Mahlangu, who took up the post in January, brings more than 20 years of administrative experience at national and international level to her new strategic role.
Having served in various capacities in the South African Student Sport Union, now known as University Sport South Africa, she said she had developed a passion for tertiary-level sport in particular.
Mbombela-born Mahlangu was previously sports officer at the University of the Free State and head of the sport administration department at Durban University of Technology.
“The reason why I’ve chosen to remain in universities is that you get to deal with future leaders and, in dealing with future leaders, I’m able to make an impact on society,” she said.
One of the key challenges facing sport and society in general was the issue of transformation, she said.
“We all know that we need to transform a number of institutions, and the university itself is one of those.
“One of my abilities is to be able to transform the sports department within the university.
“Rugby and cricket are both struggling with transformation. At universities we have plenty players from the previously disadvantaged communities.
“If federations invested time and resources in partnering with universities, the institutions could assist them in getting players ready for the national teams and provincial franchises.
“It’s a process but we are getting there.”
Although hesitant to label herself as “previously disadvantaged”, Mahlangu believed she could contribute a unique perspective as a black woman in the male-dominated world of sport.
“When I took the decision to go into administration, it was to ensure that women got the same opportunities as men. But as I grew in my career, the focus moved to sports development in general.”
But, she said, her job was not to act alone but to rally her team and to decide collectively on the direction they would take.
To that end, she has been holding one-on-one meetings with her entire staff to get to know them and to discover their expectations of her as well as their vision for taking UJ Sport forward.
“A motto that I go by in life is that I learn from every person because I believe that from each individual there is something that I can grasp and that can make me a better person and a better leader.”
She said her goal was to help the University of Johannesburg become the leading sporting university in the country.
“I think we are definitely among the top five but we have the potential and the resources to become the leader.
“UJ must be the institution of choice for athletes in Africa and we must become a global player on the sporting field.”
Mahlangu said it was crucial to realise that UJ Sport was part of a greater academic institution and therefore needed to operate in line with the university’s core vision, mission and values.
“The strategic direction of UJ is towards global excellence and stature, and I think I can help to take this brand to the world.
“Most of the African sporting federations can benefit from UJ in terms of research and knowledge.
“UJ Sport without Sport Movement Studies is not as strong as it should be. We must have a good relationship between the sporting and academic departments so we can be able to assist and develop Africa.”
While she had held high-level positions on the 2013 Afcon board and served on the Safa national executive committee, Mahlangu said her real career highlights were not in these achievements.
“For me it’s about making a difference in an individual athlete’s life and seeing that South Africa as a nation progresses.”
As a board member of the 2010 Fifa World Cup local organising committee, Mahlangu said she had taken two key lessons from South Africa’s successful hosting of that event.
“One is that if we focus as a collective, we can deliver anything. The other is that you don’t move deadlines, you move yourself.
“For the success of our country – be it in sport or outside – the responsibility lies with all of us. We need to up our game as a nation.”
She said 2015 would be an important one for UJ Sport as it was also a World Student Games year.
“I am looking forward to seeing a number of UJ athletes participating and even receiving medals.”
Mahlangu, who previously served as head of delegation for Team SA, said solid performances in that international competition would prepare the student athletes well for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.