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8 December 2021
Prof Vivienne Lawack receives Alumni Achiever’s Award from Nelson Mandela University for community engagement and excellence in leadership in higher education
Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic of the University of the Western Cape, was honoured at last night’s Nelson Mandela University (NMU) Alumni Awards for her community engagement and excellence in leadership in higher education. Prof Lawack’s exceptional response to learning and teaching challenges wrought by COVID-19 ensured that no student was left behind when the academic programme had to change.

Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Vice-Chancellor of NMU, said Prof Lawack is also deeply involved in the community, participating in various committees in the legal, financial and educational sectors. She highlighted Prof Lawack’s recently published book, Stemme van Clarkson, which explores how school and the church have been central to the Moravian village’s progress.

An expert in law and economics, Prof Lawack earned her law degrees - including her BJuris, LLB and LLM - at Nelson Mandela University in the 1990s and she was admitted as an advocate of the High Court in 1995. She lectured at Vista and NMU until 2002, when she left academia to spend several years working at the South African Reserve Bank in various roles. In 2008 she returned to higher education to serve as the Executive Dean of Law at NMU. She joined UWC in 2015.

In last night’s acceptance speech as the recipient of the Alumni Achiever’s’ Award, Prof Lawack said the honour was amplified by being recognised by her alma mater. “When I completed my matric year as head girl of Gelvan High in 1989 and started my first year as a BJuris student when the University of Port Elizabeth (UPE) had just started to ‘open up’, I had no idea of the profound effect that the university would have on my life and career trajectory.”

Watch the awards.

She recalled how she was the only student in the 1994 final year LLB who was not white, and how one of her professors could not fathom how she could, as “that coloured woman”, work hard enough to be the top achiever in consecutive years of her studies. Her consistently excellent results - she was the top student in her second, third, fourth and fifth year in the BJuris and LLB - earned her the Ford Premier Award for the Best Undergraduate Student in UPE in 1993. “It felt like a full circle to return to what was then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University as the Executive Dean,” she said.

As Dean she was able to help position the law faculty nationally and to strengthen its niche areas. “It became an engaged Faculty of Law, strengthening not only our engagement with the legal profession but also with particular emphasis on engaging with our communities in the northern areas and the townships,” she said. This leadership journey at NMU stood her in good stead in her subsequent role as the DVC:Academic at UWC. “This I felt most acutely last year when I led UWC for six months as both Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor, and in my own role as DVC: Academic. It meant having to steer the university during the start of the pandemic and to ensure that we could successfully complete the 2020 academic year.”

Prof Lawack accepted the award with deep gratitude to the university, those who nominated her, the Alumni Executive and the Faculty of Law at NMU, and dedicated it to her “excellent teachers” who shaped her critical thinking and values as a person.

In conclusion, she said: “I believe that one should never forget your roots, so thank you to my community in Clarkson in the Tsitsikamma where I hail from, Gelvan High School, my mentors at the Reserve Bank and elsewhere, my beloved parents, former Speaker Jonathan Lawack and Olga Lawack, my siblings, for their love and constant support, and my Lawack family. Finally, I would like to thank my children, Flavia, Victoire and Javier, my partner Jacques and my close circle of friends.”

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UWC Communication 8/12/2021 9:43 AM