Matie Community Service (better known by its Afrikaans acronym, MGD) will be taking all its Mandela Day activities online this month, starting with a 67 minute virtual discussion on “Staff Wellness during COVID-19 and Beyond" on 17 July. MGD is based in the Division for Social Impact.
“This year, in honour of Mandela Day, we would like to invite SU staff to pause for 67 mins and reflect on our current coping mechanisms during this time of unprecedented uncertainty. Staff and students will be invited to give back to our university community some of their wisdom, expertise and experience on prioritizing well-being and mental health during the pandemic with all its accompanying challenges and anxiety," says Ms Renee Hector-Kannemeyer, Head of MGD and Deputy Director: Division Social Impact.
The online discussion, which will take place between 12:30 and 13:37, will be chaired by Dr Gillian Arendse, former Deputy Director of the Centre for Student Recruitment and Career Advice at Stellenbosch University (SU). Panel members include Prof Soraya Seedat, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Executive Head of the Psychiatry Department in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at SU; Dr Lynne Damons, a psychologist and lecturer in the Educational Psychology Department in the Education Faculty at SU; and Ms Shibu Mamabolo, the Head: Employee Wellness at SU.
“There is a palpable sense of anxiety in South Africa and the rest of the world as we live through this global pandemic and lockdowns. Our news headlines are filled with stories about the increase in infections and deaths globally and in our own country. These realities have been highlighted by our Rector, Prof Wim de Villiers, who has acknowledged that Stellenbosch University, 'like all other academic institutions in the country and worldwide, finds itself in a rapidly changing and unsettling environment' as well as the existing uncertainty, apprehension and concern that exists on an institutional and personal level."
Through this virtual connection, MGD will share the expertise of the panel members with staff and generate discussions on practical methods for participants to prioritise mental health and well-being. Staff will also be able to share their experiences during the pandemic and the lockdown.
“For many staff members, our new normal during this crisis compels us to work online trying to meet our agreed deliverables, whilst home schooling our kids, providing child care to small children, and taking care of elderly family members, all whilst keeping other aspects of our households running," says Hector-Kannemeyer.
However, this crisis is exacerbated by other factors in South Africa and in the world.
“There has been a continued increase in excessive and brutal violence perpetuated against women and children and a growing number of femicides in South Africa, which is now being referred to as the second pandemic by our President. We have also seen the forced relocation of approximately 2 000 homeless South Africans to what was subsequently discovered to be an uninhabitable camp in a bid to prevent infections, a global economic downturn that has already led to job losses, incidences of police brutality in our communities, and the persistence of structural racism in all spheres of society which has again come into the spotlight through the #BlackLivesMatter movement."
MGD will host two other events for staff and students on 29 and 31 July.
These events will focus on the arts, poetry, and music, and include other webinars and conversations.
“These virtual engagements are intended to assist us with holding space for each other during this crisis. We need to pause and breathe and reconnect with others in our university community as we strive towards 'a well-balanced workforce that is able to function optimally in an enabling, caring and supportive work environment."