(By  Chad Anthony Williams)

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi has been appointed the new Wits vice-chancellor and principal, effective 1 January

In a statement issued on Thursday, the university said Vilakazi was the current vice-principal and deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate studies at Wits.

The institution said that under his leadership, Wits’ research output had more than doubled, with the university increasingly producing more impactful research.

Vilakazi is widely published (325 papers) and highly cited, with an h-index of 70.

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He takes the reins from Professor Adam Habib, who leaves Wits at the end of the year to lead the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS University of London).

Isaac Shongwe, the chairperson of the Wits council, the highest decision-making body of the university, described Vilakazi as “the epitome of a world-class researcher”, adding that he was globally recognised for his scientific work, and for his contribution towards the development of higher education in Africa.

“He is a truly talented individual who is an inspiring exemplar for all Africans,” said Shongwe.

Stewarding a new vision for the academy

The council said it was confident that Vilakazi would ably lead Wits to its centenary in 2022 and beyond, steward a new vision for the academy, and reinvigorate the academic project in a higher education context that was rapidly changing.

Vilakazi said it was an honour to be appointed to the prestigious position, and that he looked forward to working with his esteemed colleagues, fellow academics and students to create knowledge and develop high level skills needed to move South Africa and the economy forward.

“We also need to continue to develop the originators, innovators and critical thinkers who can help us solve the problems of the 21st Century,” he said.

Brief Biography of Professor Zeblon Vilakazi 

  • Professor Zeblon Zenzele Vilakazi joined Wits in January 2014 as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs and was promoted to the position of Vice-Principal in April 2020.
  • He has served as the Group Executive for Research and Development at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) and as the Director of iThemba LABS.
  • Born in Katlehong, a township located on the East Rand, Professor Vilakazi obtained his PhD from Wits 1998.
  • He was one of the first students from Africa to conduct PhD research at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. This was followed by a National Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at CERN.
  • Upon his return to South Africa he lectured at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he was instrumental in establishing South Africa’s first experimental high-energy physics research group focusing on the development of the High-level Trigger for the CERN-ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.
  • Vilakazi has been instrumental in developing key local and global partnerships that have cemented the University’s position as a leader in innovation. This includes ensuring that Wits and other African universities can access quantum computing facilities.
  • Under his leadership, Vilakazi enabled the University to achieve its strategic objective of creating an enabling environment for a research-intensive and postgraduate-oriented university. This includes achieving one of the fastest growth rates in subsidy research outputs and the doubling of research income. He increased the number of postgraduate students to realise the University’s vision of becoming a research-intensive African university.
  • His international profile opened opportunities to serve as a visiting scientist at the Atomic Energy Commission and Alternative Energy in Saclay, France. Professor Vilakazi served as chairperson of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Standing Advisory Committee on Nuclear Applications from 2009 to 2011.
  • He also served as a member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics’ Working Group for Nuclear Physics.
  • In 2010, Professor Vilakazi was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.
  • He is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences.
  • Professor Vilakazi is currently a member of the Programme Advisory Committee for Nuclear Physics at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia.

Author: ANA Newswire