Taking Nelson Mandela Uniersity Boldly into the Future in Service of Society 

Sibongile Muthwa


Professor Muthwa is the Vice-Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. She holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and an MSc in Development Policy and Planning from London School of Economics and Political Science. She has a distinguished career both in South Africa and internationally, working in both development and public sector institutions, as well as in academia.


Drawing on insights from her own life and career, and from consultations within and beyond the university, Muthwa begins this paper with a fundamental question: What are universities for? Though this question has confronted higher education for centuries, she argues, it has returned to the forefront of the agenda in the wake of the hard realities of our broader socio-economic, politico-cultural, and environmental realities. Muthwa follows Premesh Lalu’s suggestions that this question can be looked at in two ways: “what is the university for?” and “what is the university standing for?”. She argues that these questions speak to a sector, a nation, and a world in transition, and that responses to them require both transformational and transformative leadership. In addition to responding to these questions, Muthwa contends, Nelson Mandela University must align itself with the identity and posture of its namesake – seeking to become more engaged with the community, embrace different types of knowledges and ways of knowing, and advance leadership that can transform society in socially-just directions. In this way, she concludes, Nelson Mandela University can move towards becoming a university in the service of society.