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“It is a lifestyle change”, says Dr Ryno Boshoff of ICT, who has been consulting with University departments together with Legal Services’ Lee-Anne Groener to explain the process and assist them with the handling of their systems to be compliant with the POPI (Protection of Personal Information) Act (POPIA). 

POPIA was signed into law during November 2013 by the President of South Africa but will only come into force on 1 July this year. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the protection of personal, identifiable information during data collection, processing, sharing, storing and destruction. 

This is to protect people from, for example, scammers, and to store the information in an ethical and legally compliant way, in line with their right to privacy and not divulging any information without people’s approval.  It implies certain processing and capturing conditions for the University, says Ryno.

POPIA outlines eight principles that South African data processors must follow.  Each principle encourages responsibility, security, and consent.

In the case of universities and higher education institutions, it is a challenge with students leaving every year, yet the institution has to keep their information for future student records etc.

Since 2014, the University has been training departments in the nuances of the different rules and how to apply them.  This is an ongoing process, striving for optimal security to avoid data breaching and also our responses in such a case.

Alumni Relations

The Alumni Relations Office communicates with former and current students who have obtained formal qualifications from the University and keep their personal contact details and qualifications in a customer relations management system.

In line with the POPI Act, the Office has to give alumni the option to opt out and unsubscribe should they have any reason to do so, such as not agreeing with the frequency and type of information they receive, says Paul Geswindt, Director of Alumni Relations.

The POPI Act itself describes the type of communication which is acceptable in terms of the University’s core function, such as important institutional information, but not direct marketing which can include the manner in which donations are solicited. If the processes are not dealt with properly, it could have an impact on the University’s fundraising efforts.

Information regarding name changes, election of representatives to Council and major developments such as the Medical School are simpler as they are of value to alumni.

“We, therefore have to look very carefully at the type of communication shared, as the Office has to obtain the permission of alumni to send them certain communication.  

In addition, contact details may not be shared with other parties, such as businesses or even other persons.  If an alumnus wants to organise a reunion for a specific group of fellow alumni, the Alumni Relations Office may contact this group on behalf of the individual but may not supply the list of contact details to a person.

Social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook are currently being used more extensively to communicate with alumni as they voluntary join or connect to these platforms. The Alumni Relations Office has invested in an online networking platform to connect with alumni in general and with groups who have similar interests.  The new Mandela Alumni Connect platform is an online networking platform allows alumni to connect with fellow alumni and join online groups as well as use some of the other features of the platform. More information regarding Mandela Alumni regarding the platform can in a related e-newsletter article or members can go to for information or to register on the platform at

Apart from a stronger focus on social media, the POPI Act has also necessitated the importance of building strong relationships with students from the outset. Cultivating a relationship during their student years makes it easier to engage with them after graduation and have a lifelong connection.  It is therefore important for us as a University to have great academic and extra-curricular relationships for them to opt in to for the future.

During the training sessions with ICT and Legal Services, the purpose of the Act was clearly defined. The Act clearly outlines when formal permission is required from the recipients and they can indicate what is their preferred channel of communication e.g. a private email instead of a work e-mail.

“We keep to the law and its requirements. Alumni as a University stakeholder group is unique because as members of Convocation, alumni have a direct interest in the well-being of their alma mater. Alumni also elect representatives to serve on IF and Council”, Paul says.