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#WomenofSU: Dr Zethu Mkhize – “Rising to a challenge widens my perspective"
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 12/08/2022

​At the helm of the Transformation Office, Dr Zethu Mkhize leads people with diverse personalities and life experiences in implementing the Stellenbosch University (SU) Transformation Plan. Devoted to her job, she thrives on challenges, especially those that demand great leadership.

As part of SU's Women's Month celebrations, Zethu tells us more about her role and the leadership qualities it requires.

Tell us more about your role at Stellenbosch University.

My role is to manage the Transformation Office, a multifacet driver of strategies on institutional culture at SU. We seek to transform how the institution creates knowledge and develops the potential of its students and staff.

Our mandate is to advance the implementation of the SU Transformation Plan. Central to this responsibility is facilitating and strengthening stakeholder buy-in and institutional capacity to execute the Transformation Plan. I also manage the review of the plan.

Moreover, I provide strategic direction to the Transformation Office, which involves planning, leadership and coordination. Managing our office resources, including physical, financial and human resources, is another one of my responsibilities.

I also engage with internal stakeholders such as Employment Equity, the Equality Unit and the Disability Unit, and collaborate with institutional governance structures and student bodies to ensure shared responsibility for transformation outcomes.

And then I also coordinate the compilation of the annual SU Transformation Report, which we have to submit to the Department of Higher Education and Training.

What do you enjoy most about this role?

I enjoy the challenge of transformation work. It demands passion and devotion, as I make every effort to succeed. Rising to a challenge widens my perspective.

What do you think are key leadership qualities to fulfil your role?

  • Relationship building: Transformation is a cross-cutting issue. Successful implementation of the Transformation Plan can only be achieved through constant effective engagement with decision-makers and those affected by the decisions. The leaders must establish a relationship of trust with every structure and constituency.

  • Resilience: Leading a Transformation team is often fraught with challenges, as staff have complex roles. They get to deal with topical issues pertinent to higher education while facing other social issues as well. There is also continued pressure from students on our staff, as the students rely heavily on the Transformation Office to bring about change in their immediate environments.

Leadership roles are demanding. What keeps you motivated?

I understand that a leadership role is not indefinite, but assigned for a specific time and purpose. My sense of commitment to the purpose is a strong motivating factor to do the best I can within a given time and, if possible, leave an indelible mark.

Committing to the advancement of a transformation plan is not all plain sailing and demands teamwork. Therefore, another motivating factor is leading a team with a sense of oneness and an active personal commitment to the transformation project.

What would your message be to the next generation of aspiring female leaders?

Leadership is challenging, as you are expected to lead people with diverse and unique personalities, characters, backgrounds and life experiences. The challenge is particularly huge for female leaders in a patriarchal societal system, where men are 'the highest authority' and 'cannot' be directed by women. The reality is that the playing field has not been levelled for females to lead, as they constantly need to navigate spaces characterised by male dominance and an obsession with control.

My message to aspiring female leaders is that they must be self-confident, tap into their personal attributes, and not allow a gender inferiority complex to obscure those attributes. They must avoid persistently seeking validation from others, but rather focus on their assignment to lead. They must value their  unique style of leadership, which would probably be influenced by their personal experiences and role models. It is important to maintain a strong support network that would provide emotional and practical help when needed.

Photographer: Stefan Els