Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Vice Chancellor, University of Cape Town


MamokgethiPhakeng_5 - Mamokgethi PhakengProfessor Mamokgethi Phakeng is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa and among the world’s leading scholars in mathematics education.

Growing up in rural and township South Africa during Apartheid, she became the first black female South African to achieve a PhD in Mathematics Education in 2002 and she is determined not to be the last. In the two decades since she has published more than 80 research papers and five edited volumes that continue to shape mathematics education in classrooms across Africa and far beyond. Her research focuses on language practices in multilingual mathematics classrooms and has proved influential in post-colonial Africa and post-Apartheid South Africa in particular.

Her research and community work have won her many prestigious awards, not least the Order of the Baobab (Silver) conferred on her by the President of South Africa in April 2016. She was named the most influential woman academic in Africa by CEO magazine in 2014, and in 2020 she was included in Forbes’ inaugural list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa. This year she became the first African to be elected chair of the International Alliance of Research Universities, succeeding Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.
Professor Phakeng has shown exemplary leadership in her field, with her research illuminating how learners and parents are positioned in and by the power of English. Her work explores practices in mathematics learning that harness learners’ spoken languages while developing their mathematical English. This innovative work has highlighted those typically disadvantaged by their multilingualism in an English-dominant society and it has embraced the power of languages in learning.

MamokgethiPhakeng_4 - Mamokgethi PhakengOver the last two decades, Professor Phakeng has shown her ability as a leader in education by working with private sector foundations, and the National Departments of Basic Education (DBE), of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF), to initiate and drive a collaboration that has funded key research and development projects in mathematics education at both the primary and secondary level. She conceptualised and secured substantial funding (more than R100 million) for six ten-year Research and Development Chairs in Mathematics and Numeracy, funded jointly by First Rand Foundation, Rand Merchant Bank, Anglo American Chairman’s Fund and the Department of Science and Technology. Together the Chair projects have reached more than 60 primary and secondary schools, comprising more than 50,000 students, helping with teacher and learner development as well as conducting research to bring sustainable change into mathematics education in South Africa.
During the pandemic, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng led the University of Cape Town to open a new online high school designed to make quality education affordable for all.

As a changemaker, Professor Phakeng uses social media to teach, positively influence and inspire young people, especially those in higher education to work hard in their pursuit of excellence. From May 2020 till September 2021, she conducted 70 free online sessions for Post Graduate students and young academics live on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, reaching more than 2 million people. On the first Friday of December each year, she runs the #MakeEducationFashionable campaign to inspire and encourage graduates to share their stories of resilience on social media and inspire others to pursue higher education.

MamokgethiPhakeng_1 - Mamokgethi PhakengProfessor Phakeng holds two Honorary Doctorates, a DSc from the University of Bristol (2019) and DEd from the University of Ottawa (2022). She is a fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS). She serves as a member of the international boards of the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), 2U/edX University Leadership Council and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG). She became the first female President of the Association of Mathematics Teachers in South Africa (AMESA) in 2002 and her leadership, drive and energy over the following four years saw it achieve substantial growth.

Professor Phakeng is determined to help others overcome adversity and in 2004 founded the Adopt-a-learner Foundation, providing financial support to learners, like herself, from township and rural areas.

She donates 20% of her salary to a scholarship fund for female postgraduate students in South Africa in need of financial support. Upon taking up her prestigious position at the University of Cape Town, she declined the honour of an inaugural ceremony and instead asked for the money to be used to fund students who had completed their studies but were unable to graduate because they were in financial debt to the university.