Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela: Hard work pays off

Dr Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela has relocated to Makhanda after being appointed deputy vice-chancellor of Rhodes University.
Dr Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela has relocated to Makhanda after being appointed deputy vice-chancellor of Rhodes University.

The newly appointed deputy vice-chancellor of Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape is the formidable Dr Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela.

She is the first black woman to achieve this in the 115 years of the university's existence.

She admits that as a black woman in a position of power she has to have certain qualities to lead effectively.

"It's going to take strength, firmness, assertiveness, persuasion, fairness and respect to lead people - especially a diverse team. But I treat both women and men equally," says Monnapula-Mapesela.

Born in the Free State, the 53-year-old speaks proudly of how she was raised in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, in the small rural town of Morija, by loving and hardworking parents.

"Morija received the first priests to come to Africa."

The last born of six siblings and a mother to two young men, Bokang and Tumi, her achievements thus far are dedicated to her family, whom she says have always praised and motivated her.

"It is a big honour for me to be acknowledged by a great university such as Rhodes. It is humbling that they acknowledge my worth and they trust that I can add value and contribute towards the enhancement and transformation of teaching and learning, as well as student experience at the institution.

"This is a big milestone in my academic career and it is a fitting motivation for all young women, and perhaps young men, especially those of colour, to aspire for greater things in life regardless of their circumstances.

She explains: "Raising two young men myself, I know how important this is to them, as they see me as their role model.

"I actually wanted to become a medical doctor, but my parents could not afford to pay for university fees. I got a bursary which forced me into teaching.

"I completed a Bachelor of Science Education, with biology and chemistry as majors, and grew to love teaching. By the way, my mother and eldest sister were teachers," she states proudly.

For her post-graduate studies, she pursued a Bachelor of Education, Masters in Educational Management and Leadership, a PhD in Higher Education and a Post-graduate Diploma in Higher Education.

Having also worked at the University of the Free State, she is ready to tackle any challenges head on.

"In my experience, the biggest challenge is to get people to buy into your vision and ways of managing performance, which is new in higher education.

"Envisioning, planning and strategising together as a team always helped in soliciting buy-in," she adds.

Her new role at Rhodes involves strategic and intellectual leadership on all aspects of the academic portfolio.

"Central to this role is to formulate strategies for advancing transformation, and redressing past imbalances in teaching and learning."

She also wants to ensure graduates are innovative, creative, critical and reflective thinkers who are responsible, ethical, resilient life-long learners. She hopes these skills will help them contribute to the advancement and development of the Eastern Cape and southern Africa.

But it's not all about academics. As an unpublished poet, she looks forward to attending the National Arts Festival every year, now that it's on her doorstep.

"I always tell the female academics whom I mentor that if they want to succeed in academia, they must work all the time. But I do set time aside for expressing my feelings through writing poems .

She is also looking forward to her new Makhanda home.

"I got to know the town and the university first in 2013 when I came here to do benchmarking for the centre that I led at my previous institution. I also did a Post-graduate Diploma in Higher Education at the Rhodes Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning.

"People in Makhanda are warm," she says, adding that her family have already settled nicely in the town."

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