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DAM students open doors

- Wits University

The Disability Awareness Movement was honoured at the Student Leadership Awards for their role in promoting the interests of disabled students.

 Anna Chrysostomou_Dr Judy Dlamini_ Mpho Thahale_ Lehlohonolo Senong

Third year BA student Lehlogonolo Senong, with a triple major in psychology, sociology and sign language, is excited about the year ahead.

One of the objectives that he has set for himself is to increase awareness of visible and invisible disabilities amongst students.

“Most students are afraid to come forth and talk about their struggles,” says the activist and Chairperson of the Disability Awareness Movement (DAM).

“With that in mind, it is imperative that we make all students aware that they do not need to suffer alone. There is support,” he says.

Some of the invisible disabilities include learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia, attention deficit disorders), mental disorders (depression), as well as hearing and vision impairments. These conditions can limit a person’s ability to function, study, socialise or work. However, they can be managed with proper support.

Senong, who is a wheelchair user as a result of a bike accident, navigates challenges on and off campus. The social exclusion of students with different abilities is also a matter close to his heart. The challenge is to address society’s ignorance around the needs of people with disabilities.

In his role as chairperson, he has led initiatives tackling such misconceptions and has resurrected DAM from dormancy. His efforts, and those of his team, have not gone unnoticed. 

Senong, together with his Deputy Chair, Anna Chrysostomou, a BSc Astronomy and Astrophysics student, were recognised at the 2017 Student Leadership Awards for their role in promoting the interests of disabled students on campus. DAM executive members, Katleho Sera and Chipo Kamukwamba were also awarded.

As for 2018, Anna says the year will see the student society “propagate our message of inclusiveness.”

“Our overall goal is to create an environment which sees the seamless integration of disabled students into the greater Wits community, and we intend to ensure that such a goal is achieved. We plan to engage more thoroughly with the various subgroups of the Wits community and increase the frequency of public events as well.”

Anna, who achieved 10 distinctions in matric, is living with scoliosis, a medical condition that is the result of the spine curving to form an s-shape, disrupting the body’s alignment.

However, her studies have progressed smoothly at Wits, a fact which she attributes to the Wits Disability Rights Unit (DRU).

“I am fortunate enough to receive a great deal of support from my colleagues and professors at Wits, but forefront among these generous individuals has been the Disability Rights Unit. The staff at the DRU are altruism personified: they go above and beyond to ensure that the emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of every student are met, and have inspired me to do all that I can to aid them in their efforts.”

The DRU is a model unit in higher education and supports more than 1200 students at Wits.




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Tech as eyes and ears

Eight questions first-years in Health Sciences ask

- Wits University

What happens when you fail? Can Wits stop me being lazy? I come from Zimbabwe – can I feel free at Wits? Did I make the right choice coming here?

Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, Assistant Dean, Health Sciences Teaching And Learning Office at Wits invited these first-year students to SMS him questions during their O-Week welcome lecture that took place in the CMJH Auditorium on Thursday, 1 February 2018. 

He told students that he was mindful of the transition from a small town to Johannesburg – having himself come to Wits from a small town as an undergraduate in the 1980s. 

Prof. Lionel Green Thompson Health Sciences Teaching And Learning Office

“You don’t really know where your journey will end. Be mindful of each other,” he said, urging first-years to develop a sense of congeniality (given the “competitive nature” of health sciences students), before responding to the barrage of texts flooding his phone:

1. How do I make a change bigger than an average doctor?

“What’s an ‘average’ doctor?”’ replied Thompson-Green. He referenced a study he had done in which he identified three types of medical students: The mercantile; the service-orientated; and those who walk the path to see where it led. He suggested the latter might be ‘the average doctors’. He pointed out that Wits Pharmacy and Medical School students had established a volunteer-based clinic and soup kitchen for the homeless at the Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein. He encouraged first-years to seek out these and similar student initiatives that, through their service, elevate the health professions to above-average.

2. I’m anxious and not adjusting. Can you help?

Visit Student Support and ask for help. First-years accumulate 50 new facts a day during O-Week. It can be a disorientating experience. “We acknowledge your anxiety,” he said, urging first years to take responsibility for themselves and their well-being.

3. What happens when you fail?

“It’s too soon to talk about failure”, said Green-Thompson, but said he would compile a fact sheet to share with Student Support, who would make it available to students. Ntsiki Mapukata is the manager of Student Support. 

4. Is the fear of failure greater than the hunger for success?

“Many of you will fail for the first time. If you live in fear of failure, you cannot succeed,” said the Assistant Dean. View your failure as ultimately contributing your learning. Deal with the failure immediately and ask for help from the Office of Student Support - before it’s too late!

5. Have you ever doubted your capabilities as a doctor?

“Absolutely. You should, or you’re building an arrogance. Practice reflecting being who you are. Your patients deserve that you can reflect on what you are.”

6. I come from Zimbabwe – can I feel free at Wits?

“You all belong to Wits. Whether you come from Africa, South Africa, Europe. You are all the same. You will never be treated differently. Wits does not tolerate racism and xenophobia.”

7. Have I made the right choice coming to Wits?

Wits is the best university in Africa with global standing. Research shows that a qualification from Wits gives you an employability advantage. Wits gives you the edge.

8. Can Wits stop me being so lazy?

Green-Thompson recalled that he was amongst the first tranche of black doctors permitted in Wits residence in the 1980s. Outside his room was a Pacman machine – which greatly impacted on his academic performance in second year!

“When you watch a soccer game and read about it in the newspaper afterwards, your recall is better. Similarly, make a daily habit of reading your notes immediately – on the bus, walking back to res – take time to reflect.” This might not necessarily alleviate laziness, but suggested it was a low-key strategy to sustain a study habit.

Ask for help!

Ntsiki Mapukata, manager of the Office of Student Support acknowledged the first-years' previous academic history, where they were likely "big fish in a small pond". She addressed their fears where they may, at Wits, now feel like small fish in a big pond. "Have at least one conversation - which is the mantra of our office - to counter the effects of feeling displaced, over-whelmed and missing home," she said.Ntsiki Mapukata is the manager of the Office of Student Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences

A nod of welcome from Heads of School

Several heads of schools attended the O-Week welcome lecture and addressed the first-years:

Professor Maryna Steyn, head of Anatomical Sciences cautioned first-years: “Meeting a body for the first time can be traumatic. Come see us if it’s a problem,” she said.

Prof. Maryna Steyn Head of the School of Anatomical Sciences 

Professor Daynia Ballot, head of Clinical Medicine assured first-years they had made the right choice coming to this University. “Wits is the best in Africa and has global standing,” she said. She pointed out that first-years’ “ten distinctions in matric don’t matter anymore.” She urged them to take their studies seriously and reiterated, “People can’t help you if they don’t know you’re in trouble,” adding that her office is 4B44 on the fifth floor, past the coffee shop.

Professor Daynia Ballot is Head of the School of Clinical Medicine at Wits from October 2017

Professor Judy Bruce, head of Therapeutic Sciences, said the school trains the “greatest diversity of health professionals in South Africa” including graduates in exercise science, sports medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, pharmacology, and physiotherapy. She said the school has sterling academics with high professional and ethical standards, who strive to produce health professionals who are socially aware, accountable and engaged.

Bruce pointed out that the eFundanathi eZone, managed by Dr Paula Barnard is a physical learning space that uses cutting-edge technology and advanced eLearning tools. “Therapeutic Sciences is very little ‘chalk and talk’. Your work is pivotal to successful patient outcomes. It’s up to you to shape a great experience,” said Bruce.

Professor Tobias Chirwa heads the School of Public Health. He congratulated first-years and said, “Be proud of yourself to be at Wits Faculty of Health Sciences.” Chirwa said his was mainly a postgraduate school that provided postgraduate opportunities for students to combine research in their communities with clinical training. “In Public Health, we need all of you. We are mainly concerned with preventing people from getting sick. We protect people from getting sick,” he said.

Prof. Tobias Chirwa has been appointed Head of the School of Public Health at Wits, effective 1 February 2017

Other schools in the Faculty of Health Sciences include Oral Health Sciences, led by Prof. Simon Nemutandani; Pathology, headed by Prof. Johnny Mahlangu; and Physiology, which Prof. William Daniels leads.

Simone Budler (MBBCh III), Deputy Chair: Health Sciences Students Council and Chairperson of Bachelor of Health, concluded proceedings with warm and entertaining advice: “You are all welcome at Wits. First year is about becoming a Witsie. They are your family now. You will learn to speak your own English. If you feel your background doesn’t prepare you, be brave enough ask for help. Wits is all about getting out of your comfort zone. Get to know who you are.”

Find the Faculty of Health Sciences Office of Student Support on the first floor of the Philip V Tobias building, 29 Princess of Wales Terrace (Corner York Road), Parktown. Telephone numbers: 011 717 2431 or 011 717 2565.

Wits Library staff shine bright

- Wits University

The Library Division recognises staff members for their sterling service during the Staff Achievement and Recognition (STAR) Awards.

The STAR Awards were launched in January 2013 at Wits University with the main objective to celebrate excellent service from the employees and to motivate them to further perform better.

Caddie Hart, a Human Resources Officer at the Wartenweiler Library initiated the STAR programme. Her vision is “to ensure that Library employees are recognised for their work, and in turn, happy and motivated to support Wits mission and values.”

Hart firmly believes that highly motivated staff are vital, especially in today’s environment of in 21st Century Libraries and rapid technological change.

Wits Library staff members, Sophie Motsewabone, Gugu Mamiane and Thuli Dhlamini were worthy winners of the 2017 Wits Libraries’ STAR Awards which were presented to them at an awards ceremony.

Margaret Atsango (Senior Librarian), Caddie Hart (Library Human Resources Officer), Sophie Motsewabone (Senior Library Assistant) and Paiki Muswazi (University Librarian)

Dhlamini from the Library Education and Training won the Rock Solid Award which recognises consistent high quality, reliable and critical work which, if undone, would halt highly visible operations.

“She was nominated for being exceptionally reliable and for her ability to execute her duties successfully even under tight deadlines. This nominee’s friendly and welcoming attitude has made her popular among colleagues across campus,” says her manager Janet Zambri.

Dhlamini who is passionate about education is continuously striving to advance herself. Last year, she graduated from Wits University with a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education.

Motsewabone, a Senior Library Assistant from the Africana Library who has been employed by the University since 1988 won the Library Employee of the Year Award which recognises unparalleled performance and commitment to excellence. Ecstatic and surprised is how she describes the emotions at the news.

“It took me a while to believe that I have won the award. I enjoyed my moment of glory. Winning this award meant a lot to me. All along I thought the management did not appreciate my hard work but I was proved wrong,” she said.

The STAR Achiever Award was awarded to Mamiane, a Library Assistant also from Africana Library. The award recognises outstanding dedication and service beyond the call of duty.

For Mamiane, presentation is essential to improve user–experience. Maine initiated a new system for organising pamphlet size books ino rder to improve retrieval. This saved time and enabled users to find relevant books quicker. She has also been instrumental in creating more shelf space for ground floor books in the library.

Mamiane, whose golden voice when alerting library users of closing times has made her the face of the Africana Library, says she takes great pride in her work and always goes the extra mile to serve her clients.

“I have to make the library books and shelf look good at all times. Books must be shelved accordingly so that users are able to locate them in an effective and efficient way.”

Wits libraries seek to support University’s teaching and learning, research and outreach, by facilitating access to high quality scholarly information resources and services through a team of skilled and knowledgeable library staff and welcoming physical environments. The annual awards are one of the programmes that ensure that the workforce are aligned with this vision.

Witsies in Black Panther and The Color Purple

- Wits University

Wits graduates feature in two prominent productions that are dominating international cinemas and local theatres.

John Kani and son, Atandwa, star in Black Panther.

Witsie Atandwa Kani stars as young King T'Chaka in the much-talked about Black Panther which has amassed fans across the globe. Kani, holds an honours degree in theatrical performance from Wits, dazzels in the Marvel movie as the younger version on his real-life father, John Kani who plays the older King T’Chaka. Kani senior is also a member of Wits Council.

During his student days Kani junior captivated audiences in the Wits Theatre, the training ground of the country’s leading artists.

Witsies Didintle Khunou and Lerato Mvelase star in 'The Color Purple'

Local theatre-goers are equally enthralled by Wits talent featured in The Color Purple.

Three graduates from the Wits School of Arts and two academics are part of the play which has entranced South Africa since it opened at the Joburg Theatre.

Lead actress Didintle Khunou, plays Celie, an African-American woman struggling against patriarchy and abuse. Lerato Mvelase, widely recognised from our TV screens, shows her multi-dimensional talent as Shug Avery, while Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri wins audience hearts with his portrayal of Harpo.

Professor Sarah Roberts’ magic as the production designer brings it all together as does Stan Knight, renowned production manager.

The musical is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey and later staged as a musical.

US creators heap praise on SA’s The Color Purple reports City Press and the rave reviews continue:

“You don’t simply ‘watch’ The Color Purple, you experience it … it’s akin to a religious experience where you immerse yourself in it, and then you emerge afterwards feeling that any piece of theatre here on after is always going to be compared to this and will be left wanting” Janice Leibowitz,

Wits alumna, Didintle Khunou wrote on Instagram:

Wits dispatches oncologists to cancer care critical KZN

- Wits University

South Africa is confronted by a quadruple* burden of disease, which includes cancer. The province of KZN faces serious challenges in providing cancer services.

Amongst these challenges is the shortage of medical specialists with expertise in managing patients with cancer. The Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and Addington Hospital in KZN do not have full-time oncologists and this has negatively affected the provision of cancer care in these hospitals.

In response to these challenges, the KZN Department of Health sourced oncologists through a tender process. The tender was awarded to the Wits Health Consortium (Pty) Ltd (WHC), a company wholly owned by the University of the Witwatersrand and registered in the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences since 1998. 

The contract was signed on 19 February 2018. The tender entails providing oncologists for five days a week for an agreed period of six months. The majority of oncologists were sourced from the private sector in KZN. 

Preparations are underway to ensure that the first patient is seen before the end of February 2018. This aims to mitigate new and follow-up patients and restore all cancer services for the affected patients and communities in eThekwini District. 

“As Wits University we are very excited about this important award to the WHC. It allows us and our partners to work with the Department of Health to bring services to those in need, and enables us to share expertise and contribute towards the national health insurance,” says Dr Wezile Chitha, Assistant Dean: Strategic Affairs, Wits Faculty of Health Sciences. 

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand is committed to supporting the national health system through its academic, research and service programmes. This is informed by the University’s mandate to be globally competitive but locally responsive.



*The quadruple burden of disease refers to (i) maternal, newborn and child health (ii) HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB)

(iii) non-communicable diseases including cancer, stroke, heart attacks, diabetes,  asthma and depression and (iv)

violence and injury.

FameLab, “Pop Idols of Science” back at Wits

- Wits University

Wits University will once again be hosting the international Famelab science competition in March.

Famelab is an international competition that aims to inspire young scientists to share their work with a general audience. 

The competition consists of one day of science communication training, and one day of competitions (called the Heat), where students will compete against each other in presenting their research in a fun, interactive and informative way to the general public.

The focus of the competition is to explain a scientific concept (or research) in three minutes to a general audience.

The Wits Famelab workshop is scheduled to take place on Monday, 19 March 2018, in Senate Room, 2nd Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, Braamfontein Campus East and the Heat will take place on Tuesday, 20 March 2018, also in Senate Room.

The training is free of charge, and will really add value to your personal and professional development. The semi-finalists of the Wits Heat will go through a regional competition, after which they might advance to the national Heat, and stand the chance to represent South Africa in the International finals. Semi-finalists of the regional competition will also receive additional training in a communications master class, presented by experts in communication techniques in order to train them in oral expression to improve their communication skills.

Who is eligible to enter?

The competition is open to students between the ages of 21 and 35 (more focussed on post-grad, but can also be undergrad). The focus of the competition is on the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), so anybody in that field will be allowed to enter.

This promises to be an opportunity for your students to gain great experience and skills in communicating their work.

Should you wish to enter, please send your details to Refilwe Mabula at  by Wednesday, 7 March 2018. Please include the following information:


Date of Birth:

Discipline / Field of expertise:

Place of work:

Email address:

Telephone number:

More information

Additional information on the competition can be found on the Famelab website.

You can also watch clips of the talks of the 2017 finalists via:

Register today! New MOOC on forced labour and slavery

- Wits University

This new free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a collaboration between WitsX, edX and Beyond Trafficking and Slavery (a partnership with openDemocracy).

Titled: Forced and precarious labour in the global economy: Slavery by another name? this new course focuses on patterns of labour exploitation within the global economy. It should appeal to anyone interested in both better understanding and effectively challenging global patterns of exploitation, vulnerability, and abuse.

The free nine-week-course starting on 7 March 2018 is led by some of the world’s leading authorities in the field including Professor Joel Quirk, Head of the Department of Political Studies at Wits University.

It provides an introduction to the role of forced and precarious labour in the global economy. Building upon content from the widely acclaimed online platform Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, it explores how vulnerable workers – whose conditions are frequently compared to slavery – routinely endure precarious pay and conditions in order to generate goods and services further up the economic chain.

Drawing upon examples from across the world, the course specifically focuses on labour in three major categories of work:

  • Supply chain work
  • Migrant work
  • Sex work

Students will also consider the limitations of popular approaches focusing on the politics of rescue, the criminalisation of movement, and corporate social responsibility, and introduce alternatives based on models of worker rights, collective organising, and decent work.

The course demonstrates that forced and precarious labour cannot be reduced to the grit in the gears of an otherwise legitimate and smoothly functioning economic system. Taking effective action to address patterns of exploitation requires identifying and challenging systems of exploitation, rather than targeting ‘bad apple’ employers or deviant criminals.

The course instructors are:

  • Professor Joel Quirk, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Dr Elena Shih, Brown University
  • Dr Genevieve LeBaron, University of Sheffield
  • Dr Neil Howard, University of Antwerp
  • Dr Prabha Kotiswaran, King's College London
  • Dr Samuel Okyere, University of Nottingham
  • Further information

The course, Forced and precarious labour in the global economy: Slavery by another name?, will begin on the 9th of March 2018 and run for nine weeks. No prior knowledge or expertise is required. Registration is free, with a paid certificate option. No more than 3 - 4 hours per week is required. For further information and registration, go to

For more free online courses offered by WitsX, Wits University’s free online course platform on edX, visit

WitsX MOOC on forced labour and slavery. © WitsX on EdX

Collaborating organisations

Founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, edX is an online learning destination and MOOC provider, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. With more than 90 global partners, we are proud to count the world’s leading universities, non-profits, and institutions as our members. EdX university members top the QS World University Rankings® with our founders receiving the top honours, and edX partner institutions ranking highly on the full list.

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery is an editorial partnership with openDemocracy, a UK-based digital commons with an annual readership of over nine million. The primary of this partnership is to better understand and effectively challenge the political, economic, and social root causes of global exploitation, vulnerability and forced labour. Beyond Slavery combines the rigor of academic scholarship with the clarity of journalism and the immediacy of political activism.

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is one of only two universities in Africa ranked in two separate international rankings as a leading institution in the world, and is the only university in South Africa featured in the top 1% in the world in seven defined fields of research. Wits receives he highest levels of external financial support of all universities in South Africa from donors and partners. It is home to 26 South African Research Chairs, seven research institutes, 30 research entities, and six Centres of Excellence. Another measure of research excellence is that Wits has more than 408 National Research Foundation rated scientists, of which 28 are regarded as world leaders.

Water wise learners

- Wits University

Gauteng grade 11 learners tackle SA’s water crises.

Water scarcity is a growing local and global problem which requires expert solutions to the challenge.

The Wits Integrated Experience in Science and Commerce (WIESC) programme has challenged high school learners to find innovative solutions to address the water crisis in the country from a scientific, economic and management perspective.

The WIESC programme, which is in its third year running, is targeted at Grade 11 learners across Gauteng to expose them to the skills and knowledge needed for, and to create an awareness of the vast career opportunities within, the Science and Commerce Law and Management field.

Hydrogeology experiment at Wits with Grade 11 learners

Inspired by the current water crisis in Cape Town, the 2018 theme for the WIESC programme is Water security – what needs to be done?”

As part of the WIESC assessment, learners are requested to prepare a 10 minute presentation to outline solutions to a future water crisis in South Africa that are scientifically and economically viable.

Integration of various study disciplines such as science and commerce, law and management is the essence of the programme.

“We hope to demonstrate to the learners the inter-related nature of different disciplines in science and the inter-related nature of science and commerce. We want the learners to realise that these inter-relationships are vital for solving big issues or problems,” says Programme Coordinator of WIESC, Professor Gillian Drennan.

Professor Ebrahim Momoniat, Dean of the Faculty Sciences echoed the same remarks to learners at a welcome session on Friday, 23 February 2018.

“Everything is interrelated. You need skills in mathematics, chemistry. Someone who is strong in maths needs to understand biology to do good mathematics.”

To give learners a broader context on the water crisis, Dr Mary Evans and Dr Kate Strachan from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies delivered a presentation on how climate change has affected water supply.

“Water is becoming a serious crisis. It is something that we need to start working on and thinking about. You need to start thinking about real world solutions to a real world problem,” said Evans.

In South Africa, the water shortages experienced in Cape Town are a result of below average rainfall over the past few years.  Although the city is surrounded by large amounts of water, an ocean, the water crisis still persists as the sea water is not drinkable. More options need to be explored to address water shortages, says Wits associate lecturer in the School of Geosciences, Khuliso Masindi.

Masindi, a trained hydrogeologist carried out experiments to improve the quality of acidic water from abandoned mines and sea water, in order to demonstrate to the learners that recycling waste water is one of the many solutions to water shortages. Treated water from the experiment was of good quality suitable for agricultural activities, and the heavy minerals separated are of economic value and could be sold for profit.

“Availability of freshwater is important for sustaining livelihoods and ensuring food security, therefore, it is important to efficiently use and recycle our water resources in order to meet future water demands.”

Masindi is one of the Wits academics in the programme that the learners will partner with to process the data they collect as they attempt to find solutions for the water crisis. The learners will deliver their presentation in front of a panel of judges on 23 March 2018.