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When a problem is your answer

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Entrepreneur Phillipa Geard was the guest speaker at a careers event for Wits students and alumni on 16 July 2019.

Wits students and young alumni heard some valuable, hard-won career advice from Phillipa Geard at a talk hosted by Alumni Relations and the Counselling and Careers Development Unit on 16 July 2019.

Geard is the founder of two innovative recruitment platforms, RecruitMyMom and RecruitAGraduate. She is a passionate marketer whose career experience includes working in a big company as well as consulting to businesses and setting up her own enterprise.

Guest speaker Phillipa Geard at a careers talk on 16 July 2019 hosted by Wits Alumni Relations and CCDU

RecruitMyMom meets the need of skilled workers for flexible, part-time employment and the needs of employers. This idea and Geard’s execution of it have won several awards for entrepreneurship. Founded in 2012, the service already has more than 60 000 workers on its platform.

In March 2019, Geard launched RecruitAGraduate, matching graduates and interns with opportunities.

Geard told the audience the story of how she became an “accidental entrepreneur” and shared some of her thoughts about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (“Be as human as you can – that’s how we beat the machines!”)

First find a problem

Her definition of an entrepreneur is basically someone who identifies a problem that a defined group of people are experiencing, and then fixes it.

She warned that running your own business is “ridiculously hard”, but said the reward is seeing the difference you can make in people’s lives.

Straight after university, Geard was recruited by a large, international company, Procter & Gamble, and she had a successful career as a marketer for its brands. She aimed to become a director and did not think about having her own business. When she decided at the age of 32 to take a career break to have children, she intended to return to corporate life. But as a mother, she found that her feelings about her career had changed completely. She began to consult to companies and realised that small businesses often need to hire good skills on a flexible basis. She also realised that many women want to work – and the economy needs their skills – but they drop out of the workplace and out of the executive pipeline because they need flexibility as mothers.

Match it with a solution

Geard had found her problem and her solution. She researched ways of matching people’s needs online and models for earning revenue. With long hours and hard work, RecruitMyMom came into being. On a small budget, Geard played almost all the business roles herself at first and used all the free marketing opportunities she could find, including business competitions. Measuring impact in terms of visitors to her website gave her the confidence to take more risks and she became an employer and an advertiser.

Students and alumni attended a talk by entrepreneur Phillipa Geard

A speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 inspired her to make a difference in the lives of young people, and she created a new recruitment platform to match graduates with smaller companies – the ones that don’t visit graduate recruitment fairs on campus.

Phillipa Geard’s lessons for entrepreneurs:

  • Successful entrepreneurs are successful problem-solvers.
  • Don’t follow the crowd: look where the crowd isn’t looking.
  • Know how to communicate your solution to the people who will use it.
  • Change is constant. Get comfortable with change.
  • Be humble. Learn from others who have been where you need to go.
  • Ask staff and colleagues for help.
  • Hire people who are smarter than you. That includes young people.
  • Ethical leadership is the only way to lead. It creates an environment of trust.
  • Name and share the values that your company stands for. Staff who know how to behave will be empowered to make good decisions.
  • You work with real people with real feelings. Everyone wants to be heard.
  • Your staff are your greatest asset.
  • Businesses are not about transactions; they are about people.
  • Learn resilience.
  • If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean the idea is bad, but perhaps the execution isn’t right.
  • Look after yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Spend time with your family, read inspiring things, get some balance.
  • Adapt and learn things outside your field of study. Don’t see things in silos. Broaden your horizons.
  • Use all the free material available online and read books. This can make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Don’t just be employable – look to employ.
  • Lead by example and don’t be afraid of hard work.
  • Don’t despise the smallest job or a bad boss. Learn from everything.
  • As Forbes magazine put it: the difference between an entrepreneur and someone who just runs a business is about being a leader versus a manager. Leaders work ON the system; managers work IN the system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trends shaping 2019 and beyond

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Strategist Abdullah Verachia was the guest speaker at an alumni networking event on 25 June 2019

Almost 100 Witsies braved a cold evening to hear global strategist and Wits Master of Management graduate Abdullah Verachia, the guest speaker at a Wits alumni networking event on 25 June 2019 at the Wits Club. His topic was disruption, especially what it means for Africa’s future.

Abdullah Verachia, speaker at a Wits alumni networking event on 25 June 2015

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership. – economist JK Galbraith

Starting with this quotation, Verachia spoke about how the public discourse in South Africa was dominated by the media. The daily headlines can be an overwhelming source of anxiety, but we should think about society beyond the headlines: the way global events and trends ripple out and affect people and places that are not in the media. What’s happening to China’s economy, for example, has consequences for every South African.

And global context is relevant for every country. South Africa has its challenges but is actually punching above its weight in many important ways, including freedom of the press.

It’s a hypercompetitive, data-driven world and people’s expectations are changing, he said. Consumers demand simple, user-friendly experiences which are made possible by complex information. But what this supposedly technological revolution also needs, Verachia said, is people who understand the human element. The things that cannot be digitised become more valuable in this world. He urged us to put technology aside sometimes, talk to people who are different from us, be optimistic, travel, try new things, be curious, and think about our impact.

Wits alumni, he said, received a great education and have a responsibility to look beyond the headlines and work hard to make the society they want to live in.

For photos of the event, please click here.

Guests at an alumni networking event on 25 June 2019

 

Durban reunion April 2019

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The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, and the Chancellor, Dr Judy Dlamini, met Wits alumni at an event on 3 April 2019 in Durban.

Click here for photos of the reunion.

Click here for the audio recording of Dr Dlamini's address.

Click here for Professor Habib's address.

Click here for the Q&A.

Durban alumni reunion April 2019

Guests at the alumni reunion in Durban, April 2019

Chancellor Judy Dlamini speaking at the alumni reunion in Durban, April 2019

VIce-Chancellor Adam Habib at the Durban alumni reunion

 

Alumni get a special introduction to book art

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Select Wits alumni were invited to meet Jack Ginsberg at the opening of his collection of book art at the Wits Art Museum

A special alumni event was held on 27 March 2019 to showcase the new Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts at WAM, presented by Jack Ginsberg himself, who gave personal insights into the collection and spoke about the highlights of his collecting journey.

The event was conceived as an exclusive and intimate opportunity to acknowledge alumni who have contributed to Wits in some way. (See photos here.)

A triangular book; a movable book; a round book; a glass book; a metre wide pop-up book; a 10 metre long folding book. These are a few of Ginsberg’s favourites in the collection. Artists’ books are artworks in the form of books, rather than books about art.

Art collector and philanthropist Jack Ginsberg (BAcc 1979) began collecting in this field in the early 1970s, almost from the inception of this contemporary art form. He has recently donated his world-renowned collection to Wits Art Museum, to make it accessible to future generations of students and researchers.

The collection is unrivalled in Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere and includes more than 3 000 artworks, plus a unique archive of an additional 3 000 items on the history and development of the book art genre. A dedicated centre has been established at WAM to accommodate the collection.

This is a major centenary donation.

Read more at The Conversation.

Alumni were invited to meet Jack Ginsberg at a special event when the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts opened at WAM

Photo: Peter Maher

Visitors to Wits Art Museum explore the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts

Photo: Anthea Pokroy

 

 

 

Making sense of election noise

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Professor Ivor Sarakinsky supplied a welcome note of humour at an elections-themed alumni networking event on 11 April 2019 when he quoted Groucho Marx’s definition of politics: “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.

Professor Ivor Sarakinsky, guest speaker, alumni networking event 11 April 2019

The Wits School of Governance professor was in conversation with Lumkile Mondi of the Wits School of Economic and Business Sciences at the Wits Club. Professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, also of the Wits School of Governance, was the facilitator. All three are regular public commentators on the South African political and economic landscape.

The discussion provided some well-informed views of the upcoming national election and what kinds of challenges would remain or emerge afterwards.

Alumni and guests used question time to raise issues such as the prospect of coalitions, representation of the youth, and the difference between rural and urban voters.

“There’s lots of noise [from political parties] and little attempt to persuade voters through evidence,” said Sarakinsky. “This is not a bad thing.” He said election noise was a useful way of ventilating people’s emotions and showing those in office what people were thinking and feeling. A calm pre-election mood would be a problem, he said. South Africa should be proud of the Independent Electoral Commission, he added; the country’s election processes are robust enough to deal with issues after the results are out, unlike countries where faulty processes are often blamed and violence follows. In South Africa, the result is incontestable.

Sarakinsky estimated what support the main parties might achieve in the 8 May election and suggested some of the reasons for and possible consequences of this showing.

Lumkile Mondi, guest speaker, alumni networking event 11 April 2019

Mondi retraced developments in the political scene from about 2007, when South Africa’s economy was growing at over 5% a year, benefiting from global cycles and local policies. It then entered a phase during which the state and state-owned enterprises were “hollowed out”, he said.  This “radical economic transformation” was really a form of accumulation, Mondi said, and the money accumulated left the country instead of circulating in the South African economy. Corruption is now institutionalised, a normal part of doing business or getting a service, he said. When institutions are ruined, how can redress be achieved? Only organised business appeared to be fighting back. “We’re all on a wing and a prayer, hoping it comes right,” Mondi said, adding that he was disappointed with the silence on corruption from those who speak out about other issues such as decolonisation.

 

Nicolatte Buliani, guest at alumni networking event at Wits Club Barns on 11 April 2019

 

Tommy Mohajane, guest at alumni networking event at Wits Club Barns on 11 April 2019

 

Forty years on, the bridge is solid

- Colin Little

Civil Engineering Class of 1978 – 40 Year Reunion Dinner

The final year Wits Civil Engineering class of 1978 was one of the largest to graduate. Following on from a 30 year class reunion in 2008 at the Sunnyside Hotel, a regular watering hole back in the day, an organising committee coalesced miraculously in mid-2018 and set about putting together the 40 year version.

Class of 1978 civil engineers at their 2018 reunion

Group photo caption:

Front: Dave Spooner, Leon Furstenburg, Danny Martinho, Paul Carlisle, Colin Little, Chris Zweigenthal

Rear: Peter Legg, Patrick Jardine, Kevin Spence, Ian Weir, Gary Theodosiou, Ian Robertson, Mike Brett, Anthony Poorter, Dr Irvin Luker, Keith Small, George Jamieson, Prof Akpofure Taigbenu, Tony Purchase, Wally Mayne, Paul Hillen, John Drennan, Sandow Emmerich

The committee decided on a more formal reunion in the form of a dinner to which the Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor Akpofure Taigbenu, would be invited. Close scrutiny of the class photo and faculty members revealed that Dr. Irvin Luker, who had the misfortune to have to deal with the rowdy class of 1978, was still on the faculty and was duly invited. Both eagerly accepted.

The dinner was held at the Johannesburg Country Club on 17 November 2018, with 22 of the 67 graduates attending.

Classmates coming from as far afield as Hawaii and UK made it all the more special.

The formal proceedings began with Tony Purchase welcoming the class and guests of honour to the dinner. Mention was made of the great turmoil the country, and indeed Wits University, was experiencing in the mid-70s.

In reply, Prof. Taigbenu spoke with great enthusiasm of the faculty of 2018. He mentioned the increased class sizes after some lean years with over 1000 under- and post-grads, of which a third are female. He also noted the wider scope of civil engineering. In 1978 structures dominated the curriculum whereas today the scope has broadened to include more environmental and hydrology aspects. Dr. Luker remembered our era with great fondness and gave insight into the dynamics of today’s classroom. 

Wally Mayne, head of Contractual Affairs at CESA, gave a realistic and hard-hitting overview of the profession – and those who had stayed in the profession agreed that civil engineers need to stand up and be counted, and get paid what they are worth.

Kevin Spence, the Class Rep, then reminded the class how successful they had been in their many diverse careers and called back the past with memories of our graduation dinner at the Old Edwardians Club. In particular, the bail-out we got from the Dean in 1978, Prof. Geoff Blight, who had a small reserve fund to cater for damages. 

In closing Paul Hillen paid tribute to class mates who had passed away and a toast was drunk to their memory; Zen Dama, Seth Nkosi and Ronnie Philpott were all well remembered. We also toasted those absent, and vowed to keep in touch.

A small profit was made on the event and it was unanimously agreed to donate the surplus to the Endowment Fund of the School.

Kevin Spence and Dave Spooner at the reunion

George Jamieson and Keith Small

Mike Brett, Prof Taigbenu and Ian Robertson

 

 

Wits has a job for its elders

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Founders' Tea 2018

Wits’ elders played an important role during the difficult period of student fee protests. Their advice and support was appreciated and has helped the University to complete two calm and successful years since that time.

This acknowledgement of the vital contribution of senior Wits alumni came from a grateful Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, in his address at Founders’ Tea on 29 November 2018.

Founders are alumni who graduated 40 or more years ago. More than 600 of these stalwarts arrived for the function on the Library Lawns, keen to meet old friends, revisit campus and hear the guest speaker, Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan. (See video here.)

Inside the marquee at Founders' Tea, 29 November 2018

To loud applause, Professor Habib thanked Minister Gordhan for the way he had carried out his responsibility to the nation. The Minister was invited to speak at the function out of respect for his exemplary behaviour in difficult times, Prof Habib said.

Minister Gordhan received a standing ovation from the Founders. (“I hope that wasn’t just your morning exercise,” he joked.)

He spoke about dangerous trends, disruption and uncertainty around the world, and how to create stability. He said South Africa still needs to bind people into a common nationhood, and asked the Founders to use their wisdom and resources to ensure that a negative narrative doesn’t persist. “It’s people who make the Constitution a living document and give content to democratic values.”

Minister Gordhan warned that people who had benefited from corruption and state capture would not give up without a fight.  “[It is a battle between] those who want to rebuild South Africa, and move it in the right direction, and those who want to hold on to the last seven or 10 years, and continue with the processes of extraction.” 

He urged South Africans to make the economy more inclusive; to share skills and experience so as to create opportunities; to build a more competitive economy; to encourage more partnerships between government, business and civil society; to close the gaps between haves and have-nots; and to drive an ethical business culture. “There is a lot of work to do.”

Listen to his speech here.

Professor Habib told the Founders about his six-month spell at Harvard in 2018, writing a book about the fee protests. While out of South Africa, he said, he had been struck by the similarities between social and political trends in different parts of the world. “Our problems are global problems.”

Wits had a good year in 2018, he said, enrolling 37000 students and graduating a record 8400. Research output has risen 80% in five years and transformation in the student body and staff has continued. Wits has shown that an institution can achieve excellence at the same time as transformation, Prof Habib said.

See photos of Founders' Tea 2018 here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/witsalumni/sets/72157701077759382 

 

 

 

Writers revisit formative times

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Alumni networking event with authors Niq Mhlongo and Nthikeng Mohlele

Nthikeng Mohlele, guest speaker at the Wits alumni networking event on 2 August 2018

Niq Mhlongo, guest speaker at the Wits alumni networking event on 2 August 2018

A lively and entertaining discussion took place at an alumni networking event with authors Niq Mhlongo (BA 1997) and Nthikeng Mohlele (BADA 2000) at the Wits Club Barns on 2 August. The event was held in partnership with the Department of African Languages.

Tlou Legodi (BA 1998, BA Hons 2004) acted as event compere.

Mhlongo had just returned from witnessing the elections in Zimbabwe, which he intends to write about. He said he was reminded of South Africa in 1994, when he was at Wits. This was the setting for his novel Dog Eat Dog.  

Mohlele said that on re-reading Dog Eat Dog he noticed in it the “seeds” of the Fees Must Fall movement. Mhlongo said that when writing the book, what he had in mind was his own experience of adjusting to the unfamiliar world of being a Wits student. He recalled writing an aptitude test in Hall 29, struggling to get a bursary, adapting to a culture of learning and teaching that was so different from his school days, and bearing the expectations of a large family.

Mohlele spoke of the “University of Humanity” as a good place to start learning.

The writers discussed their choices of language – Mohlele is currently writing a novel in Sepedi and Mhlongo said that because of his multilingual Soweto background there was no single, dominant language for him. “In terms of language I’m always an outsider.”

Responding to comments and questions from the audience, Mohlele spoke of the importance to him of consciousness and the total human experience, rather than binary thinking. “To say that JM Coetzee is a great artist is not to diminish Wole Soyinka.”

Prof Isabel Hofmeyr concluded the evening’s discussion by saying that African literature had become more visible in the book market than one could imagine 30 or 40 years ago. She paid tribute to the Wits academics who had contributed to this development, and said both of the guest speakers were “game-changers” whose books were used in teaching literature at university level.

Isabel Hofmeyr, Professor of African Literature, at the Wits alumni networking event on 2 August 2018

  • Books by Niq Mhlongo: Dog Eat Dog; After Tears; Way Back Home; Affluenza; Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree
  • Books by Nthikeng Mohlele: The Scent of Bliss; Small Things; Rusty Bell; Pleasure; Michael K

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An evening with the future

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Alumni networking event

The more we think about revolutionary advancements in technology, the more we think about what it means to be human. It’s exciting to think about what technology can do, but it also raises concerns around ethics, trust, privacy and even spirituality.

Technology touches almost every aspect of our lives and we need to consider the implications for humanity. Should machines cut us out of certain operations and think for themselves? Should we connect our minds and bodies to the internet? The questions pile up as the implications for business, medicine, government and daily life emerge.

Vukosi Marivate was MC at a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018

Almost 200 Wits alumni across the generations arrived at the Wits Business School’s Donald Gordon Auditorium on 10 May to hear a distinguished panel of Witsies discuss “The Future of the Connected Human”.

(To see photos of the event, click here. To see an edited video, click here. The event also featured on the SABC's Network programme.)

Guests were welcomed by master of ceremonies Vukosi Marivate (BSc Eng 2007, MSc Eng 2009), who is a senior data scientist at the CSIR and a Wits Convocation Exco member.

Arthur Goldstuck (BA 1984), head of World Wide Worx, a technology market research company, skilfully facilitated the discussion. Setting the scene, he pointed to the explosive proliferation of technology start-up companies and mentioned some of the concepts, products and trends he had seen at recent international exhibitions. Built-in voice commands; smart clothing; brain-to-vehicle signals; text by thinking; flying cars; the end of passwords… It’s all here or coming soon. He also shared insights from research into the technology that South African companies are already using or planning to use.

Arthur Goldstuck facilitates The Future of the Connected Human, a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018

The panellists

Panellist Dr Benjamin Rosman (BSc 2007, BSc Hons 2008, BSc Hons 2009) senior lecturer in the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and Principal Researcher at the CSIR, spoke about his work in robotics and machine learning. This includes working out how to transfer knowledge from humans to robots, among robots themselves, and even from robots back to humans (think of being able to learn skills that have been lost). The goal is for robots to learn, from their experience, how to make decisions. This in turn can teach humans more about decision-making.

Adam Pantanowitz (BSc Eng 2007, BSc Eng 2008), lecturer in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, is working a groundbreaking project: connecting human brain activity directly to the internet.

Vimbai Muzofa (MCom 2015), Head: Interbank & RTGS (Africa Regions) at Standard Bank Group, is interested in human behaviour in the sphere of financial activity. In her work she looks at issues of trust when it comes to money; speed and efficiency in financial services; and mining data to understand what clients want.

Sunil Geness (MM 2006), Director, Government Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP Africa and President of the Information Technology Association of South Africa, talked about the revenue potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will touch people’s lives in many ways. He urged the audience to watch Do You Trust This Computer?, a movie that “explores the promises and perils of our new era”.

The discussion

Are robots just a toy, a gimmick? Though the fun aspect of robots is good for getting children excited about science, technology, engineering and maths, Rosman said, what people want in many contexts is to be able to make better predictions and decisions. The promise of robotics is that systems could make better decisions than humans can.

When you connect your mind to the internet and share your biological signals, are you opening the way for dangerous invasions of privacy? It’s uncharted territory, said Pantanowitz. Humans seem to have a natural urge towards networking, but there are ethical concerns to consider. In response to a question from the audience about interfering with consciousness, he added that the aim of science is discovery and understanding.

What about big business: will companies treat information ethically when they have access to powerful technological tools? Muzofa said that in order to survive, financial services companies have to take on technology and use it to mine data – but they are highly regulated. In response to a question, she said banks have to be inclusive and collaborate with the people they are there to serve.

We have to make sure that the digital economy creates jobs instead of just replacing humans, said Geness.

Rosman said that there is a lot of potential for AI to be used in education. Answering a question about embedding morality in robots, he agreed it was important to make AI safe and to avoid giving robots “bad” instructions.

  • The first Deep Learning Indaba took place at Wits in 2017, attracting several eminent international experts who are also Wits alumni. The outcomes were reported here. The next Indaba takes place in Stellenbosch in September this year. Its mission is to strengthen African machine learning.

 

Dr Benjamin Rosman was a panellist at The Future of the Connected Human, a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018

Vimbai Muzofa was on the panel at The Future of the Connected Human, a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018

Sunil Geness was on the panel at The Future of the Connected Human, a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018

Adam Pantanowitz at a Wits alumni networking event on 10 May 2018, The Future of the Connected Human

 

 

Bang on time

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A water wake-up call

Never mind the complicated stochastic hydrology graph projected on the screen – it was the loud clap of Highveld thunder that drove Professor Mike Muller’s point home. Speaking on “Managing Climate-Related Risks” at an alumni networking event at the Wits Club on 19 April, he was talking about the right time to panic about water supply.

A welcome shower fell on the day, but many of the 80 alumni and guests in the audience were there because they were worried about Johannesburg – or anywhere else – facing a water crisis like Cape Town’s.

Prof Mike Muller, guest speaker at the alumni networking event on 19 April 2018

Representing a range of professional disciplines, from philosophy to chemical engineering, they heard the Wits School of Governance water expert say that water is not a physical or technical problem as much as one of governance. It’s about people listening to each other, being informed, speaking up, looking at the big picture, planning and acting in time. It’s about understanding vested interests too.

“The challenge is how to make things happen in the real world,” said Prof Muller.

People have all kinds of reasons for the decisions they make (or avoid making) when confronted with a problem like water management. And the water issue, in particular, touches the lives of all kinds of people in multiple unavoidable ways. This is why Wits’ new Centre in Water Research and Development seeks to bring together many different perspectives and disciplines in dialogue and collaboration.

“This is our generation’s problem,” said Professor Craig Sheridan, the Centre’s head, to the audience. Water crises are made by people, and the Centre aims to create leaders and visionaries who will work on solutions together.

Prof Craig Sheridan at an alumni networking event on 19 April 2018

For more about water-related research at Wits, see the “Watershed” issue of Curiosity magazine – named with a nod to the University’s position on the "White Water Ridge", which directs Joburg’s rainfall to different oceans.

For photos of the alumni networking event, click here.

Enquiries about alumni networking events: Yumna.Patel@wits.ac.za or Purvi.Purohit@wits.ac.za

 

A question from the audience about desalination plants

 

A question from the audience about potential future conflict over water A comment from Rand Water's Professor Hamanth Kasan Prof Balt Verhagen contributed a question

Every day is precious

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Alumni were privileged to share a discussion about breast cancer with Lauren Segal and Professor Vinay Sharma at the Wits Club on 15 March 2018.

How does anyone cope with four cancer diagnoses – and how does it change your life? The greatest lesson that Lauren Segal took away from her journey through the “kingdom of the sick”, as she calls it, was how to ask for help in a difficult time.

Wits alumna Lauren Segal was the speaker at an alumni networking event at the Wits Club on 15 March 2018

“Care and kindness is part of wellness. I had an instinct that I needed help.” She sought various complementary forms of care along with surgery and chemotherapy, an approach which she said is becoming more widely accepted as beneficial. “Science is catching up with this.”

Wits alumna Lauren (BEd 1988; BA Hons 1990) is the author of five books, including Cancer: A Love Story (MF Books 2017), her account of this journey. She trained as an historian and film maker at Wits and is the managing partner of Trace, a team of research, exhibition and design professionals. She has written about South Africa’s Constitution and about the history of Soweto, and helped design Johannesburg’s Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

Great events and great lives have been the focus of her career. But it is the value of an ordinary day and her own family and friends that have become so important to Lauren after her experience with cancer.

“This experience has given me something, rather than taken something away,” she said to Wits alumni who joined her at the networking event. “There is so much to learn from difficulty.

“Do something you want to do every day,” she urged. “Value your time.”

Professor Sharma, Head of Radiation Oncology at Wits, spoke about the importance of patients having confidence in their doctors. This can be a challenge in hospital settings where the medical staff have so little time to discuss each patient’s concerns and choices or to see each person as a whole. Often, too, patients are left on their own in hospital because families and friends can’t be with them all the time, and this is not ideal.

Prof Vinay Sharma, Head of Radiation Oncology at Wits, led the discussion at a Wits alumni networking event on 15 March 2018

He asked Lauren how she had felt and reacted when she received her cancer diagnoses, and how she helped her children to deal with what was happening.

She received her first diagnosis of melanoma at the age of 23 and a breast cancer diagnosis at 45. The third diagnosis was the most shocking, she said, because she thought she had finished dealing with cancer. It was difficult to have to make a lot of medical decisions and to enter a world in which “you don’t know the rules”.  

Writing was a way to gain some degree of control of her life and to protect her family from the difficult feelings she was experiencing. Reading was also a help: other people’s cancer stories, and in particular Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s ideas about choosing your response to your circumstances.

Since sharing her story, she has been surprised by the levels of fear, shame and silence that still surround the subject of cancer. She said that for her, “leaning in” to the thing you fear the most, and having the support of a community, provides strength.

“Care, love, exercise – these don’t cost anything. Education is the challenge. Knowledge is power.”

Prof Sharma shared some research findings about the links between melanoma and breast cancer, the factors that increase the risk of cancer, the tests available and how patients can take care of themselves and maintain a positive outlook.

Dr Maurice Goodman, acting President of Wits Convocation, and Peter Bezuidenhoudt, Wits Development and Fundraising director, thanked the speakers and the alumni who attended for generously sharing their time, knowledge and insight.

Purvi Purohit, Dr Jonathan Broomberg, Dr Maurice Goodman and Prof Vinay Sharma at the Wits alumni networking event on 15 March 2018

  • To see photos of the event, click here.
  • To receive invitations to Wits alumni networking events, please ensure we have your contact details: alumni@wits.ac.za or +27 11 717 1090
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