31 August 2021

Though gender transformation is not occurring at the pace it should be, UMP is making great strides towards ensuring equality and equal representation in its ranks. By looking at how these formidable women rose to the top, it is clear to see that they have each earned every step on the steep ladders they have had to climb.

UMP is one of the few South African universities that has a female Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thoko Mayekiso, and only last month the honourable Justice Mandisa Maya succeeded His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa as the Chancellor. 

 Justice Maya who is also the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (SCA) and the first woman in South Africa to hold the positions of Deputy President and President of the SCA. She is a member of the South African Judicial Service Commission, and a member and adjudicator of the National Bar Examination Board and as well as the chairperson of its Appeal Tribunal.

Justice Maya is the current President of South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ) and has been awarded three Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) degrees by Nelson Mandela University, Walter Sisulu University and University of Fort Hare for her contribution to the development of South Africa’s jurisprudence as well as the empowerment of women in the legal profession and in the judiciary.

In addition, the university recently appointed Professor Shirley Mthethwa Sommers as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Dr Loshni Govender as Executive Director Human Resources and Professor Hilda Israel as the Dean for the Faculty of Education. While Professor Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju is heading research and ensuring that the university meets its research mandate and goals. 

Vice-Chancellor Professor Thoko Mayekiso

As a Founding Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mayekiso had the privilege of pioneering the trajectory the University would follow. A qualified clinical psychologist, Professor Mayekiso is also the Chairperson of the Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG) from 2019 to 2022. Her role as chair of RISG is to seek funding for research and innovation, research infrastructure, internationalization, capacity development for the purposes of transformation and inter-institutional collaborations.

Professor Mayekiso is passionate about youth development and education. She has a track record both as a researcher and a mentor especially in the areas of HIV and AIDS, poverty, adolescent adjustment problems and child abuse and neglect. 

Furthermore, she has written a number of articles in accredited journals nationally and internationally, presented papers at national and international conferences, and contributed to the writing of book chapters. She is a C3 rated scientist by the National Research Foundation

Throughout her sterling career, she has held positions in high esteem institutions: Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, Professor, Head of Department, Vice Dean and more.  

Professor Mayekiso obtained a BA, BA Honours, and MA in Psychology, from the University of Fort Hare. She furthered her studies at the Free University Berlin, in Germany, where she obtained her D Phil (cum laude) in Psychology. She also holds a Higher Education Diploma (post-graduate) from the University of South Africa. She is a registered Clinical Psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

UMPProfessor Shirley Sommers is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, University of Mpumalanga.

Recently appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Professor Shirley Sommers, is passionate about social justice education, particularly the issues of access and success of students from economically marginalised backgrounds. She has more than 20 years in academia, rising through the ranks from Assistant Professor to a tenured full Professor in Education.

She has held several leadership and pioneering positions such as being the founding director of the Centre for Urban Education in upstate New York, USA, where she built capacity for preservice and in-service teachers to educate students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds using culturally responsive and social justice education methodologies.

Professor Sommers was also the founding Director of the Institute for Pluralism at the same institution. The institute attended to the development of an equitable and inclusive campus in terms of race, gender, gender identity, social class and sexuality. Her other academic experiences include leadership positions, academic staff development and service-learning. She is a long-term editorial board member of Agenda: Feminist Media, and the Program Chair of the American Educational Research Association’s Service Learning and Experiential Education SIG.

UMPDriving Employee Engagement and Innovation is Dr Loshni Govender: Executive Director of Human Resources at UMP.

Enhancing developmental opportunities and driving employee innovation is the responsibility of Dr Loshni Govender, the Executive Director of the Human Resource at UMP. She has extensive senior management experience in the higher education sector and has turned around  institutions such as Rhodes University.

Her portfolios have covered various human resources functions, including overall leadership of the human resources function, organisational development, talent management, organisational wellness, training and development, remuneration and benefits as well as training and development. 

She holds a BA, BA (Hons) in Industrial Psychology, Postgraduate Certificate in Education, Postgraduate Certificate in Management, Postgraduate Certificate in Labour Law, Masters in Education from the University of Western Cape and a PhD from Stellenbosch University. Her PhD led to the development of a human resources model for South Africa.

Dr Govender has contributed to the development of HR practitioners in higher education through curriculum design and facilitation of the capacity development programmes for HR professionals in the sectors. 

UMP Professor Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju is the Director: Research Management at the University of Mpumalanga.

The University of Mpumalanga has a Strategic Plan for 2015-2022 to create and support an environment that fosters research quality and productivity; to develop and sustain the research capacity of staff and students and; to conduct research that contributes to local, regional, national and global sustainability. 

As Director: Research Management at the University of Mpumalanga, Professor Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju, has the big task of ensuring that the university meets its strategic goals, which among others includes increasing the number of National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researchers at the institution. 

Professor Lukhele-Olorunju’s career has seen her in many executive roles, including being a Plant breeder at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria; Group Executive at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa; Director: Research and Innovation and Interim Chief Executive Officer at the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA).  As an educator, she has graduated a number of international students at BSc, MSc and PhD levels.

In her managerial capacity, she has managed three Research Institutes as Group Executive in the ARC; headed up research development as Director Research and Innovation in the University of Venda. In 2011, she was a finalist in the Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year Awards for her role in mentoring and educating women farmers. Her other experiences include international consulting, management of international agricultural projects, collaborative research projects, and the World Bank.

Professor Lukhele-Olorunju is known among her peers as a God-fearing woman, a mentor, straight-talker and focused on the growth of those around her and the organisations she’s been involved in. Her career speaks for itself, and is an example that women can and should thrive regardless of their environment.

UMPProfessor Hilda Israel is the Dean of Faculty of Education in Siyabuswa Campus.

Professor Hilda Israel is the Dean of the Faculty of Education in Siyabuswa campus. She completed her BA, BA (Hon) and UHDE at UKZN, followed by the B Ed at Unisa. As a Fulbright Scholar at Baylor University, Texas, she completed the Master of Science in Education and Doctor of Education. Prof Israel has since added many professional development qualifications to her profile, including Management Skills for 21st Century Leaders, International Developments in Doctoral Education & Training (Scotland) and Supervision of the Post-Graduate Student. She was one of six South African women chosen to complete the Higher Education Research Support (HERS) Programme for Women Managers in Higher Education (Philadelphia, USA).

Professor Israel has delivered research papers at national and international conferences on Teaching Methodologies, Multilingualism, Africanisation of the Curriculum, Sociolinguistics, Educational Assessment, Translation & Interpreting as Educational Tools, and Cross-Disciplinary Studies. She has successfully managed international projects on Applied Language Studies, including the training of translators in African Languages.

Most recently, she has researched and compiled manuals on Educational Leadership and Management for South African educators enrolling for Post-Graduate Programmes. Prof Israel tries to ensure that her teaching content is relevant for society today, addressing topics such as social justice, inequality, HIV-Aids, unemployment, global warming, ethics, gender studies and the impact of technology on the community.

UMP is incredibly proud and honoured to have these formidable women leading the way and directing the university towards a future where females are allowed to climb the corporate ladder with more ease and understanding and less obstacles. Though there is still much to be done in terms of gender transformation not only in the workplace but in society as a whole, we are certainly moving in the right direction.

@ Story by the University of Mpumalanga Communications Division Pictures Supplied.