Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng began her term of office as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town on 1 July 2018, where she had been serving as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation since January 2017. Previous to this appointment she served as Vice Principal for Research and Innovation at the University of South Africa (Unisa) for five years, after serving three years as Executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at the same university.
Her academic career began at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she started as a research assistant in 1996 and left in December 2007 as an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education – and Founding Director of the award-winning Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education – to take up the position of Executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Unisa in January 2008. She had a very successful tenure as Dean at Unisa and was promoted to serve as Vice Principal of a newly established portfolio of Research and Innovation on 1 July 2011. When her five-year term ended in 2016, she joined UCT.
Kgethi, as she is popularly known, obtained her first degree, majoring in pure mathematics, at the University of Bophuthatswana, now North-West University, in Mafikeng in 1987, obtaining a solid 74% for her final year pure mathematics module. She completed all her postgraduate studies, which ended with a PhD in Mathematics Education in 2002, at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she also served for five years as President of Convocation (2011–2016).
She is a highly regarded B1 National Research Foundation-rated scientist, with over 60 research papers and five edited volumes published. She has been invited to deliver over 40 keynote/plenary talks at international conferences, and has been invited as a visiting professor to universities around the world, including Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Senegal, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA.
Kgethi has won numerous awards for her research and community work, including an Hon DSc (Bristol) in July 2019, the Order of the Baobab (Silver) conferred on her by the President of South Africa in April 2016. In August 2014 CEO Magazine named her the most influential woman academic in Africa, and in August 2016 the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa awarded her the prestigious Businesswoman of the Year Award in the education category.
Her commitment to academia and research extends beyond personal advancement. She was elected as a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in November 2007, an honorary member of the Golden Key International Honour Society in May 2009, and an honorary life member of the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) in July 2009. In 2008 she was appointed to co-chair a study commissioned by the International Commission on Mathematical
Instruction titled “Mathematics and language diversity”, which was published as an edited volume, Mathematics Education and Language Diversity, in 2016.
She is member of the board of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) and currently chairs the Human Resource Development Council Standing Committee on Mathematics and Science Education. She served as member of the board of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and chaired its Research Development and Innovation Committee from January 2015 until September 2017.
She was elected in 2011 as the first woman President of the Convocation of the University of the Witwatersrand and served for five years until 2016. She led the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) as its first woman National President from 2002 to 2006, served as founding chairperson of the Board of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) from 2004 to 2006, and as secretary and member of the executive committee of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME) from 2003 to 2007.