Walter Sisulu University stakeholders displayed positive reflections on the institution’s administration period as they bade farewell to former Administrator, Prof Lourens van Staden, on May 30th.
Van Staden was appointed by higher education and training minister, Dr Blade Nzimande to spearhead a turnaround strategy for the institution in October, 2011.
WSU Interim Vice-Chancellor & Principal Prof Mfenyana who shared a heart-rending mull over his personal and professional accounts with Van Staden over the years, resonated comfortably with all.
“We thank you for not just coming to WSU as an Administrator, but as a person. We thank you for turning a seemingly impossible task to be an exciting project. Thank you for building and mending relationships between management and labour,” said Mfenyana.
Van Staden was entrusted by DHET with council oversight matters, Vice-Chancellor management responsibilities and spearhead work on the Turnaround Strategy for the University.
“The task you were given by the Minister of Higher Education and Training was big and a bit abnormal to be handled by one person,” added Mfenyana.
WSU’s Turnaround Strategy comprises key projects which include: Governance, Academic Enterprise, Student Governance, Finance, ICT, HR, Teaching and Learning Technology and Infrastructure Development.
Malibongwe Nyamaphi, a representative of the Unions commended Van Staden for his people skills and professionalism during his time at WSU and the manner in which the Administrator tried to understand the dynamics of the institution.
“I must start by saying WSU stakeholders have a stigma of being impossible, which is a challenge. You came up with something unique as a leader, and that is understanding dynamics of the university and its stakeholders. We are not bidding farewell to you as a person. We bid farewell to an administrator, but you are needed more than before by this university and your contribution as a professor,” concluded Nyamaphi.
WSU Student Representative Council executive committee chairperson and Council member, Misheck Mugabe’s words yielded a sincere truth and reflection of how far the institution has come and the role played by “uTata” (our father), as Van Staden was affectionately referred to by students.
“This man we are saying farewell to is a very brave man. When Prof Van Staden agreed to take over as the Administrator we concluded that this man must be brave for coming to a university that was in that state of decay at that particular time.”
Mugabe recollected, saying it was important that the WSU community remind each other of various dynamics around WSU. It was at this time when it was realised WSU was in a moribund state, a time when students were calling their parents telling them that they were coming home because the University was closing.
“When the administrator came to the University we saw cash injections come in. We were very happy and the role played by Prof is not left unnoticed by students of WSU,” said Mugabe.
A heavy-hearted and humbled Prof van Staden spoke from the heart saying WSU is a place of hope for many in the Eastern Cape and that no one in their right mind would close an institution like it.
“This is what I appreciate most in life. People can be very intelligent and committed, but if your heart is not in the right place you will not be successful.”
“This university does not belong to one of us or the president or the minister, it belongs to all of us and more it belongs to our children. This is a place of hope, I love this university,” concluded Van Staden.
(Professor van Staden will continue his relationship with WSU as a Ministerial Appointee on the WSU Council.)