Women continue to struggle to gain a foothold in South African academia despite the gains made in decades. This timeline highlights a few of the women who have held prominent positions in academia.  

Out of a total of 4 000 professors in South African, only 34 are women. Wits Vuvuzela looks at some of the most significant strides made by women in academia in this country.

18 September 1999 – University of Cape Town: Chancellor Graca Machel

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Graca Machel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On the 18th of September 1999, Graca Machel was appointed as the University of Cape Town (UCT) chancellor. Machel is the titular head and representative of UCT.

Machel is a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and chairperson of the National Organisation of Children of Mozambique, and the president of the country’s UNESCO commission.

November 2002: Wits University: Vice-Chancellor and Principal Norma Glasgo Reid Birley

Norma G. Birley was appointed the vice-chancellor and principal at Wits University in 2000, following a 25-year career in academia. A statistician and health service researcher, Birley has also held the positions of director of an academic consultancy firm, associate professor of the University of Ulster and an honorary professor of Sussex University.

Birley is also an author and has three published titles, two of which became standard text books in research methods for nurses.

November 2007: Tshwane University of Technology Chancellor Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1983 Mlambo-Ngcuka became the first president of the Natal Organization of Women, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front. In 1984, she worked as a youth director for the Young Women’s Christian Association Board in Geneva.

Mlambo-Nguka prides herself in serving women in informal settlements and African independent churches.

2010: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Chancellor Susan Santie Botha

Botha serves as the Independent Non-Executive Director of Tigers Brands Limited and of Imperial Holdings Limited.

In 2013 she was appointed the non-executive chairperson for Curro Holding Limited, she serves as a member at the National Business Initiative, Institute of Directors as well as the executive director (Management Services) for MTN Group Limited.

17 February 2010: Vaal University of Technology Chancellor Advocate Pansy Tlakula

Tlakula is an independent non-executive director at trading and distribution at Bidvest and a director of mining and investment company Lehotsa. She works the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, where she acts as special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

Tlakula is a former Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission. She holds a B. Proc degree from the University of the North, an LLB degree from Wits University and an LLM degree (summa cum laude) from Harvard University.

In 2006, Vaal University recognised and acknowledged her commitment to human rights by awarding her with an honorary doctorate in Legal Studies

August 2013: Wits University Faculty of Humanities Dean Ruksana Osman

Osman is an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF). A Wits alumnus, Osman holds degrees from two universities. She is an eminent academic, member of ASSAF and serves on various academic and advisory boards and research committees. A former Spencer doctoral fellow, she completed her PhD in Higher Education Studies and Policy.

November 2013: Wits University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Beatrys Lacquet

Beatrys Lacquet was appointed in November 2013 as the deputy vice-chancellor responsible for managing infrastructure, services, maintenance, information technology, security and Wits libraries.

Lacquet served as the dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at Wits for six years. She is the first female to have served as a dean of Engineering Faculty as a South African university.

In 2003 she was the De Beers Chair of Electronics in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

March 2014: Wits University Dean of Student Affairs Pamela Dube

Dube worked at the University of Johannesburg as a special advisor to the vice-chancellor, with oversight of the Student Affairs and International portfolios, she also served as the Executive Director for Human Resources.

In 2013, Dube was appointed as the deputy vice-chancellor designate for student affairs, advancement and international. She worked as a director for higher education policy and support in the national Department of Education.

She served as a committee member for the Higher Education HIV and AIDS programme, while Heading International Partnerships and Learning & People Development at NECSA.

10 April 2014: Mangosuthu University Chancellor Lindiwe Sisulu

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ms Lindiwe Sisulu has been a member of Parliarment since 1994 and is a member of ANC’s National Executive Committee, while serving as the minister of Public Services and Administration.

She has held positions as a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC). Serving as the Minister of Housing from 2004 to 2009. In 2004 and 2005 she was awarded the President Award for Housing delivery by the Institute for Housing of South Africa and the International Association for Housing Science Award.

Sisulu returned to her former portfolio of Human Settlements (Housing) in 2014.