Sunday World

Black women leaders rising at UCT

Academics making stride at the university

- By Kabelo Khumalo kabelo@sundayworl­d.co.za

Academia in South Africa has traditiona­lly been male dominated and difficult for any woman to break into, more so if they are black.

Dr Jeshika Luckrajh, Dr Zina Ndabeni and Dr Philile Mbatha are but a few women of colour making great strides at what many describe as continent’s finest tertiary institutio­n - the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Luckrajh (24) is a clinical anatomist and lecturer at the institutio­n and ranks among the university’s youngest academics. She studied clinical anatomy at the University of Kwazulu-natal, graduating with a master’s degree aged only 22.

Given her youth, Luckrajh said she initially struggled to be authoritat­ive. She credits her confidence to lead to advice she received from UCT’S vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the first woman to head the institutio­n.

“I initially struggled with relationsh­ips where I had to be authoritat­ive. Prof Phakeng told me that she was a principal of a school at 23 years old and faced similar challenges,” she said.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande last year said that previously advantaged and Afrikaans universiti­es continued to exclude black women in senior management.

This after a ministeria­l task team appointed by the minister released a report into the inclusion of black South Africans in the academic sector.

The report found that white females are over-represente­d at 25.3% of the academic staff, compared to their 4.5% slice of the general population. On the other hand, black women academics are the most under-represente­d group at 16.1%.

Another woman poised for an illustriou­s career is Ndabeni. She made history when she joined UCT’S physics department in 2020 as the first black South African woman to take up an academic role in the department. She says there’s serious work to be done to nurture black students in the fields of science, technology, engineerin­g and maths.

“Sadly, South Africa produces very few black … women scientists, and even fewer in maths and physics. That has affected diversity and transforma­tion at university level in the country,” she says.

Another rising star in the lecture halls of UCT is Mbatha, a senior lecturer in the department of environmen­tal and geographic­al science. Her area of expertise is natural resource governance, with a focus on marine and coastal environmen­ts in rural areas.

The progress of the three women is even more remarkable when one considers the under-representa­tion of black women academics in UCT.

Of UCT’S 497 academics with National Research Foundation ratings, only 101, or 38%, are women. Only 76 (31%) of UCT’S professors are women, with only 15 of them black South African women.

 ??  ?? Dr Jeshika Luckrajh
Dr Jeshika Luckrajh
 ??  ?? Dr Philile Mbatha
Dr Philile Mbatha
 ??  ?? Dr Zina Ndabeni
Dr Zina Ndabeni

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