Celebrating Wits’ office guardians

Written by Jackie Bischof
August 31, 2007

When Vuvuzela phones a Wits secretary, it’s usually to sneak an urgent meeting with a dean, or get comment from the Vice Chancellor. But this week Vuvuzela cracked a few bashful smiles from the people trained to treat reporters with suspicion, and to handle their sweet-talking ways!

Secretaries’ Day has rolled around. September 5 will mark the 55th year of this celebration, meaning it’s time to celebrate the people who guard the most important offices (and schedules) on campus.

Vuvuzela spoke to some secretaries about their experiences working on campus.

Lunga Nkolonzi has been a secretary for ten years, and secretary to Vice Chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa since 2003. She says Professor Nongxa commemorates Secretaries’ Day every year by giving flowers to the administrative personnel in his office.

She says the hardest thing about being the Vice Chancellor’s secretary is “being his gatekeeper. Each and everybody wants a piece of him. You have to be strict with his time.”

Secretary to Humanities Dean Professor Tawana Kupe, Adele Underhay, says dealing with “irate parents” is one of the worst things about being the dean’s secretary. Liezel Martin, secretary to Engineering and Built Environment dean, Professor Beatrice Laquet, says it’s hard to listen “to all the sad stories of students. Some are genuine, but others are just so far fetched”.

Martin says she’s enjoyed meeting different people and representing the university: “[People’s] first impression of the university is usually shaped by my interaction and how I carry myself. I take pride in my work and actually don’t mind people calling me a secretary, although I know I do much more than a secretary!”

Myrna Holmes has been secretary to three deans of Science and has been at Wits for 12 years. She enjoys working for the dean because “people think you have the dean’s ear, so you get a lot of respect”.

The Centre for Teaching and Learning Development (CLTD) at Wits will be hosting a breakfast for 120 of Wits’ secretaries on Secretaries’ Day. The breakfast will feature transformational speaker Hector Motau.The breakfast is part of an initiative run by CLTD called “Secretarial Excellence”. The initiative provides Wits secretaries with training that allows them to get nationally recognised certificates of competence.

Colleen Berstein, programme manager of the initiative says that secretaries are the “unacknowledged sector within the university…they are backbone of the support services”. She says that the “Secretarial Excellence” initiative as well as the Secretaries’ Day breakfast are important ways of “recognizing what secretaries do in this university and celebrating them.”

Consider for a moment the superhuman strength that is required to deal with students hours every day, and organise the lives of absent minded academics. The agony!

Knowing how to get on a secretary’s good side is a skill every student should have.

They enter our marks into the system and hand us our essays back. They’ve also heard enough sob stories to write a book entitled “101 Ways to Explain Why You’re three Days Late for a Deadline.”

This Wednesday, the 5th of September, sees the 55th year of Secretaries’ Day celebrations. So next time you barge into the secretary’s office, spare a thought for the many, many sad stories he or she has been forced to hear before. Glance at the mounds of paperwork at his or her desk. Imagine what it’s like for them to have to deal with your lecturers, all day, every day. And if you’re going to try weasel your way out of a deadline, at least think of something original to say!

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