The University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa has appointed Professor Tawana Kupe as the new Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University. Prof Kupe, a native of Zimbabwe has extensive experience in the academia, and his appointment follows the resignation of Professor Cheryl de la Rey.

According to a press release by the university, in his statement of intent, Professor Kupe said, “Universities have a responsibility to develop educated, well-informed and professionally skilled people who can address local and global challenges and contribute towards creating successful and thriving societies. To be able to play these critically important roles, universities must enjoy academic freedom and institutional autonomy, allow for freedom of inquiry and be transparent, accountable and ethical in their practices in all respects.”

Steps to academia’s top echelons

Professor Kupe served as the Executive Dean of the Wits Faculty of Humanities for six years, between January 2007 and December 2012, after serving as the Head of the then Wits School of Literature and Language Studies, and the founding Head of the Media Studies Department.

Prior to joining Wits, Professor Kupe lectured at Rhodes University between 1999 and 2001, and briefly acted as the Head of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. He joined Rhodes from the University of Zimbabwe, where he worked in various academic capacities from 1988, including as Chairperson of the Department of English, Media and Communication Studies.

Professor Kupe served as the Executive Dean of the Wits Faculty of Humanities for six years. Photo: Tawana Kupe/Facebook

Professor Kupe holds a BA Honours degree and Masters in English from the University of Zimbabwe, as well as a DPhil in Media Studies from the University of Oslo in Norway.

Professor Kupe has numerous published books, book chapters and journal articles, and he has extensively contributed for newspapers, and has been a regular reviewer on radio and television. He is also active in the media space in various capacities.

History making appointment

In taking on this new role, Prof Kupe will be the first black man to be the VC and Principal at UP. His appointment is indeed commendable as a significant step towards transformation and inclusivity. Racial discrimination in universities and other educational institutions has become has been a major issue in South Africa. Research on various South African institutions of higher learning has often argued that whiteness has continued to successfully contest ownership of university institutional spaces, thereby invisibly perpetuating its hegemony. As a result, black students and academics have struggled with cultivating a sense of belong, climbing the academic leadership ladder, and they often feel excluded. The appointment of Prof Kupe to such as powerful position at UP, hopefully will give the much needed momentum to the university’s ongoing transformation agenda, and initiatives.

Read: Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng appointed new VC of University of Cape Town

A number of South African universities have also made historic appointments this year, in the process addressing race, and gender imbalances. Professor Tshilidzi Marwala was inaugurated in March as the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was also appointed early this year as the new Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT).  With the appointment, Prof Phakeng became the second black woman to be the VC at UCT. Mamphela Ramphele was the first black woman VC at UCT and the first to hold that position at a South African university.