Elzette van Zyl: “The MBA is our flagship programme.”

For students and staff alike, a week at The University of Stellenbosch Business School is bound to make an impression that lasts. Being inspired will most certainly help with moving forward towards graduation in the MaastrichtMBA programme. The partnership between the two universities and their business schools isn’t one of chance, as they both hold the renowned Triple Crown accreditation by AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA.

Last June, a group of Stellenbosch students visited Maastricht, while this month November it’s our turn to travel to Stellenbosch again. “Our strong relationship is one of respect and friendship as well,” MBA director Boris Blumberg explains, “and that’s why we happily invited Elzette van Zyl, MBA logistical coordinator at Stellenbosch, to come visit us in Maastricht. She was our guest in a special week, when ten of our students were honoured in the graduation ceremony and we welcomed fourteen new students to our programme.”

Opening dinner

The week in September started with an informal dinner, and an informal presentation from Elzette van Zyl. It was an engaging talk larded with facts, history, humour and an abundance of heartfelt appreciation for her country South Africa. With pride Elzette spoke of its mountains, its coastlines, its customs and its people. This day, September 24, happens to be Nasionale Braaidag or Heritage Day in South Africa. It’s a day to celebrate South-African culture and its diversity and resilience. She also mentions that Stellenbosch University was founded in 1918, and is celebrating its centenary year, which is one hundred years of success and achievement, of introspection and alas regret as well. “Forward Together” is an appropriate chosen motto for this anniversary, representing a clear vision for the present and future, with acknowledgment for Africa’s vulnerable past and a strong determination to rise above it.

Responsible leadership

Stellenbosch university has five campuses, ten faculties, about 33.000 students and is known as the top research university of Africa. Elzette works for the USB (University of Stellenbosch Business School) as their MBA logistical coordinator. “The USB is not located on the main campus at Stellenbosch, but in the business district at Belville Park which is a half hour drive from Cape Town International Airport. That’s ideal for our incoming students,” she explains to the group in the Kruithuis building, which is a historic landmark on the SBE campus. “We currently have 1400 registered students. The focus of our MBA is on responsible leadership and inclusivity, pertaining to people from all walks of life. It’s in fact the flagship programme of our business school.”

Challenges

Anyone who visits Stellenbosch, the 2nd oldest town after Cape Town, will recognize a diversity of styles in the architecture of the many farmhouses on the famous Wine Route. You can see German, French, Dutch and even Indonesian influences in the building structure, which is telling of how diverse this country has been and still is. Elzette: “I think it’s also one of the main challenges we face, as a nation, and which makes us unique in a certain perspective given our history. People in South Africa feel compelled to consider the bigger picture and realise we are this country with so many different groups of people, it’s important we focus on inclusivity while we aim to move forward.”

Phenomenal growth

As the Stellenbosch university celebrates its 100th anniversary, the business school is fairly young, it started in 1964. Elzette has been working for the USB for the last twelve years and can testify of some major changes happening. ‘When I began, there was only one MBA and one Masters in Development and Finance, two M’s. From two it grew to thirteen post-graduate programmes, so in the last twelve years, the education programme has expanded extensively. We are very proud of these achievements.”

Warm and giving 

Elzette has travelled to a few other countries, and when abroad, she is often reminded of the warmth and engaging nature of the South-African people back home.” I am proud to be South-African,” she tells the group. “Despite our political and economical struggles, we are big on humour and very resilient, and given the environment that I work in, I would like to end this talk with the words of our late Nelson Mandela that says it all: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”