The turn of events of 2020 has sown unprecedented social, economic and organisational disruption, the magnitude of which we have yet to comprehend fully
It has been a year filled with much sorrow, adversity and challenge. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus, the struggles for life, humanity and a better life for all globally. The impact of the pandemic has affected us personally, professionally and sometimes stretched our beliefs in the global good.
It has been through a focus on evidence based-science, collegiality and solidarity that has some hope and strength has arisen to tackle the global trend to despair following tragic loss that all have endured. The pandemic has shown how global events can shape our common experience, in a world that is not always collaborative, generally unequal and cruel. Yet, this time has also revealed immeasurable and unexpected kindness, compassion and solidarity among communities that are often marginalised and vulnerable. The tenderness of human connection despite pain and suffering has been remarkable- the importance of which we have yet to appreciate fully.
Allow me at the outset to express my sincere gratitude to all our colleagues and partners around the world for their resilience and the unwavering commitment they have shown to our student and our scholarly communities under these strained circumstances. I also wish to pay homage all our students – many who have endured personal hardship and who have had to find their way through challenging and confusing times. We are acutely aware that many have been directly affected by the pandemic, losing loved ones or being infected with the Coronavirus. The need for a contextual understanding with sustained academic and mental health support has been foregrounded, as most institutions rapidly went online to offer a blend of digital education and some face-face learning. This continues to necessitate us maintaining the support systems established early in the pandemic, which come with its own set of challenges.
The disruptive impact of COVD-19 not only compounded the initial challenge of active participation in the crafting of a new academic project, but also demanded greater agility and innovation. More importantly, the impact of the pandemic demanded greater openness to challenge long-held views about existing operating models, modes of engagement, working environments and planning assumptions. I am confident the slower pace has allowed for more deliberation to arrive at a shared understanding of value-added aspects which will eventually convey clearer signals of UWC’s vision and future intentions, in collaboration with our international partners.
It also afforded the university to engage more deeply with the global challenges of our time, with our African and international colleagues. The issues of racism, inequality, poverty, climate change and food and water insecurity were tackled with vigour and robust engagement in digital fora.
A three-part webinar series on ‘Race and Racism’ was co-convened by UWC-Ghent University and the University of Missouri. Given the importance of discussions on race, apartheid, colonialism and the legacy of monuments celebrating slavery, this webinar series tapped into the issues and emotionality experienced by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Finally, this year has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging – not only for the University and the country, but globally. We have had to navigate our way through our lives cautiously and with a great deal of anxiety. Our students, staff and the broader UWC community, have been significantly affected in ways that we are still grappling to understand, and we have attempted to provide support as broadly as possible.
I know we have endured hardship and sacrifices. We also know that we will have to proceed into 2021 with an awareness that the pandemic is not over and there are precautions that we must continue to take. We expect 2021 to bring its own challenges and we need to be prepared for whatever might come our way.
I wish to express my immense gratitude and appreciation to the University community for coming together to ensure that while our academic project survives, we continue to uphold the values of solidarity, equity and social justice in all our engagements, both on the Continent, and globally. I hope all those associated with UWC will have time to rest and rejuvenate during the festive season. Please remember to stay safe, practise social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands and sanitise as frequently as possible. Our lives, our livelihoods and our continued global solidarity for the public good depends on this cautious and scientifically based approach.￼