COVID-19 lockdown restrictions eased, but Mandela University remains cautiously vigilant


I greet you all, as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic as one world.

For the University, the easing of national lockdown restrictions to Alert Level 2 will see a marked increase of activity on campuses, as up to 66% of staff and students will now be allowed to return to campus.  It is however important to note, that despite this easing of COVID-19 restrictions, we must continue observing health and safety protocols to prevent the resurgence of the virus.  At present, there are 72 496 active COVID-19 cases in the country, of which 4 198 are in the Eastern Cape and 7 738 in the Western Cape.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on Nelson Mandela University, with 77 staff having tested positive, 71 cleared, only one currently being active and five staff members, sadly having passed away.  There has been a total of 31 positive cases among students, of which 10 were in the cohort that had returned to campus under Level 3.  We are grateful that all 10 cases have since been cleared.

The move to Level 2 translates to an additional 33% of staff and students who are able to be welcomed back to campus, to join those who have already returned under Level 3.  This means that in addition to the 8 280 students invited to return under Level 3, a further 6 703 students are now being invited to return to campus.

As a result, we are now required to observe cautious vigilance, with the increased numbers of staff and students due to be present on campus.  “It is in your Hands” to prevent a possible second wave of the coronavirus.  Therefore, the wearing of masks, washing and sanitising of hands, and maintaining the applicable physical distancing remain hard and fast rules, not only at our University, but in general.

Furthermore, the terms and conditions to which students have agreed to enable their return to campus, will be enforced for our collective health and safety.  All staff will similarly need to follow the requisite measures.  These have been clearly spelt out in the communication materials that were made available during all Alert Levels. The purpose is to enable us all to entrench new behaviours, within and beyond the University, for our own health and safety, as well as that of others.

Over the last few months, much preparatory work has been undertaken to ensure that staff and students return to a safe and COVID-19 compliant environment.  All University campuses, facilities and residences now have the necessary health screening, sanitising, cleaning and physical distancing signage, together with the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Our campuses, particularly those with the most on-campus activity, are equipped with fully kitted testing stations and health facilities.  Lecture venues, including computer labs, are regularly deep cleaned and set up to ensure adherence to physical distancing, and health and hygiene requirements.  Signage to this effect is visible throughout our campuses.

As far as possible, staff and students who have been able to work and learn remotely, and productively so, are encouraged to continue similarly. This is in accordance with national guidelines and in line with the ongoing need to maintain lower numbers of people physically present on campus. 

The University has implemented a series of Return to Campus plans, which are now compliant with Level 2 requirements, aimed at enabling all students to safely and successfully complete the 2020 academic year.  To this end, the academic calendar has been revised, to address the uneven access and different learning conditions that our students have experienced, and to ensure all have an equal and fair chance of completing the academic year.

We are further mindful of the impact that all this has had on prospective students, who we are looking forward to welcoming to the institution in March 2021.  Despite the turbulence that has characterized 2020, we are encouraged by the number and quality of applications received to date for 2021.  We do not take the trust that families have placed in us for granted.

As our country slowly and thankfully moves further away from the COVID-19 infections’ peak, scientists have warned that now is not the time to be complacent, if anything, we need to exercise greater caution and vigilance.  Other countries have experienced a second wave of the virus and we must all work collectively to prevent such an occurrence.

As citizens, colleagues, staff, students and community members, we need to all recommit to taking responsibility and remember that the fight against this deadly pandemic is in our hands.  It is therefore up to us to act in unity to protect not only ourselves, but also those around us.  That is the only way we can effectively fight the virus, especially in the absence of a vaccine.

I wish to thank our staff and students for all your collective ongoing efforts and contributions thus far. Together we have lightened the burden and impact of this dreadful pandemic.

I extend our condolences to those who are bereaved and who are struggling with health concerns.  We are strong in our togetherness.

Professor Sibongile Muthwa
Vice-Chancellor: Nelson Mandela University