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Survival guide for new comers

- By Buhle Zuma

There was very little not shared with the new Wits students during the official Welcome Day.

From the Vice-Chancellor to the President of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), the four speakers of the day delivered practical advice and shared personal accounts on how to survive the first year of University.

Wits welcomed 6255 first-year students and their parents and guardians on Sunday, 8 February 2015, in what is possible the biggest Welcome Day in the history of the University. The excitement of seeing a family member start University saw thousands of guests attend the event on Sunday.

Professor Adam Habib, the Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, enthralled the new members about the greats who have walked the University grounds and who have made significant contributions to society.  These include the late statesman Nelson Mandela, the first three Chief Justices of post-apartheid South Africa (Pius Langa, Arthur Chaskalson and Ismail Mahomed) and many other notable Witsies.

“It takes more than good academic marks to be successful,” said Habib.

“If you want to truly want to exceed the expectations of all of us and the achievements of the great alumni that have walked before you – then you have to embrace the entirety of the Wits experience. Embrace the collective experience of what it means to be a Witsie.”

“This experience is found in the class, the theatre, the art museums, the soccer fields and the other facilities and other activities,” continued Habib.

Leading researcher in the field of HIV/AIDS and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Helen Rees, was the guest speaker. Rees, a mother of three recently graduated students, dished out three tips to the piqued ears.

Sounding like a typical concerned parent, Rees told the students not to waste too much time watching TV, and to avoid drinking and driving. However, her third recommendation caused confusion: “Never go up the stairs empty handed”.

Explaining the statement, Rees said that each step up the stairs (of university-life) provides an opportunity to learn something.

“Look at each side of the staircase and take something with you. Don’t do a task half-heartedly and without thinking. Think about it and take something with you along the way.” Listen to Rees as she shares how she started her career as an apartheid clinician activist in Alexandra and the hopes she has for the future.

Starting school under a tree and ending up as a professor of Mathematics is an unbelievable tale and yet this is the life story of Professor Mamokgethi Setati-Phakeng.  

Setati-Phakeng, the President of the Wits Convocation had encouraging words for those who suddenly find themselves in a multi-cultural environment and an English medium school.

“You have a right to speak English even if your English is broken. Ask questions, the professor is not interested in your proficiency in English!”

South Africa has eleven official languages and factors such as the urban rural-divide and the inequality in education sometimes mean that students start on an unequal footing. "Academics like people who ask questions, which highlights that fluency in English is not a marker of intelligence,” Setati-Phakeng continued.

She urged the students to speak up early should they be overwhelmed by the work load and university life.

President of the Wits SRC Mcebo Dlamini emphasised the need for unity among students adding that it is up to the new generation to take the Wits legacy forward and not resting on the laurels of its alumni.

Dlamini starts his term as the student leader under some challenging conditions and used the platform to rally support for the affected fellow students.

About 2788 returning students have not been granted financial support to carry on with their studies by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme due to the national crisis of a shortage of funds. These students, although academically deserving, face being deregistered from the University should they fail to pay the upfront fee of R9 340 required to secure their tuition fees for the first quarter of the year.

Only R100 is required from 10 000 donors to save the students at risk of exclusion due to non-payment.  Dlamini and the Wits SRC are on a mission to raise a minimum of R1 million to rescue the students. So far the Wits SRC has raised R32 000 and have called on the Wits student population and staff members to support their efforts by making donations to the Wits SRC Humanitarian Fund.

The formal event was followed by a football match between premier league team Bidvest Wits against the Wits students Football Team.

Related article:

Corporates, SRC raise funds for Wits students