[17 March] VC's Circular - Covid-19 Update

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Depiction of the coronavirus
Depiction of the coronavirus

Dear staff and students,

On 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a national disaster. He further announced a wide range of stringent measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

Earlier today, I took part in consultation with the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to formulate a coordinated sector-wide approach to addressing the pandemic. The principle of social distancing was emphasised as an important strategy to mitigate the risk of infection. It was emphasised that the higher education sector should take steps to reduce the concentration of people in one place, and work on academic continuity arrangements.  In particular, the NICD warned of the intrinsic risk of keeping students in residence situations in the growth phase of the virus.

I wish to emphasise the following:

First, ensuring that our students receive the best quality education at Rhodes University, circumstances notwithstanding, remains our abiding commitment. Our University is committed to ensuring that the 2020 academic year is successfully completed.

Second, the safety and well-being of our staff and students remain our highest priority.

Third, reducing the risk of the spread of the Coronavirus is a collective responsibility of each and every one of us.

Over the past few days, we have closely monitored developments regarding the evolution and spread of the Coronavirus and have continually reviewed our precautionary measures to respond as best as we can to the spread of this virus.

Today, the University leadership met and took the following decisions – in the best interest of the University and wider Makhanda community: 

1)   The University will bring forward its first term recess to start on the 18th of March 2020. The University will start its second term on Tuesday, 14th of April 2020. The University calendar will be reviewed and revised accordingly to make up for the lost time.

2)   All students in residences are expected to vacate University residences as soon as possible, but no later than Friday, 20 March at 17h00. In exceptional cases, students who are unable to go to their homes, must contact the Director of Student Affairs, Ms Nomangwane Mrwetyana n.mrwetyana@ru.ac.za  - who will deal with each case on its merits. I must emphasise that only exceptional cases will be accommodated. The need for us to reduce pressure on our residence system can never be overemphasised.

3)   Academic staff are expected to continue with their normal activities with greater focus on developing their skills and ability to use online teaching and learning methods. CHERTL will be available to assist staff who need to develop these skills. The Deans will work with the heads of departments to ensure that the University’s academic continuity plans are in place to support the University’s intellectual endeavour.

4)   The University will remain open and support operations will continue, albeit at an adjusted level and schedule. The University is considering other operational activities and decisions which will be communicated in the next 48 hours.

5)   Post graduate students registered for Masters and PhD will, in the interim, be expected to continue working with their supervisors. Again, social distancing and adherence to high standards of hygiene must be observed.

6)   The University is constantly monitoring developments around this rapidly evolving Corona virus, and any global health emergency changes will be communicated.

We will get through this. Working together, we can and will defeat the coronavirus (COVID-19).

I pray and hope that you and your loved ones will be spared the emotional trauma and anxiety of having to deal with a case of infection in your family.



Sizwe Mabizela

Vice Chancellor, Rhodes University