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9 April 2020
Message from the acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor

(Published - 9 April 2020)

Dear Campus Community

Despite these uncertain times, I am pleased to relate that the University of the Western Cape (UWC) has been proactive in doing all we can to contribute to the global endeavour of finding solutions to this extraordinary challenge to humanity.

The University set up a special COVID-19 advisory group headed by the Registrar in early March – long before the national 21-day lockdown was even considered. The group comprises media and communications specialists, the campus medical doctor and notably Professor Burtram Fielding, our Director of Research. In Singapore, he studied the coronavirus (SARS-CoV) responsible for the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003. He has studied the human coronaviruses for the past 17 years. Together, this group put in place protocols to manage the risk to students and staff and determine what to do in the case of infection on campus.

Despite the 21-day lockdown called by the President, the University has made massive contributions to the fight against COVID-19. These include:

Scientists at UWC’s South African National Bioinformatics Institute collaborating with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to decode the genome sequencing of a sample of the virus. It will give researchers clues as to how to stop the virus and contribute to the development of a vaccine;
The University pioneering the first-ever virtual graduation ceremony in South Africa. Our Chancellor, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, conferred their qualifications in an online ceremony. Certificates, diplomas and degrees have been mailed to our graduates;
UWC being instrumental in the Zenzeleni project which zero rates essential websites - making it easier for rural students and communities to access information online;
A series of thought leadership pieces by UWC academics like Professor Jaap de Visser, Director from the Dullah Omar Institute (DOI), and Professor Ruth Hall from PLAAS agitating for government to relax regulations for spaza shops to remain open during the lockdown and ensure food security to poorer communities. In addition, Sam Waterhouse of DOI playing an oversight role of parliament during lockdown while Prof De Visser and Dr Tinashe Chigwata (DOI) providing guidelines to municipalities during lockdown; and
UWC’s experts being quoted and interviewed extensively in news media, locally and abroad, since the global COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite the University’s well-laid plans to mark its 60th anniversary on 25 March 2020 being delayed, we are determined to celebrate this significant milestone – and the commitment to social justice, community engagement and graduate employability it is built on – with a virtual birthday launch in April. We will keep everyone informed about the celebrations. 

Meanwhile, we are doing all we can to limit the impact on the academic programme, and our deans are working hard to ensure that the learning and teaching programme can commence after lockdown. The planning includes scenarios if the lockdown is extended. A campus-wide survey also allowed the University to establish which students do not have the resources to learn from home. We are in negotiations with data service providers to zero-rate essential websites and have contingency plans for those students who do not have resources at home.

To ensure a less stressful transition into learning and teaching operations, post lockdown period, our Institution has asked academic staff to devise plans to deliver an online academic programme, as one form of flexible learning and provisioning during this lockdown period. 

A flexible learning and teaching (online) guide was developed. A consensus reached at USAF indicated that there would be no lectures and assessment tasks given during the lockdown period. This allows lecturers the time to plan for remote learning and teaching from 20 April 2020. This morning the Senate Academic Planning Committee considered the principles for flexible learning and teaching, for the University to complete the 2020 academic year in an inclusive and academically robust way. Faculty Plans have been devised and the Deans of Faculties will communicate their respective plans to staff and students.

For many of you, this period has proven to be incredibly challenging. We wish you and your families everything of the best – and urge you to take care and observe prescribed hygiene practices and physical distancing as a means to curb the spread of COVID-19.

For those of you working remotely and coming to grips with a new way of work, we acknowledge your commitment to ensuring productivity is maintained at our University.

We will continue to issue updates during this period via our official social media and email platforms. Please be aware of fake news and unofficial platforms purporting misinformation.

The University closes for business at 13h00 today and reopens on Tuesday. Our movements may be restricted, but our collective UWC voice will never be. I wish you and your families well over the Easter weekend – during the lockdown.

Take care and be safe.

Best wishes.

Prof Vivienne Lawack
Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor