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UWC bids farewell to Rector and Vice-Chancellor

Author: Institutional Advancement: (021) 959 2625

How does a university say goodbye to one of its most accomplished academics and leaders? When that academic is retiring Rector, Prof Brian O’Connel, UWC’s answer was simple: a Farewell Festival held on 23 October 2014.

UWC bids farewell to Rector and Vice-Chancellor

The University of the Western Cape’s staff and students gave retiring Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, Professor Brian O’Connell, an appropriately gigantic – and heartfelt – send-off at the Rector’s Farewell Festival on 23 October 2014.

The Festival was a fun-filled celebration for staff and students with entertainment, treats, speeches by various University stakeholders, a performance of a play, Qhawe, by the world-renowned Handspring Puppeteers​ and culminated with a special Harold Wolpe Lecture. The event also included music by the songbirds Neo Muyanga and Kiffness.

The lecture, Dreaming of a future facing our history: towards the post-apartheid university, was delivered by Professor Crain Soudien, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town, who acknowledged O’Connell’s tremendous contribution to higher education in South Africa.

O’Connell is well known for bringing hope to many young learners in the Cape. His career in education as an educator, professor and education administrator has spanned more than 40 years in total. Under his inspired leadership, UWC has won many awards and built a reputation as one of South Africa’s most innovative and progressive higher education institutions.

A well-known community leader, his philosophy has been that your past doesn’t necessarily determine your future, and he has encouraged the youth and many others to think “out of the box”, and not to allow their limitations to deprive them of the opportunity to expand their educational career and thereby enrich their community.

“In looking for the post-apartheid future that we see in O’Connell’s practices, the portents for a new world became apparent. It is true, and it is important for the state to understand this, that we experience many instances and examples of such post-apartheid practices around our universities,” Crain said.

“But it is in the way that UWC has committed itself to the task of sense-making that we all have a truly important example of what this post-apartheid practice is. This is O’Connell’s contribution, and for it we must all be deeply grateful.”

The day of celebrations took place 60 days before O’Connell’s final bow as Rector and Vice-Chancellor, after a 13 year spell as UWC’s leader.

Winnie Roos from UWC’s Nehawu office was one of those who paid tribute to O’Connell, thanking him for teaching students and staff the importance of leading by example – for example, by picking up litter while he walked around campus.

Student Representative Council President, Vuyani Sokhaba, described O’Connell as one of the greatest leaders he knows: “We should be privileged to have had this man in our midst, and  we would like to thank his family for lending him to us.”

O’Connell also delivered a short speech.

“I promised my wife not to cry,” he said. “It has been a wonderful journey, and I am humbled by what we have managed to achieve. UWC is in good hands.”

Students and staff also left farewell messages for O’Connell on a special Facebook page, reflecting on what his time at UWC has meant to them. To view those messages, or to leave one of your own, please visit the “UWC Rector Farewell” page.

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