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Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of the Witwatersrand

Professor Zeblon Zenzele Vilakazi (FRS) is a nuclear physicist who has served as the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University since January 2021. Prior to his appointment, he served as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Studies, during which time Wits’ research outputs doubled. He was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK) in 2022.

A Wits alumnus, Vilakazi obtained his PhD in 1998 in nuclear physics under the supervision of the late Professor J Sellschop. He was then awarded a prestigious National Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. He returned to South Africa and joined the University of Cape Town in 1999, where he was instrumental in establishing South Africa’s first experimental high-energy physics research group focusing on the development of the High-level Trigger for the CERN-ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.

Vilakazi was appointed as the Director of iThemba Labs in 2007 and then simultaneously as the Group Executive for Research and Development at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa in 2011, before joining Wits in 2014.

Professor Vilakazi served as a visiting scientist at the Atomic Energy Commission and Alternative Energy in Saclay, France, as the chairperson of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Standing Advisory Committee on Nuclear Applications from 2009 to 2011, and as a member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics’ Working Group for Nuclear Physics. He is currently a member of the Programme Advisory Committee for Nuclear Physics at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. He is also a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

In 2010 he was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He has an extensive list of refereed articles in Nuclear and High Energy Physics and is a regular invitee for talks and presentations at conferences and seminars.


  • –present
    Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of the Witwatersrand