank all the internal and external stakeholders of the university, from general workers to the executive management.

Watch a short video celebrating the career of Prof Makhanya as aired at the event:

Watch an extract from Prof Makhanya's farewell speech:

Makhanya was showered with gifts and a beautiful portrait of him was revealed.

In his closing remarks and vote of thanks, Busani Ngcaweni, Deputy Chairperson of the Unisa Council, said he was looking forward to a continuous and fruitful relationship between Unisa and the National School of Government.

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021-05-04 00:00:00.0