Rural star born from disanteng tsa Marapyane: Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is truly blessed to have Professor Mmamokgethi Phakeng as its Vice Chancellor (VC), the lady who has been dubbed the country’s Deputy Mother in the academic circles. Although Prof. Phakeng has seen it all, she has conquered everything thrown in her way and to this day, still gets up to make an impact in everything she does. With a very tight and busy schedule, she was able to accommodate us for an exclusive interview. She was born and raised in Marapyane, Mpumalanga. A dynamic leader who has definitely earned her stripes.

We spoke to her about many things and what they mean to her, topics such as how was it like to growing up in the village like Marapyane were discussed.

Unapologetically black, that is another way to describe the beautiful “Deputy Mother” Image: Supplied

Truly one of the country’s well known and most influential woman, Mme Rosina Mamokgethi Phakeng (affectionately known as Kgethi) is a mother, a sister, an academic and an African woman (Motswana). A professor of Mathematics Education having graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a PhD in Mathematics Education. She was appointed in 2018 to the position of Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and previously served on many leadership roles such as that of the president of the Association for Mathematics Education South Africa (AMESA).

She started her schooling with the likes of Chika Sehoole (who is now a Professor and a Dean in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria) at Ikageleng Primary school in 1972 – due to limited classrooms then, her class (Sub A’s) attended classes under a tree within the school premises. During rainy seasons, Sub A learners would then attend classes jointly with the Sub B’s inside the Lutheran Bapedi Church (St. Naine) building adjacent to the school, which is still there today. Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was raised in a family whereby mathematics was seen as an ordinary subject like any other school subject. Her father had always advocated for academic excellence in all her subjects.

Her love for mathematics did not start or happen by luck or mistake, after passing Sub B; her family relocated to Ga-Rankuwa, near Pretoria. That is where she was introduced to Mathematics. While in grade 10 (Form 3 then) she attended a winter school in Lowe Primary school, also situated in Ga-Rankuwa. It was at this winter school that she was introduced to Euclidean geometry. She says “it started with a teacher who made mathematics make sense to me, that teacher was at the winter school. Once mathematics made sense, I liked it because I could make sense of what I was studying”.

Asked if mathematics is difficult, Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng disagreed and she said the problem starts when mathematics is seen as a difficult subject and this can be attributed to the following reasons:

1. Some of our teachers are victims of poor teachings themselves and many of our teachers are victims of black teachings and so they don’t know any better;

 2. Some of our teachers are scared of mathematics, not because of their own fault but because they live in a world that presents mathematics as only for bright pupil.

According to the Professor – what makes mathematics difficult for the learner is how it is taught.

How does she balance her life?

As expected her position demands most of her time and that means at times she has to find ways to strike a balance between her work, family and doing things she loves the most. She emphatically told us that she definitely has no time as she is always busy; “I have no time, I make choices about what I do in my personal life and what I do in my professional life and my choices are based on what fulfils me, what fills me with joy and what makes me happy and what helps me to live a life value”. Professor Mamokgethi may be a public figure but she is also an individual who lives a very private life and she also believes her children should develop their own names and trajectory independently of her.

What is The #Past3AMSquad

The #Past3AmSquad is a support group in academia at any university studying any degree anywhere in the world. It’s her brain child and it helps connect students and create a platform for them to share resources. So far it is doing very well, with a Twitter account @past3amsquad having over 4300 followers and over 4500 tweets to date it is indeed a good sign. From her own experience and the things she has seen, not just in the VC position she currently holds, the world all over is not ready for women leaders; “this world can talk about how much we need women leaders but this world does not want women leaders. When they appoint a woman, they expect them to act like a man”.

Follow Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng on all social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect with her consistency and authenticity.

For more on this interview click on the audio link below to hear about how she remembers Marapyane then and how it looks right now and much more.

Figure 1: The old Lutheran Bapedi Church adjacent to the school which was used by the Sub B’s in the old days.
Image: Supplied
Figure 2: The newly rebuild Ikageleng Primary School block built in 2006.
Image: Supplied