Update on the phased return of students to campus

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Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University
Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University

Dear Students

Today marks day 79 of the national Covid-19 lockdown, although under eased conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in ways no one could have imagined a short five months ago. Many of us have adjusted to this as our temporary new ‘normal’ and are ensuring that our daily business processes continue with as little disruption as possible. However, for many people these conditions are hard to comprehend. I would like to reiterate that “adaptability, flexibility, agility, and a can-do attitude” are attributes that will carry all of us through these trying and uncertain times. We appeal to you to adapt to this evolving way of life, to adhere to health protocols that are meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, while at the same time ensuring our health, safety and well-being.

Our country is one of a very few countries in the world that eased lockdown restrictions on economic activities, social interactions and movement of people before the pandemic had peaked. The severe hardships that the strict lockdown restrictions had imposed on the livelihoods of people had become insufferable. One of the major downsides of the easing of lockdown restrictions is that the transmission of the virus has accelerated significantly. The numbers of COVID-related deaths are also on the rise.

As there is as yet no vaccine for this virus, strict adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as physical distancing, frequent washing of hands with soap or using a hand-sanitiser and wearing of a face mask at all times in public places, is the only viable strategy of curbing the spread of the virus. It is important to bear in mind that many people who are carriers of this contagious virus are asymptomatic – there are no outward visible symptoms of infection with the virus. These people are also unaware that they are infected with the virus and can infect others unknowingly. Any symptoms might show only after fourteen days of infection. This calls for the highest levels of vigilance and caution in all our interactions with others in order not to infect them nor be infected by them.

Phased risk-controlled return to campus

Measures are underway to implement a gradual, phased and risk-controlled return of students to campus, in line with the directives of the Department of Higher Education & Training. On 31 May 2020 we shared with you a comprehensive plan for a phased return of students to our campus. The first group has since been issued with University permits to ensure their safe return to campus. Under no circumstances should you come back to Makhanda or campus if you have not been issued a University permit. It is critically important to adhere to the guidelines of phased return, and the health and safety protocols that are in place to prevent an upsurge of Covid-19 in our town and University. Remember that upon arrival in Makhanda you will be expected to follow quarantine measures very closely.

We request you to exercise your agency and good judgement in deciding to come back to campus. We continue to advise those of you who can continue learning online from home to do so, while those of you with compromised immune systems and comorbidities should preferably remain at home, and rather contact your Deans to make different arrangements for support. Sadly, the situation with the pandemic is not getting any better as we enter our cold season. The end does not seem to be in sight.

A return of students to campus does not mean a resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning delivery. Remote/online teaching and learning delivery will continue for the foreseeable future until the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has sufficiently receded for the resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning under strict health and safety and physical distancing protocols.

The Academic year 2020

We have mentioned many times that survival in times of any disaster demands agility, adaptability and flexibility. Whilst it is our intention to ensure a successful completion of the academic year, this will not be at the expense of people’s lives, but will be executed with due care and caution. Our academic calendar remains very fluid and subject to change. The Registrar, Dr Adele Moodly, will issue a formal communiqué in the coming week to inform you of changes in the academic calendar and assessment of learning. We urge you to focus on your studies, to engage meaningfully in learning, seek help from your lecturers and tutors, and prepare yourself for various forms of alternative assessments which will soon be implemented to ensure that you have marks that will contribute towards your year-end mark.

Engagements with the Student Representative Council (SRC)

Our University Executive Leadership interacts with the SRC on an ongoing basis. In the discharge of their duty and responsibilities, the SRC brings to the attention of the University Executive Leadership issues that are of concern to the students. We appreciate the constructive engagement with them as we collectively look for solutions to challenges that face our students. We encourage all students to exercise agency in alerting the SRC or their lecturers of challenges they are facing. As a University where leaders learn, we expect our students to take initiative and call for assistance when in need.

Please direct your queries to returnquery@ru.ac.za Masters and Doctoral students undertaking a research thesis should consult their supervisor (s).

The spread of the virus is a function of human behaviour. Curbing its transmission requires a collective and an all-of-society behavioural change. We depend on you to help us slow the rate of transmission of Covid-19. We all must act responsibly to save lives and the 2020 academic year.


Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University.

Source:  VC's Office