Professor Puleng LenkaBula has been appointed as principal and vice-chancellor of the embattled Unisa.
Her appointment was announced by the university on Friday morning following a special council sitting on Thursday.
She will be taking over the reins from outgoing professor Mandla Makhanya, whose tenure commenced in January 2011.
Although LenkaBula’s appointment will come into effect from January 1 2021, the Unisa council resolved to extend Makhanya’s term, which expires at the end of the year, to April 2021 to “ensure a smooth handover”.
In a statement, the council said it was proud that it would have its first female principal and vice-chancellor “since the establishment of the university 148 years ago”.
Unisa said the unanimous decision to appoint LenkaBula followed a rigorous selection process to fill the position, including requisite consideration and recommendation of candidates by the executive committees of the Unisa senate and the Unisa institutional forum.
“This appointment is testimony of the commitment of the council to the transformation project it introduced and has drove relentlessly in the university over the years, as well as ensuring that its workforce is alive to and reflective of the demographics of the country and the gender empowerment wave sweeping the country,” the statement reads.
LenkaBula is currently the vice-rector for institutional change, student affairs and community engagement at the University of the Free State.
Unisa said she has extensive managerial experience in higher education.
Prior to occupying current position, Unisa said, LenkaBula was the dean of students at Wits University, where she was a member of the vice-chancellor’s office and the senior executive team.
She has previously held another Unisa management position, running a successful stint as dean of students, and is an internationally revered scholar who has published widely.
LenkaBula also serves as a board member on local ecumenical and academic formations, including on the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
Unisa council chairperson Sakhi Simelane said the council was of the firm belief that “this appointment bodes well for the future of our university, as it intensifies its endeavour to move towards a fully fledged open distance and e-learning dispensation and to solidify Unisa’s stature as a truly African university in the service of humanity.
“In LenkaBula, we have appointed the right calibre of leader – one who is student-centred and shares our institutional vision on decoloniality and transformation, knowledge production, innovation and advancing the socioeconomic development of South Africa, Africa and the world, in particular for the benefit of Africa. As council, we commit ourselves to providing her with the necessary support to ensure that she succeeds in taking our vision of transformation and excellent service delivery to the next level.”
Advocacy group Higher Education Transformation Network has welcomed LenkaBula’s appointment.
In a statement, the network said her appointment was in line with the Employment Equity Act and the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030, which states that the higher education sector must ensure that black South Africans and women make up 50% of the teaching and research staff of universities.
“The appointment of LenkaBula is a historic success in higher education, given that there are currently only three female vice-chancellors and that black female South African professors constitute less than 17% of the total academic workforce. There is an urgent need to focus on the development of black female South African academia.”
The network also encouraged Universities SA and the Council on Higher Education to fulfil their mandates to ensure that transformation within the echelons of senior academia is accelerated in line with the objectives of the NDP.
Nelson Mandela Foundation spokesperson Luzuko Koti said the foundation welcomed her appointment.
“We have every confidence that she will lead Africa’s largest open distance learning institution and the world’s longest standing distance education university with candour and distinction. That she will become the first woman to occupy the position carries special significance.”