What you need to know about new Wits vice-chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi

29 June 2020 - 07:08 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Prof Zeblon Vilakazi has been appointed as the 15th vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, from January 2021.
Prof Zeblon Vilakazi has been appointed as the 15th vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, from January 2021.
Image: Wits

Nuclear physicist Professor Zeblon Vilakazi has been appointed as the vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University with effect from January 1 2021.

Vilakazi will be the 15th vice-chancellor and principal of the university and will take over  from Prof Adam Habib, who will leave at the end of the year to lead the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Here is what you need to know about Vilakazi.


Vilakazi joined Wits in 2014 as deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs, and in April was appointed vice-principal.

As a nuclear physicist, Vilakazi was instrumental in establishing SA's first experimental high-energy physics research group at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland.

He currently chairs SA’s National Quantum Computing Working Committee, which seeks to develop a framework for quantum computing and quantum technology-driven research and innovation in the country 

Globally recognised

According to the university, Vilakazi is globally recognised for his expert knowledge in physics and nuclear research, and for his contribution towards developing higher education in Africa.

“He is a truly talented individual who is an inspiring exemplar for all Africans,” said Isaac Shongwe, chairperson of the Wits Council.

“We are confident Prof Vilakazi will ably lead Wits to its centenary in 2022 and beyond, steward a new vision for the academy, and reinvigorate the academic project in a higher education context that is rapidly changing.”


The appointment came after Wits' search committee held four meetings to discuss candidates who should be encouraged to apply for the position, following poor responses to the post that was advertised online, including in Sunday Times.  

Shongwe said after the committee encouraged candidates to apply, out of the 128 candidates identified in the search process, only 16 met the requirements.

“Members of the senior appointments selection committee agreed Prof Vilakazi could advance the university’s research-intensive agenda through leveraging local and international partnerships.

“Members of the committee appreciated his leadership style that is sensitive to diversity and his world view, which seeks the pursuit of truth.”

Vilakazi committed to developing high-level skills

Vilakazi said he can't wait to create new knowledge, and develop high-level skills.

“It is an honour  to have been appointed to this prestigious position,” said Vilakazi. “I am committed to working with my esteemed colleagues, fellow academics and smart, savvy students to create new knowledge, and to develop the high-level skills required to move SA and our economy forward. We also need to continue to develop the originators, innovators and critical thinkers who can help us solve the problems of the 21st century.”