Nelson Mandela University COVID-19 Latest Updates

By Safe Campus Coordinating Team 

The present rise in COVID-19 transmissions nationally and on Nelson Mandela University Gqeberha campuses (see statistics below) was anticipated given the recent opening up of restrictions, as we learn to co-exist with coronavirus by continuing to practise all basic preventative measures.

Our approach to the virus going forward is that it forms part of our overall commitment to individual and collective wellbeing of all staff and students.

Keep masks on indoors

This means keeping your masks on indoors, particularly in communal spaces like lecture venues, offices and ablution facilities. Please keep all interior spaces ventilated by leaving doors and windows open.

Vaccination

In addition, you are strongly urged to get vaccinated. Vaccination against COVID-19 is the best way of preventing serious illness and hospitalisation if you contract the virus.

You can take advantage of this opportunity to be vaccinated at any of the University’s campus clinics in Gqeberha or George if you are a student, or at the COVID-19 Vaccination Centre on North Campus  or the George Campus clinic as a staff member.

This includes the need for booster shots.

Consider taking your lead from the University’s own Council members who are running a social media campaign urging staff and students to vaccinate READ MORE

Rapid testing

Both Student Health Services and Occupational Health Services are offering students and staff the opportunity to take a rapid antigen test if you have symptoms.

Please do not hesitate to take the test with them or elsewhere if you are feeling unwell. If you do test positive you can immediately isolate from others for seven days, which will help to stop the spread of the virus.

Clinic staff will advise you on the steps to follow.

Reporting your status

As part of efforts to manage the virus nationally and by employees, all positive cases must be reported to either Student Health or Occupational Health.

Coronavirus is a notifiable communicable disease so you are legally obliged to inform your employer (occupationalhealth@mandela.ac.za) or, in the case of students, Student Health Services (maria.luthaga@mandela.ac.za).

This information is for reporting purposes only and is kept strictly confidential.

Self-screening

As screening no longer takes place at the entrances to campus, you are encouraged to use the self-screening tool to monitor your own wellbeing.

https://webapps.mandela.ac.za/screening

Statistics

As in the country with 8 351 of cases as at Friday, 13 May, there has been an increase in cases in Gqeberha to 2315. At the University, 25 new student cases have been reported this month. There have been 42 staff cases this year, many of which were reported this month.

It is also believed that caseloads are underreported because many people are not testing. Many individuals are asymptomatic (showing no signs of ill health), only discovering that they have COVID-19 because of compulsory PCR testing to meet specific travel or hospital requirements.

Acknowledgement

We acknowledgment your frustrations and disappointments considering that we have all been grappling with coronavirus for more than two years. In addition, we face daily power outages because of loadshedding and now Nelson Mandela Bay and the institution face the very real likelihood of life without running tap water in the near future (early June).

While this is our present harsh reality, we believe that with your understanding and support we can navigate these challenges. We have overcome such crises in the past, and are confident we can do it again to enable our students to complete the 2022 Academic Year.

Emerging Academics in Conversation with VC and Leadership

“To be a scholar is an act of freedom. There is no other job like that. Research the knowledge of your dreams. You have an impact on your own growth as you choose your path.”

This was the salient, inspirational advice by Mandela University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sibongile Muthwa to early career academics at a recent Learning and Teaching hybrid session at the institution. 

Some 50 emerging academics in the University’s Early Career Academics Advancement Programme (ECAAP) attended the session at the Business School and online in April.

ECAAP is a professional progression programme aimed at growing and capacitating the next generation of academics.

Executive Dean: Learning and Teaching Dr Phumeza Kota-Nyati, DVC Engagement and Transformation Prof Andre Keet, and Director: Research Development Dr Priscilla Mensah (on behalf of the DVC Research and Innovation Dr Thandi Mgwebi), formed the panel together with Prof Muthwa. 

Teaching Development Director and co-coordinator of ECAAP, Dr Noluthando Toni, was the facilitator.  Ms Eunice Champion co-coordinates the programme with Dr Toni.

Prof Muthwa invited emerging academics to take advantage of the support systems that the university offers, such as those by Learning and Teaching. She also encouraged the audience to create their own informal spaces to create relationships.

She welcomed inputs as leadership needed to be informed with “fresh ideas about what makes the University great” but equally, to point out its blind spots.

The young academics welcomed the opportunity to engage with the University leadership and aired both the strengths and challenges and frustrations.

Small city university

The issue of Mandela Uni residing in a “small city” as a possible frustration to career advancement was shared. The argument was opposed, since many highly successful universities are not necessarily situated in big cities.

According to Prof Muthwa the academy should not depend on its location, but rather on the bigger call to the advancement of social justice and the contribution it should make. 

It was agreed that the next generation should leave the university in a better place, contributing to humanity.

“Academics should spread their wings and return with more experience” and that they should view themselves as “valuable assets” to the University and ask, “what can we bring to the table?”.


Effect of the pandemic

Another talking point revolved around the impact of the pandemic, as both a challenge and opportunity. The situation called for academics to be innovative and creative, and to find new ways of teaching and working with technology.

Chemistry and science, for example, demanded severe changes with laboratory work and staff are only now finding their feet, thinking in different ways with hybrid sessions. Changing the scholarship of science was, however, rewarding.

The pandemic saw seniority lines blur and disappear with everybody becoming experts, having to understand technology and other skills. This had positively contributed to self-actualisation.

Moodle transitioned academics to be more confident, creative with technology, recording experiments, specialised cameras moving around were “mind-blowing”. Innovation with groups was also a positive factor, one of the academics said.   

A huge learning curve also had to be transitioned with many students challenged with data support and devices as well as the online experience.

Spelling and language problems were mentioned and the importance of bridging courses for technology and language issues in rigid curriculums.

In response, Dr Kota-Nyati mentioned the team of writing consultants available to work in groups to assist with assignments. Some departments, such as Economics, have also translated their coursework into isiXhosa and Afrikaans.

Learning and Teaching GetDigiReady consultants are situated in all faculties, automated electronic books are available on Moodle, as well as designers and experts to assist academics to transition to technology, also for postgraduate students.

Student funding issues and academic burnout

The contentious issue of student funding processes was raised because of the impact it had on academics who were expected to constantly bring affected students up to date. This saw academics experience burnout.

Prof Muthwa explained that there were no easy answers as the University had a social responsibility to support poor deserving students with late registration since their life pathways were at stake.

She said the answer lay in the stability of government policy to finalise funding ahead of the start of the new year. 

The large teaching and marking load of young academics also needed to be researched, Prof Muthwa said.  

“Looking after one’s wellbeing, which includes having good relationships and supporting one another, is important.”

The sum of everyone’s individual contributions led to benefits for the larger entity.  

Support for academics

Prof Muthwa said support was the big issue and commended ECAAP for its  affirming support in producing  well-rounded academics.

“These conversations are a step in the right direction.”

Another point raised was to return to the institutional values including social justice. In this way the layers between emerging academics, and those higher up could become energising and a good institutional culture fostered. This could remove feelings of being threatened from all sides. And humility is in line with the humanising pedagogy underlining the academic project. 

Contributing to institutional culture

Prof Keet further shared that the University space is both exciting and challenging, with career advancement and collegiality and working against a culture of competition. One must avoid the negative pitfalls. “A good university is built on good people. And you know who you don’t want to be”, he said. 

Prof Muthwa agreed that institutional culture engagement should take place between all layers of academics as everyone contributes to the same goal with different strengths, weaknesses, and fears. Therefore, intergenerational conversations among layers should take place. The same is applicable to administrative staff and between them and the academics. The values and Vision 2030 should be popularised, what it means for Mandela Uni and how it comes through everyone.

Prof Keet reflected on the importance for young researchers to become involved with interdisciplinary research on global challenges in civil society. He emphasised that emerging academics had the possibility to do great work. And the University is a key space to turn their social projects into academic endeavours at our University. This is possible with the growth and leverage of experience at the University.

He also paused at the idea of the university’s place in society and its purpose to build its legitimacy, working on its role and impact to improve the human condition. “People at your level have the critical knowledge to drive the change among academics, especially the changes since 2020, he said.

Research funding opportunities

Dr Mensah mentioned various funding opportunities including available seed funding for postgraduate students, the Mandela University funded ones, internal research grants, senior post docs and access to research professional Africa. All these can be found on the Research Development website and Facebook.  

Emerging opportunities

We have to walk into our power and take emerging opportunities to contribute to the advancement of our continent, Prof Muthwa said.

“We are fleeting, as we lead the University, we are building for a future. Create your own ambition and rise to the best that you can be as a scholar. We must create the space and you must take the opportunities”.

Ms Noxolo Grootboom to Receive a Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) at Nelson Mandela University

Ms Noxolo Grootboom (centre) will receive a Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) for her invaluable work and contribution to journalism, media, and communication, as well as her upliftment of the linguistic heritage of South Africa.

Born in Cacadu (formerly Lady Frere) in the Eastern Cape, Ms Grootboom moved to Gauteng in 1981, where she took up a course in computers at a Johannesburg-based computer academy. Thereafter, she took up a position as a typist at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in 1983, seeing this as an opportunity to move into the media space, albeit with no formal journalism background.

She worked her way up to being appointed as a production assistant and received mentoring from fellow journalists. Her love of storytelling and her passion for the isiXhosa language landed her a position as a current affairs producer.

A stand-in stint in the newsroom in 1990, reading a news bulletin, impressed the public broadcaster’s management and she subsequently became an isiXhosa news anchor.

With her unique sense of humour and her inimitable knack for the isiXhosa language, Ms Grootboom represents many things that Nelson Mandela University stands for, including the value of healing society from its brutal wounds, while preserving the intellectual heritage of isiXhosa for families across the nation.

Her public service in South African society to translate stories and capture the mood while teaching younger generations of the content and knowledge preserved in language, makes her one of the few news anchors and storytellers who deserve the opportunity to be honoured by “ukuthweswa isidanga” (graduation) for the excellent work done in service to society for more than three decades.

It is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Philosophy (honoris causa) on Noxolo Grootboom.

Graduation Season is Given a New Meaning  

By Luphelo Zendile

We have arrived at the time of year where dreams come true and successes are celebrated, and happily where ceremonies are still conducted according to strict Corona Virus protocols. On the second of March 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Nelson Mandela University would organize twenty-six Autumn graduation ceremonies in Gqeberha and George to allow students to celebrate themselves in person.  

This is something new to most, however, it is the second mask-to-mask graduation season to be hosted on campus since the pandemic begun over more than two years ago. Due to restrictions, it is expected that all 6200 students graduate on different dates, with three ceremonies in George from 7 to 8 April and 23 ceremonies in Gqeberha from 20 April to 5 May. With strong adherence to protocols, 50 percent of capacity or maximum limit of 1000 people indoors will not be exceeded. The adaptations also indicate strict measures like the duration and guest list. 

However, this is the first complete in-person season, which may be difficult given the large number of people scheduled to attend. The personnel assigned, are dependable and trustworthy in ensuring that attendees will have well-organized events that they will always remember. 

Photo credit: Cuaustralasia

Management of COVID-19 Changes at Mandela University

By Health Workstream and Communication and Marketing

Nelson Mandela University has made a number of changes in managing the coronavirus pandemic on its campuses and residences in line with national directives.

After more than two years of COVID-19, staff and students should be taking responsibility for their own wellbeing against the pandemic by being vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors, practising social distancing and hand washing or sanitising.

On-campus temperature screening

  • Temperature screening at the campus entrances no longer takes place
  • Temperature screening should still take place in those areas where there are large groups, such as residences etc

Self-screening

All staff and students should use the self-screening tool daily to monitor their wellbeing.

https://webapps.mandela.ac.za/screening

The tool asks one simple question: do you have COVID-19 symptoms?

Staff

If, as a staff member, you do have any symptoms or related concerns, please do one of the following:

  1. Get yourself tested at the COVID-19 Centre at North Campus (a rapid test offers results within 15 minutes) or elsewhere
  2. See your doctor, especially since it is also flu season, or
  3. Contact Occupational Health Services on occupationalhealth@mandela.ac.za or call 041 5041003

Students

Students whose self-screening indicates that they are high-risk for COVID-19 will be contacted directly by the “war room” of Student Health Services. Alternatively, students with such concerns should contact 041 5043204 or email Sister Maria Luthaga on maria.luthaga@mandela.ac.za

The student will be given a rapid antigen test and advised on the way forward dependent on the result.

New rulings

Asymptomatic cases

Please also note that should an individual have no symptoms but is tested (for reason of travels or hospital procedures) and found positive, they do not need to isolate. It has been scientifically established that those who are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) or have been vaccinated have low viral loads. In other words, they are less likely to transmit the virus.      

Contact tracing

This no longer happens, except for hospitals and, for example, homes for the elderly where there are large numbers of vulnerable people grouped together.

Mandela University Graduation celebrations begin in Gqeberha  

Today, Nelson Mandela University begins the Gqeberha leg of its Autumn Graduation season with the capping of more than 7000 graduates, including 52 doctorates. 

An additional 23 ceremonies will be held, after three were successfully hosted in George, and will run until 5 May at the Madibaz Indoor Centre on South Campus. 

Honorary doctorates 

The first ceremony this morning for graduates in the School for Economics, Development and Tourism in the Faculty of Business of Economic Sciences, will also see the conferring of an honorary doctorate degree for Mr Sindiso Mfenyana. 

The liberation struggle stalwart, who wrote Walking with Giants and was the first black Secretary to Parliamentis one of three distinguished individuals being honoured by the institution for their service to society. 

The others are media personality Ms Noxolo Grootboom, for her commitment, among other achievements, to the upliftment of the linguistic heritage of South Africa and the acclaimed paediatric cardiologist and former Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the late Professor Lungile Pepeta. The award will be made posthumously for his contributions as a paediatric cardiologist, medical researcher, academic, and activist, and for being a medical pioneer, particularly in child healthcare.

Safety protocols 

The University is excited to be hosting its Autumn graduation season in person but is mindful that the coronavirus pandemic is still active. 

For this reason, COVID-19 protocols still need to be observed. 

To enable good management of the event, please note the following: 

  • Entry for the graduate and two guests, is by ticket only.  
  • Graduates and their guests will need to show the result of their self-screening https://webapps.mandela.ac.za/screening  on their mobiles at the entrance to the hall 


Compliance officers will be on hand to help manage access and ensure that everyone respects social distancing rules and wear their masks in the hall. 

Be prepared 

Graduates and their guests should build additional time into their journey to the campus, especially given the additional checks at the entrances. 

Full information regarding times, ticket collection, photography, collection of certificates and the like has been sent directly to graduating students. 

Livestreaming 

For those who are unable to attend, all 23 ceremonies will be livestreamed https://www.youtube.com/c/NelsonMandelaUniversity  

Share the good news   

We want to share in your good news. Help us to track your success by using the hashtag #MandelaGrad. 

Congratulations 

Congratulations to all our graduates! Our appreciation also goes to those who have supported them on their journey to attaining their qualifications. 

Music Alumnus Wins Top Theatre Award

South African mezzo-soprano and Mandela Uni Alumnus, Siphokazi Molteno, has won the Best Performance in an Opera (for the second time) at the 57th Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards held recently.

The Award was for her 2020 portrayal of Dorabella in the Mozart opera, Così fan tutte. Siphokazi is currently in her first year of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at The Metropolitan Opera in New York. The Program was created to identify and develop extraordinarily talented young artists in the realm of opera. She was previously a member of the young artist programme at Cape Town Opera, where she recently sang Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and the Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

In 2020, she won the Rising Star Encouragement Award in the Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Best Female Performance in an Opera in the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards in South Africa for her 2019 portrayal of Romeo.

She was also a winner of the 2018 Schock Foundation Prize for Singing. After winning the Ana María Martínez Encouragement Award and the Audience Choice Award at the Houston Grand Opera Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers in 2017, she joined the Houston Grand Opera Young Artist Vocal Academy.

On the concert stage, she has performed as a soloist in Haydn’s Nicolai Mass and Mozart’s Coronation Mass at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, and Verdi’s Requiem with the Dar Choral Society in Tanzania.

Siphokazi has been singing for as long as she can remember, having always held the knowledge that it was what she wanted to do. She remembers hearing her first aria and being amazed at what the human voice could achieve. With the support of her family and a high school teacher, she was able to pursue singing as her career.

She completed her Diploma in Music at Nelson Mandela University under voice lecturer, Lionel van Zyl and proceeded to complete her Diploma in Opera Performance under the tutelage of Patrick Tikolo at the University of Cape Town.

Nursing Science Master’s Student’s Pioneering Research

Seven years after graduating with a Bachelor of Nursing Science at Nelson Mandela University, Bizana-born Xolani Dlamini (30) will be crossing the same stage to receive his Master of Nursing in Advanced Clinical Midwifery and Neonatal Nursing Science.

Xolani is also about to complete his first article for publication, reporting his master’s findings and preparing for his PhD.

His research focused on the birthing process preparedness of first-time mothers in the public obstetric units of the Nelson Mandela Bay Health District (NMBHD). He found no previous similar study and/or literature with a South African context.

Xolani is an accoucheur (male midwife) who is passionate about midwifery care and lectures midwifery nursing sciences and research at Lilitha Nursing College. He started his master’s programme on a part-time basis while working full-time in a busy maternity ward.

“I have not lifted my foot off the peddle since!. It was a four year roller-coaster, having to overcome endless lists of challenges” he says.

These included having to convince ethics committees as a male researcher in a midwifery domain, finances, changing jobs and balancing the work-life-university triangle. And of course the complications of COVID-19.

His study found that first-time mothers were predominantly fearful of their birthing process experience. First-time mothers further expressed receiving poor information from the midwives at the antenatal care clinics, whereas they applauded the help from women who have previously given birth, their families, WhatsApp groups, Facebook groups, the Mom-connect app and YouTube videos.

The study concluded that there should be formal birthing preparation classes, counselling sessions and detailed information-sharing about birthing process strategies such as videos, mannikins (dolls) and posters.

Xolani says research confirms that poor birthing process preparedness could lead to psychological problems and therefore, for his PhD, he hopes to develop strategies to enhance birthing women’s preparation to be comparable to developed countries such as the USA.

Xolani praised his supervisor Professor Sindiwe James who supported him diligently even after she retired and his former Mandela University Midwifery lecturer, Israel Sonti for his assistance.

He also holds Postgraduate Diplomas in Nursing Education (Stellenbosch University) and Health Service Management (North-West University).

His advice to young nurses is to continuously challenge and develop themselves to keep up with the everchanging world and developments.

Student Debt, A Barrier to Registration 

By Somila Tiwani

As we all prepare to begin another academic year, those with student loans have yet another challenge. A free enrolment concession in 2022, as these students’ last hope, will necessitate considerable changes to the standards. 

These concessions, according to Siyadumisa Vena, the premier of North Campus, stem from the #FeesMustFall movement. “This is a short reprieve, but it isn’t helping us; all academically deserving students shouldn’t be left out; they should all register despite past debts.” Vena claims that they would continue to press the government to forgive all historic debts owed to all institutions. 

Vena, also the head of the SRC for the National Assistance support desk, emphasizes that the SRC is in opposition to the University’s new criteria or MANCO (Management Committee). “The SRC is not a member of the MANCO, and this has to be addressed. It can’t be that the highest decision-making body lacks a student representation; we are the ones who are familiar with student pains, yet we are excluded from those conversations.” 

The SRC has supported unfunded students through provision of food parcels. However, this is not enough for Nomsa Ben (not real name as source wants to be kept anonymous). Ben was affected by the n+2 rule and can’t afford to pay rent for off-campus residence as she was rejected on staying on-campus. “I have tried reaching out to the SRC with no response, I need to go back to campus, so I am able to access lab computers as I have technical issues with my laptop”.  All students who were unable to pay their debts and were turned down by the concession but given the chance to appeal. This procedure will be monitored, the SRC promised this to students. 

Photo credit: ewn.co.za

Mandatory Academic Vaccination? 

By Lindokuhle Frank 

Many students had to acquaint themselves with their institution’s vaccination policy when South African universities reopened. Many students wondered whether they needed to be vaccinated for Covid-19 to gain entry to their university campus. 

Some of the best universities in the country have set policies concerning vaccination. The University of Cape Town (UCT) drafted a policy back in 2021, that stated that access to campus and residences will require valid proof of vaccination with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or a valid exemption. This policy is effective from 1 March 2022 and allows those who are against mandatory vaccination to appeal, stating valid reasons why they will not vaccinate. 

Rhodes University (RU) has made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all students and employees. To complete their online enrolment at RU, students must have their vaccination status verified or an authorised exemption. Non-vaccinated students were unable to complete registration without providing their vaccination information, and all employees, students, and visitors must present vaccination certificates to enter campus. 

Nelson Mandela University however, is one of the few institutions that have not yet implemented mandatory vaccination and a vaccination policy for their students. The University has not disclosed whether they will consider mandatory vaccination in the coming months, however, those who registered in registration venues had to present their vaccination certificate. In an interview with Daily Maverick, Zandile Mbabela, Nelson Mandela’s communication manager, commented that, “there is also presently no COVID-19 vaccination policy for the higher education sector that we are aware of.” However, the university has been strongly advocating for students, staff, and the Nelson Mandela Bay community to vaccinate, so that campus can be a safe environment for all students. 

Photo credit: Getty images