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From A Mentor’s Desk: Meet UCT’S Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng


Professor Mamokgethi PhakengUCT’s Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has been dubbed the institution’s ‘Fab Academic’ and her  hard-working approach to higher education in an unapologetically African way has made her a game-changer in the field. 

The professor Mamokgethi Phakeng continues to work tirelessly every day to ensure the University Of Cape Town remains one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

The professor started her tenure as UCT’s tenth vice-chancellor back in July 2018 but her journey starts way before that. She began her academic career at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she started as a research assistant in 1996 and left in December 2007 as an associate professor of mathematics education.

Before her appointment as UCT’s vice-Chancellor, Professor Phakeng served as the vice-principal for research and innovation at the University of South Africa (Unisa) for five years, after serving three years as executive dean of the college of science, engineering and technology.

Today, Professor Phakeng has been credited with refreshing the office of the vice-chancellor as she attempts to be her authentic self in her office and to connect with those in the institution on a personal level. “The vice-chancellor’s job is to focus on the strategy of the university, and to ensure that the university becomes successful in a sustainable manner,” she shares. Professor Phakeng’s new role has seen her reinvent how vice-chancellors interact with diverse staff and connect with students in the university residences.

To students and colleagues alike, Professor Phakeng has become known as (the) ‘Fab Academic’ –  a title given by a former colleague which today is not only her handle on social media but is also a credo which she continues to live by. She encourages personal connection between staff and students. Her colleagues and students affectionately refer to her as their ‘deputy mother’ and her passionate approach to helping those around her achieve their goals has contributed to this.

The professor continues to aspire to reach new heights and find new opportunities to achieve her mandate – and having been recognised as the Most Influential Woman Academic on the African Continent, Professor Phakeng remains focused on the future, expressing that although rewards are nice, she takes them as a challenge.”

During the national lockdown, this approach has led to Professor Phakeng taking on the task of delivering lectures to students from her home office, where she presents material across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – where her videos have collectively been viewed more than a million times.

As part of many of her initiatives, Professor Phakeng continues to demonstrate her commitment to modernise both her office and the University itself. “I have transformed the office of the vice-chancellor,” says Professor Phakeng.

“When you get into the office, you find traditions, histories, and ways of being – and I have made it more accessible. I have brought it to the level of the people – and when I’m gone, I’d like to be remembered as someone who shook up the institution.”

Professor Phakeng appeared in the recent edition of The Insider. Watch The Insider SA every Tuesday at 7.30pm and the repeat every Saturday at 8pm on SABC 3.


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