Loyiso Nongxa

Born: 1954

place: South Africa

BSc Math (Hons 1976) University of Fort Hare, S.A.; MSc (1978) University of Fort Hare

DPhil (1982), University of Oxford, UK

personal or universal URL:
email: 160nong@atlas.wits.ac.za

Loyiso Nongxa, a Xhosa, grew up in rural Transkei, where he spent his days as a herd boy. He is a graduate of the famed Freemantle High School for Boys. From there he went to college at the University of Fort Hare. After graduating with a mathematics degree from the University of Fort Hare, Professor Nongxa became South Africa's first black Rhodes scholar and went on to obtain his doctorate at Oxford University.

He has held visiting appointments and fellowships at the universities of Harvard, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois and Baylor (Texas), and worked for ten years at the University of the Western Cape before joining the University of Witwatersrand deputy where he has been vice-chancellor of research since 2000. On May 16 of 2003, he became South Africa's First Black Vice Chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand (see news article). He is married to mathematician Nomthunzi Nongxa.


Expertise and research interests: Abelian Group Theory, Universal Algebra, representations of partially ordered sets, representation and character theory of finite groups, teaching of mathematics at tertiary level, modules over valuation domains and research evolution.


  1. Mader, A.; Mutzbauer, O.; Nongxa, G. L. Representing matrices of almost completely decomposable groups. J. Pure Appl. Algebra 158 (2001), no. 2-3, 247--265.
  2. Mader, A.; Nongxa, L. G.; Ould-Beddi, M. A. Invariants of global crq-groups. Abelian groups, rings and modules (Perth, 2000), 209--222, Contemp. Math., 273, Amer. Math. Soc., Providence, RI, 2001.
  3. Nongxa, L.; Rangaswamy, K. M.; Vinsonhaler, C. Torsion-free modules of finite balanced-projective dimension over valuation domains. J. Pure Appl. Algebra 156 (2001), no. 2-3, 247--265.
  4. Mader, Adolf; Nongxa, Loyiso G. Completely decomposable summands of almost completely decomposable groups. Abelian groups and modules (Dublin, 1998), 167--190, Trends Math., Birkhäuser, Basel, 1999.
  5. Nongxa, Loyiso G. Cyclic regulating balanced Butler groups. Manuscripta Math. 100 (1999), no. 2, 159--171.
  6. Nongxa, Loyiso G.; Vinsonhaler, C. Balanced and cobalanced representations of posets. Comm. Algebra 25 (1997), no. 12, 3735--3749.
  7. Nongxa, L. G.; Rangaswamy, K. M.; Vinsonhaler, C. Balanced subgroups of completely decomposable groups. Abelian groups and modules (Colorado Springs, CO, 1995), 331--351, Lecture Notes in Pure and Appl. Math., 182, Dekker, New York, 1996.
  8. Nongxa, Loyiso G.; Vinsonhaler, C. Balanced Butler groups. J. Algebra 180 (1996), no. 2, 546--570.
  9. Nongxa, Loyiso G.; Vinsonhaler, C. Completely decomposable subgroups and factors of finite rank completely decomposable groups. Abelian groups and modules (Padova, 1994), 385--394, Math. Appl., 343, Kluwer Acad. Publ., Dordrecht, 1995.
  10. Nongxa, Loyiso G. $*$-pure subgroups of completely decomposable abelian groups. Proc. Amer. Math. Soc. 100 (1987), no. 4, 613--618.
  11. Nongxa, Loyiso G. Balanced subgroups of finite rank completely decomposable abelian groups. Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 301 (1987), no. 2, 637--648.
  12. Nongxa, Loyiso G. Strongly pure subgroups of separable torsion-free abelian groups. Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 290 (1985), no. 1, 363--373.
  13. Nongxa, Loyiso G. A note on homogeneous torsion-free abelian groups. Quart. J. Math. Oxford Ser. (2) 35 (1984), no. 138, 183--190.
  14. Nongxa, Loyiso G. Homogeneous subgroups of completely decomposable groups. Arch. Math. (Basel) 42 (1984), no. 3, 208--213.
  15. Nongxa, Loyiso G. An indecomposable balanced subgroup of a finite rank completely decomposable group. J. London Math. Soc. (2) 29 (1984), no. 2, 262--268.

News Article1: The Times Higher Education Supplement:

Mathematician On Course To Be Wits' First Black V-c
by Karen MacGregor, Durban May9, 2003

The University of Witwatersrand is close to appointing Rhodesscholar and mathematician Loyiso Nongxa as its first black vice- chancellor. Professor Nongxa is currently acting vice-chancellor of the Johannesburg university.

A 16-member selection committee unanimously agreed to present him as the only contender for a position that attracted 24 candidates from South Africa, Canada, the UK, India and the US. Professor Nongxa delivered a presentation to the Wits community in Johannesburg last Monday. If, as expected, he sails through the remaining selection processes, Wits will become the third of South Africa's historically white English universities to appoint a black vice-chancellor.

The University of Cape Town has its second black vice-chancellor, literary expert and author Njabulo Ndebele. Last year, the University of Natal selected medical scientist Malegapuru Makgoba to replace Brenda Gourley, now vice-chancellor of the Open University.

Professor Nongxa has been deputy vice-chancellor (research) of Wits since 2000, and became acting vice-chancellor after the university was rocked last year by divisions that ended with the acrimonious exit of vice-chancellor Norma Reid-Birley in November.

Fifteen of the applicants hold chief executive or senior management positions, or are well-established academics in their fields, council chair Edwin Cameron says in a statement. However, the selection committee agreed that only Professor Nongxa met the criteria in all key performance areas identified for the post.

It felt that he fulfilled the requisite criteria with such distinction that further short-listing or search procedures would not be justified, Judge Cameron said.

After graduating with a mathematics degree from the University of Fort Hare, Professor Nongxa became South Africa's first black Rhodes scholar and went on to obtain his doctorate at Oxford University.

He has held visiting appointments and fellowships at the universities of Harvard, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois and Baylor (Texas), and worked for ten years at the University of the Western Cape before joining Wits.

News article2 Africa News :

South Africa; From Herd Boy to Top of the Academic Pile

May 18, 2003 Sunday

After much trauma, Wits University has chosen a new leader. Loyiso Nongxa might just be the right man for the job, writes Cornia Pretorius

'I just refrain from expressing an opinion unless I am convinced of the fact'

ALIFE that spans nearly 50 years seems to have prepared Loyiso Nongxa for his job as the University of the Witwatersrand's first black vice-chancellor.

Nongxa, 49 - a mathematics professor who listed "Abelian Group Theory" as a research interest - may be unknown to most South Africans.

But his anonymity is an insult to an arsenal of abilities and achievements seemingly tailor-made for the Wits environment, where survival of the fittest is the name of the game.

Nongxa did not go to Wits in October 2000 as deputy vice-chancellor (research) in pursuit of the vice-chancellorship. In many respects, it appears as if the job pursued him.

Within months of his arriving at Wits, Professor Colin Bundy, the then vice-chancellor, left.

Nongxa was asked by some parties to apply for the position.

"[I] declined because I believed that I was not ready," he says.

Nongxa then worked closely with Bundy's successor, Professor Norma Reid Birley, whose term ended with her resignation late last year.

He became acting vice-chancellor, a position he held for 170 days, before being named vice-chancellor on Friday.

"The job has been thrust upon him by his own capabilities and circumstance," says Judge Edwin Cameron, the chairman of the Wits council.

Nongxa's journey from herd boy to Oxford-educated mathematician and now the vice-chancellor of one of South Africa's premier institutions began on October 22 1953.

He was born in Umhlanga, a village in the Transkei.

As the youngest of five children of Tuddie and Tamsanqa Nongxa - a shopkeeper and a primary school principal - Loyiso Nongxa's childhood was an ordinary one.

From the age of five until he went to boarding school at 13, Nongxa did what the other children in the village did - he tended his father's sheep, ploughed and harvested.

He sometimes missed school as a result, but his parents ensured that the periods were never long enough for him to fail and drop out.

"My mother expected us to do well. Failure was not a word in her vocabulary," says Nongxa.

A few other people helped his mother shape Nongxa and open doors of opportunity when he needed them most.

They included Dr Andile Maliza, a district surgeon who nudged Nongxa towards mathematics ; Professor Tom van Dyk, his first-year maths professor at the University of Fort Hare, who encouraged his problem-solving skills ; Thelma Henderson, wife of Derrick Henderson, a former vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, who encouraged him to apply for a Rhodes scholarship to go to Oxford University; and Professor Jim McKenzie, who recruited him to the University of Natal when he was "languishing", post-Oxford, at the National University of Lesotho.

Van Dyk speaks of Nongxa's star quality , saying that in his 30 years of teaching , Nongxa was "one of the best, if not the best, student ever".

"If he scored lower than 90% we wanted to know what was wrong," Van Dyk recalls.

Remarkably, he started doing maths only in his teens, while at junior secondary (Freemantle High) and later at senior secondary (Healdtown High) schools, both in the Eastern Cape.

Nongxa also had to teach himself physical science because qualified teachers were scarce.

Such was his knack for the subject that he was invited to teach pupils at other schools.

In his school-leaving examination in 1972, he was rated number one nationally. A few years later, when he graduated from Fort Hare, he was awarded a special prize for the best performance by an undergraduate in the university's history.

This was when Henderson, who sat on the Rhodes Scholarship Committee, spotted Nongxa. At her insistence he applied to Oxford University and succeeded - the first African South African to win the prestigious award.

On arrival at Oxford, Nongxa refused to do the extra year that was expected from most international postgraduate students and obtained his PhD in the minimum period of three years.

All along, he says, he was set on proving that maths "was not a function of race and gender".

Nongxa's "obstinacy" as a student and his unwavering belief in his intellectual prowess has followed him to where he now sits in boardrooms and committees.

But this steeliness contradicts a public profile of agreeability.

A black academic, for example, said prior to Nongxa's selection that Wits wanted him for the post because he was "a quiet native".

Not so, say colleagues. "He is his own man; he is no-one's lackey," says one.

"I have seen him stand his ground with the so-called Wits untouchables," says another.

He took on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang when she wanted to prescribe to Wits who it should include in an Aids delegation.

The minister backed down.

Professor Lionel Slammert, the dean of Applied Sciences at the Cape Technikon, who worked with Nongxa at the University of the Western Cape, says his former colleague holds strong views, but as a mathematician thinks through his arguments.

"I just refrain from expressing an opinion unless I am convinced of the fact," says Nongxa.

This is why, when Nongxa joined the fracas around Reid Birley late last year, the Wits community began taking note of the problems.

But Nongxa's journey to vice-chancellorship was a tough one. He was a lecturer and dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of the Western Cape in the 1990s when South Africa's campuses were still burning .

After being headhunted by Wits in 2000, an unsuspecting Nongxa again found himself in stormy weather.

First Sam Nolutshungu, selected as the first black vice-chancellor, turned down the job due to ill health and later died. Then Bundy did not complete his term. Finally, Reid Birley left amid accusations of incompetence.

Now, as he takes office, Wits is in the headlines again because of its finances and its floundering research output.

Furthermore, the Wits vice-chancellor selection committee did Nongxa a disservice by shortlisting him as the only candidate. Critics were quick to question the transparency of the process and, ignorantly, Nongxa's abilities.

But, insiders say, the matter was vigorously debated and there was no contest. In all likelihood, Wits wanted to prevent a situation in which an outsider, no matter how competent, took over but left prematurely due to South Africa's harsh higher education environment.

Everyone appears to agree that Nongxa will bring the necessary stability that Wits experienced in the days of Professor Robert Charlton, who served as vice-chancellor for over 10 years.

But amid the lingering tension from the Reid Birley affair there is also optimism at Wits. The university's student population has increased significantly, poor salaries for academics have been addressed and the dreary urban campus is being modernised.

Nongxa has promised Wits five years for now - providing the institution continues to want him at its helm.

What he brings to the job is more than a sharp intellect. He also has charm, wit and a human touch. Professor Thandwa Mthembu, deputy vice-chancellor (academic external) refers to his "emotional intelligence".

He says: "I envy the way in which [Nongxa] interacts with people."

It is an ability that surfaces when Nongxa talks, in jest, about the difficulty of working with academics.

"The Loyiso Nongxa First Law on Academic Leadership states that thou shalt not attempt to exercise authority or influence over academics," he said in a presentation to staff earlier this month.

But, being a team player, reconciliator and honest broker, as his supporters describe him, Nongxa will have to find a way to take academics, students and support staff on board in pursuit of the "New Wits" - a term that predates him, but which he latched onto to outline his vision.

"I must confess that it has an exciting ring to it," he told staff. "It signals renewal; it signals rejuvenation, a re-awakening, a commitment to make a fresh start, looking and moving forward."

But the question on many people's minds is: Will he survive?

The first lesson he will have to learn is how to read political agendas and master the art of strategising.

The University of Natal's vice-chancellor, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba - himself once tipped to become Wits's first black vice-chancellor - believes Nongxa has the right leadership qualities.

"His survival will depend on the support he receives. No one can survive in an unfriendly environment and not everyone leaves Wits because they are incapable," Makgoba says.

How did Nongxa manage to navigate his path from herd boy in the Eastern Cape to vice-chancellor of Wits?

"What does it take to rise above a rural upbringing, having gone through Bantu education, survive the Fort Hare of the 1970s, to end up at Oxford.

People look at these achievements and ask what it takes. I just follow my instincts, my logic and my reasoning, he explains.

references: Mathematics Reviews;

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