Unisa appoints its first woman vice-chancellor

Unisa has appointed Professor Puleng Lenkabula as its incoming vice-chancellor, the university announced in a statement on Thursday night

Lenkabula will start her term in January, but will officially take over from outgoing vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya in April. 

Unisa’s council — the highest decision-making body at the university — said it had decided to extend Makhanya’s term for four months to allow for a “smooth hand-over”. 

He has been at the helm since 2011 and was meant to finish his term at the end of this year.

In a statement, Unisa said Lenkabula’s appointment was made at a special sitting of the council on Thursday. 

“The unanimous decision by the Unisa council follows a rigorous selection process to fill the position, including the requisite consideration and recommendation of candidates by the executive committees of the Unisa Senate (Senex) and the Unisa institutional forum (IF),” reads the statement. 

Two weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian reported that Lenkabula was one of two shortlisted candidates for the position. The other candidate was University of KwaZulu-Natal’s deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning Professor Sandile Songca. 

Lenkabula — who is currently the vice-rector for institutional change, student affairs, and community engagement at the University of Free State — will be Unisa’s first woman vice-chancellor since its establishment 148 years ago. Her appointment also makes her the fifth women vice-chancellor in the country. 

In August the M&G reported that, since 2015, there have been 20 vacancies for vice-chancellors and that only four women have filled those positions. 

At a webinar hosted by Higher Education Resource Services (Hers-SA) — an organisation dedicated to the advancement and leadership development of women in the higher education sector —  and Universities South Africa (Usaf), the chair of the transformation managers forum at Usaf, George Mvalo said this picture should not be normalised and that it did not represent the demographics of the country or the higher education sector. 

Mvalo said there were 12 women deputy vice-chancellors, out of about 30 positions. He said it was troubling that men have filled all vice-chancellor posts vacated by women over the past five years. 

Unisa also said in its statement that Lenkabula’s appointment was indicative of its transformation agenda. 

“This appointment is further testimony of the commitment of council to the transformation project it introduced and drove relentlessly in the university over the years, as well as ensuring that its workforce is alive to and reflective of the demographics of the country and the gender-empowerment wave sweeping the country.”

Chairperson of the Unisa Council, Sakhi Simelane, said Lenkabula is the “right calibre of a leader” for the university and fits well with the vision of the institution. 

Lenkabula is no stranger to Unisa, having worked at the institution as an associate professor of ethics, as dean of students, as well as having worked in Makhanya’s offices as a director and adviser. Before moving to the Free State, she was the dean of students at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: ‘Media isn’t dying, it’s changing’

Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa, chief executive of global internet company Naspers, has held senior posts in investment and development banking. She tells Tshegofatso Mathe about her family life in Soweto and her career, including with Cyril Ramaphosa before he went back to politics

‘Captured’ water utility exec holes up

Thami Hlongwa seems to be in hiding after a blacklisted technology company scored millions from Umgeni Water and the owner was murdered

More top stories

Pangolins pushed to the brink of extinction

The trafficking of scales is no longer a ‘niche’ criminal activity, but a serious and organised crime that threatens to make all eight species extinct within 20 years

Zuma has agreed to meet ANC top six over ConCourt...

The president says the message to Jacob Zuma will be a simple one: respect the rule of law

Hlophe throws out Bongo corruption case

Former state security minister walks free after judge finds there is not sufficient evidence of attempted bribery to scupper Eskom probe

Exposing a Congolese bank’s dirty secrets

Meet Gardi Koko and Navy Malela, the two whistleblowers who risked everything to raise the alarm

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…