Humility is what comes to mind when talking to the newly appointed director of the School of Public Leadership (SPL), Prof Zwelinzima Ndevu. It is there when he discusses his colleagues, his past, his accomplishments and his future plans for this entity within the Faculty of Economic Management and Sciences (EMS).
No doubt it is probably this same humility that influenced and motivated his colleagues to vote for him as the new SPL director, a position which he will take up on 1 January 2020.
“I did not expect them to nominate me and to vote for me," he says sheepishly. “But I was so moved by the confidence they showed in me that I could not say no. I hope I can make them proud."
Ndevu, who currently holds an associate professor position and heads SPL's honours programme at the university's Bellville campus, says he is grateful for the opportunity.
“I especially want to thank the current director, Prof Johan Burger, and the previous director, Prof Kobus Muller, who appointed me. They have mentored me and given me the opportunities to thrive in what I really enjoy doing, which is research. For that, I am eternally grateful."
He also thanked the dean of EMS, Prof Ingrid Woolard, and the vice-dean: Social Impact and Transformation, Prof Pregala Pillay.
“My appointment shows that Stellenbosch University is serious about diversity and employment equity which I really appreciate," he says.
That's all good and well, but surely this promotion must rank as a massive feather in the cap for the former resident of Ugie, a rural farming settlement in the Eastern Cape?
But he says, “This position means serving others, bringing fresh ideas to the table and continuing with the good foundation laid by my predecessors. My main focus is the welfare of staff members, especially administrative staff members. What makes us successful is the quality of our staff and their dedication and passion for their work. I want to ensure that staff members are happy because when you are happy you are productive.
I also plan to increase our research output and to get more staff members involved in research activities. This would promote continuity and sustainability for everybody involved."
Ndevu, who started his career at SPL in Bellville as a lecturer in 2009, says he aims to decentralise his role as director.
“I want to get everyone involved and to delegate responsibilities. The aim is to appoint campus managers at the three SPL campuses – Stellenbosch, Bellville and Lynedoch – to report directly to me."
An alumnus of SU who completed his PhD in Public Management in 2015, says one of the biggest challenges facing the school is the lack of succession planning, mentoring and coaching.
“Our seasoned academics are stepping down and their intellectual property is not being passed on to the next generation. If we do not address that, the school will encounter problems going forward because of the loss of institutional intelligence and the research would not be at the level that we would want it to be," says Ndevu.
The married father of two boys who credits his family for being “a big source of strength and support", lives by the maxim that hard work pays off.
“I was born to parents who were not educated but they always instilled in us that hard work would bring you a better future. There are no freebies. You reap what you sow."
He says he derives inspiration from the biblical philosophy of the late SU rector and vice-chancellor, Prof Russel Botman: “Do onto others what you would want them to do onto you".
It is clear that Ndevu has taken that philosophy to heart.
- Photo of Prof Zwelinzima Ndevu by Anton Jordaan.