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'A legacy is not something you leave behind; it's something you leave in people'

The Vaal University of Technology staff and students bid their farewells to Professor Irene Moutlana, who has officially retired as the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of VUT, after serving two successful terms over a period of 10 years.

The buzzwords and common thread in conversations and speeches on Friday 2 June at the farewell function of Prof Moutlana were courageous, visionary and exemplary leadership style.

A farewell session held at the Desmond Tutu Great Hall on Friday afternoon left many consumed with emotions, as staff shared their stories and experiences of working with Prof Moutlana and how she's managed to positively impact the lives of all individuals who've had the honour of working with her.

An intimate farewell gala dinner was hosted later, on Friday evening, at Lords Signature Hotel, with close colleagues, friends and family in attendance.

The first female Vice-Chancellor of Vaal University of Technology, recognised internationally for her contribution to higher education on the world stage, and receiving many accolades, Prof Moutlana is a woman of vigour, valour and endurance. Firm belief and commitment is what helped her become the leader she is today. It's going to be very difficult to fill her void for many academics who follow in her footsteps.

In his welcoming speech, Cllr Simon Mofokeng, Chairperson of the VUT Council, said: "We are here to celebrate a decade of sheer leadership and remarkable commitment by Prof Moutlana. Yours is a story which proves that the future of the world is in our classrooms and in our lecture rooms. Today, your peers sing your praises, bow to your presence and shower you with well wishes for your amazing journey in the trenches of education. You have taken the road less travelled, the road which has taken you to the highest echelons, where you continued to thrive even in the most turbulent of times."

He praised her for her leadership and management skills, noting that even through turbulent times, such as the #feesmustfall protest, which severely affected many universities across the country, she kept calm, was strategic and showed true leadership, which is why the VUT was not as severely affected compared to other universities.

Professor Gordon Zide, VUT's newly appointed Vice-Chancellor and Principal, and good friend to Prof Moutlana, proudly recounted his personal and working relationship with Prof Moutlana, dating back to their days as students at University of Fort Hare: "What a singer and dancer she was; what a singer and a dancer she is," he jokingly said. "When Professor Irene joined the institution as its fifth Vice Chancellor and Principle in 2007, little did we know that today we will be bidding her farewell. However, it's always good and encouraging to say good things about a person in her presence."

Prof Zide admitted that stepping into the shoes of Prof Moutlana is not going to be an easy task - however, he fully trusts the team that she's left him with. Earlier on that day, he announced that after a meeting with the Executive Management Council, VUT has awarded Prof Moutlana the status of Professor Emeritus. This means she will continue being a member of the VUT and continue to have access to the institution.

Prof Moutlana's daughter, Katlego Moutlana, shared a heart-warming speech and words of appreciation on behalf of her siblings. Thanking the VUT community for continuous support, protecting and honouring her mother. "Education has been your life's work, you've dedicated yourself to a life of public service. We look at your accomplishments and find it hard to believe that you're our mother - you've shown us what a strong work ethic can do and you've shown us it's possible to shatter the glass ceiling and beat patriarchy at its very own game. You've taught us that when facing adversity, stay true to who you are, have courage and see it through," she said.

After an evening of entertainment from the VUT choir, "the undiluted voices of the Vaal", as Prof Moutlana affectionately calls them, speeches from colleagues and family, Prof Moutlana walked onto the podium, overwhelmed with emotion. "People always ask me: 'How did you make it this far?' My answer, after much self-examination, is: 'My personal success is having those who know me best respect me most, and finishing well.' Hopefully, tonight I can comfortably lay claim to this personal mantra," she said.

Prof Moutlana thanked her VUT family for their support and making her journey at VUT a memorable and worthwhile experience. She said they taught her how to be a person through the concept of Ubuntu.

This very special, God-fearing woman, mother and leader will definitely be missed by the VUT community and everyone whose lives she touched. The lessons learned from her leadership will still continue to be an exemplary example for many years to come.