The 2021 academic year will see a new vice chancellor at Wits University. 

Wits University’s vice chancellor (VC), is set to resign by the end of this year to take up the role as director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

Professor Adam Habib, 55, announced his decision via a letter to the Wits community on Tuesday, February 18.

“This is one of the most difficult letters that I have had to write in my seven years at Wits,” Habib said. He said that the opportunity to lead the 104-year-old SOAS was one he could not overlook. “Following a lengthy internal reflection, intense deliberations with my family, and robust discussions with the Wits executive team and Council members, I have decided to accept the offer – I will take up the new position in January 2021.”

Habib became the Wits VC in 2013 when he replaced Professor Loyiso Nongxa. He was re-elected for a second term in 2017 which was meant to run until 2023.


During the course of Habib’s seven years at Wits, he came under close scrutiny and, at times, was harshly criticised for his management of the #FeesMustFall (#FMF) protests.

Reflecting on this time and his handling of the protests, Habib said at a launch of his 2019 book Rebels and Rage that, “If I was faced with the same circumstances and the same conditions, I would make the same decision again as it was the progressive and right decision under those circumstances.”

According to Habib’s letter, the university has made significant strides during this tenure as VC saying that Wits has increased graduation numbers from 7 000 in 2013 to 9 500 by 2019, as well as almost doubling the number of postgraduates enrolled at the university which was estimated at 15 000 students as of 2019.

Habib said, “As a result of these academic successes, our budgeted income has increased from R2.4 billion in 2013 to R4 billion in 2018, some R500 million per annum above our research peers. This has allowed us to make investments in the academic programme by more than 14% per annum, social investments in professional and support staff by a similar 14%, and a financial investment approximating 24% in student support.”

In a video posted on the Wits University website detailing his resignation Habib said he has always emphasised that building a world-class institution that is transformed is important for the future of this country.

“Wits has always been more than a job, it has been a political passion … I would never have been able to achieve the collective outcomes that we have achieved if it hadn’t been for the support of the Senate, the Council, the academic community, professional administration of staff and even the student community,” he said.

In a statement on the SOAS website, Marie Staunton, Chair of the SOAS Board of Trustees said, “[Habib’s] record of leadership in South Africa, his academic pedigree, his outspoken commitment to diversity and equality, his willingness to challenge received wisdom across society, his commitment to engagement with the student community and his vision on key issues such as decolonisation, make him a superb fit for SOAS and the values we share.” Habib will be replacing Valerie Amos, the SOAS director since 2015.

Isaac Shongwe, the chairperson of the Wits Council issued a statement saying that, “The Chancellor, Dr Judy Dlamini, members of the University’s Council and members of the Senior Executive Team are working together to ensure that the processes to appoint a suitable successor are in order.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Adam Habib is stepping down as vice chancellor of Wits University. Photo: File.