University of Mpumalanga celebrates 10 years of academic achievements

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15 March 2024

Building an esteemed academic institution from scratch is no small feat. As the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) celebrates a decade of excellence and creating opportunities, it proudly reflects on its achievements as one of the first public universities established since democracy.

The province’s name means “the place of the rising sun”, which already hints at Mpumalanga’s strength in new beginnings, let alone its beauty. UMP commenced its academic activities in 2014 with just three programmes and 169 students but has since grown to more than 72 programmes of various levels, and a 2024 intake of almost 10,000 students. The institution has clearly stayed true to its motto: “Creating Opportunities”.

To mark its momentous 10th anniversary, the university gathered some of its most esteemed members for several exciting and important events. This included a ceremony in late February 2024 for the conferment of the title of Professor Emeritus on the first chairperson of UMP Council, Prof David Mabunda, who delivered the inaugural Dr Enos Mabuza Annual Lecture on Education. The occasion was also used to name the Library and Information Services Building after the first UMP vice-chancellor, Prof Thoko Mayekiso. 

Building a legacy from the start 

The university’s mission to thrive as a reimagined democratic institution was clear from the start. As Mayekiso explained at the celebration: “We have an opportunity to reimagine what a post-1994 African university would look like. It is both a privilege and an honour but also an enormous responsibility and a Herculean task that we embrace, not reluctantly, but with all the enthusiasm we can muster.”

The vice-chancellor emphasised that many different people were involved in the efforts to build the institution and lauded their hard work. “Only people who understand that Rome was not built in one day would join a new venture with confidence. They showed attributes of pioneers, which are resilience, vision, grit and determination.”

UMP embodies the aspirations of an inclusive, non-racial, non-sexist, transformed and democratic SA. It all started with a belief in the power of education to change people’s lives and enable them to reach the stars through hard work
Prof Thoko Mayekiso, UMP vice-chancellor

While the university has produced over 4,400 graduates, 125 of them graduating cum laude, this achievement was built on the courage of that first class to take part in the new academic offering. “The students who joined the new institution are in many ways a special cohort; they trusted a new organisation, and brought curiosity and enthusiasm,’’ said Mayekiso.

For instance, Venetia Ryan, who now works in China, but at the time was the secretary-general of the Student Representative Council (SRC), calls her years at the university truly extraordinary and looks back on them with pride and a sense of honour. “The small size of the university fostered a close-knit community, allowing me to easily connect with the university leadership,” she said. “Together we forged a new path and established a vibrant culture shaping the identity of our university.” 

Another inaugural student and past SRC president, Muzi Khoza, who now serves on the UMP Council, joked that they were called a “glorified high school” in the beginning, but have proven any critics wrong. “Looking back, our varsity years were filled with learning, not just from textbooks, but from every experience which propelled me to heights I never thought a boy from Nkomazi was worthy of.” 

Growth of African excellence 

“UMP embodies the aspirations of an inclusive, nonracial, non-sexist, transformed and democratic SA,” said Mayekiso. “It all started with a belief in the power of education to change people’s lives and enable them to reach the stars through hard work.” 

While the building of an academic hub of excellence takes time, a look back on the last decade shows how UMP added the building blocks towards that point slowly and steadily. The vice-chancellor highlighted milestones such as the introduction of the Vice-Chancellor Scholarship Programme in 2017, the addition of master's and doctoral degrees and the introduction of the Academic Talent Stewardship Programme in 2023, which appoints top master's students as associate lecturers.

A key aspect of UMP’s growth has been specifically to be an authentic African institution. Mayekiso explained that this means it's “not just a university located geographically in Africa, but a university that recognises, affirms and entrenches the African experience and context in the academic project. A university that embraces, celebrates and upholds African values and epistemologies.”

This is seen in one way through the 35 international partnerships that UMP has built with other universities, including nine in Africa. On a research level, it has received recognition, including the National Research Foundation CEO’s Special Recognition Award. Beyond this, it has upheld its institutional integrity by receiving a clean audit from external auditors for nine years in a row. 

The university's growth remains rooted in the fact that the institution has brought a new and varied higher education offering to the province. “As a result, UMP prides itself on providing access to higher education to students who previously would not have had such access,” said Mayekiso.

A brighter future awaits

UMP's 10th anniversary is not only an opportunity to look back, but to express hope and joy for the future.

University Council chairperson Sabelo Mahlalela said: “The 10 years we are celebrating were the years of laying the building blocks and foundation for our institution.”

He explained that generations will continue to benefit from the past and current work. “May we keep this high tempo of hard work and excellence and by so doing inspire those who are coming after us.”

We have accomplished much in the past 10 years and are positioned to enter our second decade with a strong foundation and a clear vision
 Sabelo Mahlalela, chairperson of the University Council at UMP

While the last decade has certainly been rewarding, the celebration sets the tone for more academic success in the future. “We have accomplished much in the past 10 years and are positioned to enter our second decade with a strong foundation and a clear vision,” Mahlalela said. 

In essence, the university’s motto is in itself constant. As the university has created opportunities for its students in the past, so inherently it is opening up space to keep doing so and growing those possibilities. 

In Mahlalela’s words: “May we who are here today make a pact with ourselves that the great trend has been set. The sterling examples, the zeitgeist of excellence, will not be betrayed. Instead, they will serve as wind under our wings, and propel us to greater heights.”

For more information about UMP and the programmes it offers, visit the university's websiteClick here to watch the full ceremony celebrating UMP's 10 years of academic achievements on YouTube.