Wits University has a new vice-chancellor. On June 25, the university announced professor Zeblon Vilakazi will take over the position from Adam Habib from January 1 2021. Habib announced his resignation from Wits in February. This after he was offered the position of the head of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Here are five things to know about the new VC.
Head of research
Vilakazi is the current vice-principal and deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate studies at Wits. He will relinquish this position once he takes over the VC position. He joined the university in 2014 as the deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs. Vilakazi was promoted to the position of vice-principal in April 2020.
Vilakazi got his PhD from Wits in 1998 in nuclear physics. He became one of the first students from the African continent to conduct research at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. This research period was followed by a National Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at CERN.
Vilakazi’s research interests include computational physics and heavy-ion collisions at high energies. He helped establish South Africa’s first experimental high-energy physics research group focusing on the development of the High-level Trigger for the CERN-ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. His physics research work saw him nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010. He is currently a member of the programme advisory committee for nuclear physics at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia.
According to the university council, under Vilakazi’s leadership, the university achieved many of its strategic objectives of creating a research-intensive and postgraduate-oriented university. In the statement announcing his appointment, it mentions that Vilakazi increased the number of postgraduate students to “realise the University’s vision of becoming a research-intensive African university.”
“Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the epitome of a world-class researcher who is globally recognised for his scientific work, and for his contribution towards developing higher education in Africa, ” said Mr Isaac Shongwe, chairperson of the Wits Council. Shongwe said they are confident Vilakazi will “lead Wits to its centenary in 2022 and beyond, steward a new vision for the academy, and reinvigorate the academic project in a higher education context that is rapidly changing.”
Response from students
During the selection process for the vice-chancellor position, there were a number of controversies. The Wits student representative council (SRC) said students would not be involved in “anti-black” appointment processes. The SRC president said: “Our flagging of this made it very clear that we would not involve ourselves in processes that are anti-black and anti-progressive and this is the view we are talking about the decision for vice-chancellor.”
However, following the appointment of Vilakazi, the SRC released a statement saying they welcomed his appointment. The statement goes on to say that his appointment sends a message about transformation and they hope he will remain committed to fulfilling the SRC’s vision.