Members of our GSB community—many of who are graduates of our programmes—played a special role in providing leadership and help to guide the University through one of its most difficult moments.
Special thanks and acknowledgement go to Karo Wilson (FT MBA 2008) the School’s Finance Manager, and Kumeshnee West (FT MBA 2011), our Executive Education Director, who worked tirelessly straight through the week (from early morning to curfew) to manage not only the more than 600 students who initially streamed into our campus, but also a huge group of volunteers and a massive influx of donated food and supplies.
Volunteers from the GSB showed the very best of our School’s values and culture, including agility, service-oriented leadership and tremendous commitment, often spending many hours over long days assisting with the relief effort:
- The Raymond Ackerman Academy team, headed by Siphokazi Mngxunyeni (EMBA 2016/2017 ) and including Athi Maqanda and Melvina Phillips (currently pursuing her MPhil at the GSB), distributed clothing to students—many of whom had left their residences with only the clothes on their backs and arrived at the GSB chilled and smelling sharply of smoke from the fire. The team distributed donations of GSB-branded gear and even raided their own cupboards for clothing to give to students.
- Several members of our Alumni Relations team provided invaluable assistance, including Morea Josias, Head of Alumni Relations and Careers Services, and Alan Florence (EMBA ’18), who has been spearheading the development of our alumni chapters around the world, as well as Azvir Rampursad, the School’s Corporate Partnerships Manager.
- Colleagues from across the School, from the Finance Department, Executive Education, and Learning Support—including Jill Bost, Shireen Brown, Robyn Nefdt, Charlene Paris and Evelyn Richards—also spent many hours volunteering.
- Members of the GSB’s Management Committee (“MANCO”)—which Kumeshnee and Karo also sit on—coordinated with one another throughout the week to provide information, support and offers of help of all kinds—from driving to coordinating Iftar meals for displaced students observing Ramadan. Special acknowledgement goes to Associate Professor Kutlwano Ramaboa, our Deputy Director, who provided tremendous leadership in helping to coordinate the effort on the ground as well as between me and the rest of the University.
- The leadership of our alumni extended across the University, including on Upper Campus, where key elements of the response were coordinated by the University’s Registrar, Royston Pillay (EMBA 2011).
Breakwater Lodge staff and individuals from across the University were similarly instrumental to the success of the effort. Tim Low, a Senior Lecturer specialising in Mathematics and Statistics in the Education Development Unit (Commerce) and Assistant Warden of Kopano residence provided invaluable help and expertise (you can see a video of him discussing the response here). Robin Golding, the Director of Commercial Development, Procurement and Payment Services at UCT, also spent a number of days assisting on the GSB campus. Everyone on hand—including the Campus Protection officers, hotel staff (including housekeeping and foodservice staff) and Colin Naiker, the General Manager of the Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge—contributed in remarkable ways to this extraordinary (and extraordinarily successful) effort.
As the week wore on, the planning, communications, supply chains and service operations that the GSB and hotel teams put in place made GSB the central hub for activity and earned the School and the team on our campus kudos and gratitude from students and Upper Campus alike. The Vice Chancellor and several DVCs and Deans all visited our campus during the week to observe what had become a well-oiled machine, and all of them were tremendously impressed and grateful at what the GSB team managed to do.
The undergraduate student leadership from one of the affected residences wrote a letter in which they thanked the hotels and staff involved:
from the bottom of our right ventricles for creating safe spaces for us in our time of need. Because of you, we were able to turn such a tragic experience into one where we could reflect and introspect, so as to appreciate our lives, families, friends and even Smuts Hall more than we did before. We are grateful.
The outpouring of support from the GSB community extended well beyond the individuals who assisted on the ground in supporting the displaced undergraduate students, including a large number of people from among our faculty and staff volunteer to stand at the ready to assist if they were needed.
Perhaps most notably, the week of the fire the GSB was not only the centre of an unprecedented city-wide relief effort, but we had already been slated to have a busy week, with the MBA, PGDip, PGDip in Development Finance, and several executive education programmes all engaged in live online learning. The entire GSB community—still all working from home as much as possible in the midst of the ongoing pandemic—came together to support one another and to enable this unprecedented relief operation without skipping a beat in any of our programmes and activities.
I could not be prouder to be a member of such an extraordinary community—and, as alumni, I’m sure you feel similarly!