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Vice Chancellor’s scholarships represent pinnacle of excellence

- Wits University

The 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards celebrate the elite of excellence.

Education is the backbone of a country’s economic prosperity. The Vice-Chancellor’s Equality Scholarships at Wits University is an initiative to contribute to the country’s success by enabling talented youngsters to access quality education at Wits.

This year marks the fourth anniversary of the VC's scholarships. At the 2018 VC Scholarship Awards, held on 19 May at the Wits Club, over 20 academically talented and financially deserving students from across the country were granted scholarships to study at Wits.

Vice Chancellor's Scholarship Awards 2018

The scholarships not only recognise the academic excellence of the recipients, but also celebrate their resilience, determination and hard work, said Wits Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tawana Kupe in his address to the recipients and their families.

“You are a representation of what we consider to be excellence in South Africa because your achievements have resulted in you being at this ceremony today and getting these awards is a pure example of excellence.  So, whatever school you went to, whatever challenges there were, or whatever support systems were there – and some of you went to schools with very good support systems –what you did was to take that opportunity and to excel.

I think excellence is what we all inspire to but few actually attain it. So we are actually here today celebrating what I would call the ‘elite of excellence’, and it is the elite of excellence in any society that drive the society forward, that creates the best society you can actually find. So today we are also celebrating people who are on a trajectory of excellence, which will uplift our country, uplift our continent and make a major contribution,” he said.

This year’s scholarship awards were attendedby 2014 VC's Scholarship recipients, now Wits alumni, Relebohile Mashile and Thembinkosi Qwabe

Mashile, originally from Mpumalanga, said the scholarship positively transformed her life. She is now pursuing a master’s in Accountancy and training to be a chartered accountant. She encouraged the 2018 recipients to reach out to the Careers and Counselling Development Unit at Wits and the First Year Experience programme should they need emotional support and tips to navigate the University environment.

“Be willing to learn. The most difficult thing for a person who has a high IQ or who is very intelligent is admitting that they don’t know how to learn something. So be willing to learn. I say it from experience, because I know how hard it is to say ‘I don’t know something’ when you are that smart,” said Mashile.

Qwabe, a master’s student in Petroleum Engineering echoed Mashile’s remarks and urged the 2018 recipients to manage their stipends responsibly and wisely while lending a helping hand to other students in need.

The 2018 awards were a special occasion for Elizabeth Labase, a Wits employee whose adoptive son, Tshepo Motsoeneng was a recipient of the VC’s scholarship. Labase is one of the staff members who were insourced by the University last year. She beamed with joy as she expressed how her son made her proud.

“I am so excited as a Wits employee because when I first got to the University in the year 2000, I was only earning R2500. One day I was asking myself whether I would afford to send my child to university because, with a salary of R2500 you cannot, because registration is expensive, including books, fees and accommodation.”

Insourcing gave her new hope she said. “When we got insourced, I told him that if he works hard, he will be able to go to university for free.”

Motsoeneng, who got seven distinctions in matric is currently studying a medical degree and has aspirations of being a cardiologist one day.

Taking African mobilities to Munich

- Wits University

Dr Mpho Matsipa, researcher at the Wits City Institute is curating an architectural exhibition at the architectural museum in Munich.

The exhibition African Mobilities: This is not a refugee camp, curated by Matsipa addresses the complex forms of mobility within Africa and the diaspora. 

"It explores experimental approaches in architecture and art to migration and circulations of ideas, people, commodities and aesthetics across Africa and the diaspora. In the current situation, in which international borders are being redrawn, managed and monitored by force, and in which individual countries are increasingly subject to the effects of capitalist profit cycles, it is time to look into architectural forms which respond to these supposedly set structures,"says Matsipa. 

African Mobilities Exhibition_pic by Lara Trumpp

African cities are presented here as sites of refuge, which in their rapid transformation, are producing new architectural typologies, changes in infrastructure and a rapidly expanding interaction with digital technologies. In this context, African migration is seen both as a challenge and as an opportunity for rethinking architecture and urban planning.

In preparation for this exhibition, over the past two years architects, town planners, film-makers, artists, social scientists and authors from Africa met at eight different locations, Johannesburg; Harare; Kampala; Lagos; New York; Dakar; Praia and Munich. In workshops, they analysed this continually evolving world, and used diverse media to convey their research outcomes, and to visualize possible future urban scenarios.

In the exhibition African Mobilities, Matsipa brings together the works that came out of those meetings, including artworks, graphic novels, films and audiobooks. Ilze Wolff, a co-director at Wolff Architects in Cape Town, is creating the exhibition design, which captures the various forms of mobility among migrants in a spatial composition.

African Mobilities is a collaboration between the Architekturmuseum der TU München in the Pinakothek der Moderne and the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). The initiative is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The project was produced with the support of the Goethe Institute, which will also be involved in the upcoming tour of the exhibition on the African continent.

The exhibition opened on 25 April 2018 and will continue until 19 August 2018 in Munich. 

Students promote gardening on campus

- Wits University

Witsies stand together against food insecurity on campus.

The months of hard work under the sun have been rewarded with a bountiful harvest. While debates of land reform have sparked national interest, a group of students have been working the Wits land through a gardening project to ensure that no student is left behind due to hunger.

Food insecurity is one of the many challenges experienced by less privileged students across institutions of higher learning on South Africa. With exams already in full swing at Wits University, students will be well nourished with vegetables from the garden during the June exam period.

May and June saw the Wits Inala Forum, a student society that manages the garden together with the Wits Siyakhana Food Project, harvest crop from the garden in aid of the hungry students. The harvested crop included spinach, onions, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Wits Food Garden harvest

The Wits Food Garden, which is located on Braamfontein Campus West was established in 2015, as an initiative to address hunger on campus, says Professor Vishwas Satgar who assisted students to start the garden.

“Inala was spawned from my teaching to first years and the need to have localised responses for systemic change from below such as hunger and the climate crisis. We noted that while Wits recognised the hunger challenges facing students it did not go far enough in terms of how hunger can be addressed in a manner that affirms the dignity of students, solidarity and a food sovereignty pathway for all. Our crucial idea is to advance an eco-centric university based on zero hunger, zero waste and zero carbon emissions,” says Satgar, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Wits.

Maricia Smith, President of the Wits Inala Forum, said the Wits Food Garden embraces African ways of living through the food that is grows.

 “In the beginning we used to plant a lot of kale and reddish and nobody knew what it is. Now we focus on culturally appropriate food that reflects the eating patterns of the people in the region.”

Smith, who is studying towards a Bachelor of Laws degree, also feels that the garden is important as it allows student to take ownership of food production and allows Africans to determine what to do with the land.”

As South Africans celebrate Youth Month in June, Smith says the Wits Inala Forum “personifies youth reclaiming ownership of their food system and issues around food insecurity in universities”.

The theme for this year’s Youth month is Live the Legacy: Towards a Socio-Economically Empowered Youth, and this is what the Wits Inala Forum, through the food garden project strives to achieve.

“Inala as a Wits Student Society, empowers students to support each other by giving them the skills and facilities to grow their own food but also by providing fresh healthy vegetables to students”, says Smith.

Population growth: The impact on health and societies

- Africa Health

We have a “golden moment” and “unique opportunity” to spur economic development, says Professor Mark Collinson.

A United Nations report released in 2017 puts the current world population at 7.6 billion people. By 2030 this number is expected to increase to 8.6 billion and eventually 11.2 billion by 2100. With a handful of countries being primarily responsible for this growth, about 83 million people are being added to the population each year even though it is expected that fertility levels will continue to decline. 

Nigeria, the fastest growing country, is expected to become the third largest country in the world by 2050, exceeding the population of the USA. The UN report also states that nine countries – India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda and Indonesia – will house half the world’s population between 2017 and 2050. 


A growing population with disparities in distribution can add strain to the environment to feed people. A World Health Organization (WHO) report published in 2005 explains that overpopulation “is a breakdown of the ecological balance in which the population may exceed the carrying capacity of the environment.” This means weakened food production, leading to inadequate food consumption and malnutrition. 

A report from Cornell University suggests that malnutrition makes people more susceptible to life-threatening diseases like malaria and respiratory infections. From 1950 to 2007 malnutrition increased by 37% and is linked to six million child deaths a year. In 2011 the WHO cautioned that an increase in travel and harmful strains of human-to-human viruses could cause over 100 million deaths in the future as many will be weakened by malnutrition. 

Ageing population 

The decline in fertility rates combined with increased life expectancy in most parts of the world means not only a slowing of population growth but also to an older population. The UN report predicts that the number of people aged 60 and over will more than triple by 2100, accounting for 3.1 billion people. The WHO Global Health and Aging report attributes the increase in elderly population to a change in causes of death, from infectious to non-communicable diseases. Treatment of these diseases, which include hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and congestive heart failure, add pressure to the health care system. 


Generally, population patterns are diverse. Population growth can account for a struggle to get jobs and can cause social and economic strain causing people to migrate to countries with better opportunities. 

Professor Mark Collinson of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN), the Medical Research Council / Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), says that in the last 20 years fertility rates in Africa have dropped, the working age population has risen and dependency ratios (the number of dependents supported by the working age population) have declined. This, he believes, is an opportunity to spur economic development. 

“The resources – monetary and otherwise – that would otherwise have been absorbed by raising children and supporting large families can be invested in productive and household savings,” says Collinson, who describes this phenomenon as a potential ‘demographic dividend’. 

Collinson says that this demographic dividend is a potential developmental gain created by a window of time where fertility has fallen for several years but the ageing population has not yet risen significantly.

“This can usher in a golden moment when there are relatively few young and few old, and hence a large working age to non-working age ratio.” 

Citing a study by Ahmed et al in 2016, Collinson says that this demographic dividend could account for 11-15% gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2030 in many African countries, but that policies are needed to enhance the education and employability of young adults, as well as to create greater access to contraception and financial systems. 

In an essay by Aderanti Adepoju of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration Human Resources Development Centre, Adepoju says that the distinctive features of migration include increasing female migration, diversification of migration destinations, transformation of labour flows into commercial migration, and emigration of skilled health and other professionals. 

But, while migration causes a ‘brain drain’ which can have negative consequences in areas such as health where access to health is impacted negatively by the emigration of skilled healthcare workers, and is compromising millennium development goals, it is not all bad. 

According to Adepoju, in sub-Saharan Africa the brain drain is becoming brain circulation within the region, especially from parts of Africa to Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Botswana, and South Africa. 

Adepoju also states that remittances received by the migrated worker have been increasing notably and are a lifeline for poor relations left behind as they are able to pay for basic services such as healthcare, education and to enhance agricultural production.

This media release was compiled by following its recent conference in May where Professor Mark Collinson from the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit - Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) was one of the conference speakers.

Gauteng maths giant set to rise from its slumber

- Wits University

Gauteng schools are gearing to reclaim their reputation as maths whizkids.

The learners received this mandate during a maths prize-giving ceremony at Wits University, where they participated in a mathematics competition.

Top performers at the Wits Maths Competition

More than 800 participants took part in the inaugural Wits Maths Competition targeting learners from Grade 6 to matric right through to undergraduate university students around Gauteng.

The aim of the competition is to develop mathematical talent and assist young people to develop their full potential in the subject; and promote careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Addressing the learners, parents and teachers, Dr Belinda Huntley who is a sessional Wits lecturer and regional co-ordinator of the Wits Siyanqoba Maths Olympiad Training Centre, said that she is also hopeful that the competition will reverse Gauteng’s poor showing at national and international competitions.

“As a province, Gauteng has lost ground in terms of representation when it comes to these tournaments. Gauteng does have talent, however the problem is that schools are not active in challenges that stretch learners,” said Huntley.

Huntley pleaded with the parents and teachers to encourage a culture of mathematical enquiry.

The winner of the Grade 6-7 category was female home-schooled participant Lenita Jacobs, which is great news for discipline which is in need of greater female participation. Daniel Strous from King David Linksfield won the Grade 8 - 9 category, while Moein Elzubeir from Parktown Boys’ School clinched the Grade 10 – 12 category. Nicolaas Bell from the University of Pretoria won the undergraduate category.

Head of the Mathematics Department at Parktown Boys, Ms Heilana Gouws, was thrilled with the performance of her school and attributed its performance to committed teachers. “We are lucky to have a good team and our belief is that we teach for understanding never for tests and assessments which constrains the learners’ appreciation of the subject.”

Schools with the highest point scores also received awards. First prize was awarded to King David Sandton in the Grade 6 - 7 category, and to St Johns in both the Grade 8 - 9 and Grade 10 - 12 category.

Ms Nokuthula Ndlovu from Phumulani Secondary School in Katlehong, was encouraged by the performance of her learners. Ndlovu, a recent Wits graduate, said she is looking forward to helping her learners gain confidence and perform better in the coming years and tournaments.

Wits’ contribution to developing an appreciation for maths extends beyond the competition. The University is home to the Wits Siyanqoba Maths Olympiad Training Centre open to learners from Grade 5 upwards. Learners are exposed to stimulating activities and have access to high quality coaches. For more information on these, contact: Belinda Huntley at

Entries to the 2019 Wits Mathematics Competition will open in 2019.


Wits Maths Competition winners

Think twice before downing that energy drink during exams

- Wits University

Energy drinks are popular 'go-to fuel' for university students, especially during exams. But what lurks behind the kick?

It is common for students to reach for energy drinks to try to stay awake whilst reading through textbooks and trying to put together a paper or project at four in the morning. However, energy drinks have come under fire recently due to the adverse health effects linked to the high levels of caffeine and sugar content. We ask Professor Karen Hofman, Director of PRICELESS SA Research Unit at Wits, about the health risks of energy drinks.

Student preparing for exam

What is the health impact on your body when you consume energy drinks to ‘help’ you stay awake?

Energy drinks have large amounts of stimulants that can poison the body’s control centres and regulatory authorities and can result in cardiac, neurological, and gastrointestinal problems. The primary concern is the consumption of excess caffeine, which can lead to sleeplessness, anxiety and jitteriness. People also seem unaware that energy drinks contain similar or even higher amount of sweeteners and pose the same health risks as sugar-sweetened beverages. Some popular energy drink brands contain up to 20 teaspoons per 500 ml, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily limit of added sugars of between six and 12 teaspoons for adults. Energy drinks can lead to weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and liver disease.

How much is okay and how much is dangerous?

Energy drinks can be consumed in moderation and mindfully. Coffee and energy drinks typically take approximately 30 to 45 minutes to "kick in" or to be absorbed into the blood stream. The mistake a lot of students make is simply being impatient with this process and reach for another cup or drink. Since the caffeine does take a little while to kick in, we assume it is due to the quantity we have consume. Time is the real factor not quantity.

On average, the daily amount of caffeine deemed safe for adults is 400 mg. Caffeine levels per serving in an energy drink range from 6mg to 242mg per serving, and an average cup of coffee has about 100mg per serving. Going beyond 400 milligrams is when caffeine starts to wreak havoc on the body. Some of the effects of too much caffeine are insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, nausea, fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors.

What in the public’s behaviour/lifestyle is behind the rise in the consumption of energy drinks?

A trip to any university would reveal that energy drinks have become enmeshed in the subculture of the campus. College students (and adolescents and young adults more generally) are constantly bombarded with marketing that promote the consumption of energy drinks that enhance performance, support mental alertness, increase stamina and energy, reduce fatigue, accelerate metabolism and  improve general performance. Therefore, it is hard to grasp the fact that energy drinks could be harmful when companies wage aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at college students.

Are there any alternatives to these drinks that can help students to manage time pressures and mental alertness?

While drinking energy drinks to pull an `all-nighter` is seen as a valiant thing to do, denying your brain and body the sleep it needs actually causes you to lose focus rather than learn. Both the quantity and quality of sleep is very important for academic success. Sleep improves memory, attention, verbal fluency, abstract thinking, and problem-solving. When you’re exhausted, it’s harder to pay attention in class, to study efficiently, and to perform well on exams. 

Simple strategies such as keeping the room cold, taking a break every hour for about five minutes and moving around, listening to fast music can be surprisingly helpful in keeping students both mentally and physically awake. Turning off instant messengers, cellphone, television, and any notifications that might distract students also plays a crucial role in time management.

A balanced diet and foods rich in protein can help to keep the blood sugar stable and to balance out the caffeine.

How do we protect the health of the nation?

Despite the significant health risks posed by energy drink consumption, the South African government has taken relatively little action to date. There is a need to the public, especially youth about the potential adverse effects of energy drinks.

Secondly, regulation of advertising of energy drinks alongside other measures such as transparent and clearer front-of pack labeling might have a potential role as a means to control consumption.

Last but not least, do not ever mix alcohol and energy drinks.

The US-Africa relationship

- Wits University

Wits experts respond to questions around the relationship between the US and Africa.

Africa and the United States have had bilateral relations in trade and investments which spans over many years. More specifically, the cordial relationship between the US and South Africa strengthened post-apartheid and this made South Africa a strategic partner of the US. 

Today, SA is a strong ally of the US. Across Africa, the US has deepened its relationships with other countries in the continent also through trade, export and investment, while enhancing political and social multilateral relationships. In March this year, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first visit to Africa in an effort to further advance international relations between the two continents and cement Africa-US ties.

At the time of Tillerson’s visit to Africa, a new centre was established at Wits University. The African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS) serves as an intellectual base for the study of the US and Africa. To promote this, ACSUS held a dialogue last month which provided a space for intellectual and cultural exchanges on the multi-faceted relations and interactions between African countries and the US with Wits University students and a group American students who were part of an Envision International Scholar Laureate Program. The dialogue sought to impart knowledge to students about the relationship between the US and Africa and South Africa in particular. Experts from ACSUS, Professors Tawana Kupe, John Stremlau and Gilbert Khadiagala addressed questions posed to them by students about Africa and the US. 

Professors John Stremlau, Tawana Kupe and Gilbert Khadiagala engaging students

What aspirations are there for Africans, especially for South Africans, and do those aspirations lead them to want to travel to the US and does that have an effect on the Africa-US relations?

Before 1994, South Africa was a very insular society looking into itself in many levels. During apartheid, there were some sanctions against South Africa and that limited movement of all types of people. Some of the people that went to the US before 1994 were people who were expelled by the apartheid regime, because if they opposed the apartheid system they were arrested. These people were often deported out of South Africa and given a “one way” passport, meaning they could not come back to the country. One of the reasons why South Africa was closed off to the rest of the continent was that the apartheid regime did not want a situation where South Africans understood the context where everybody had universal suffrage, where everybody could vote and all people were equal not as the apartheid regime was.

Africans are also not blind to some of the achievements that the US as a society and as a nation have achieved. Both the US and Africa have historical parallels, where they share the same history of oppression by the same colonial power. In Africa, people aspire for the positive and good things that might happen in the United States and see whether they are replicated here. Some people aspire to go and live in the US but there are constant movements between the two continents all the time. Also, Africans look up to the US in a broader cultural sense. Given this, there is a broader expectation that South Africans or Africans are also going to be cosmopolitan and the model of cosmopolitanism is the United States. Africans are trying to approximate the United States cosmopolitanism because it’s also a global cosmopolitanism.

What aspects of the US Constitution were adopted in the SA Constitution?

The US Constitution and the SA Constitution both begin with “we the people”, but we the people in this context is a country that is home to all who live here united in its diversity whereas “we the people” in the US Constitution is to form a perfect union of states, not people and human rights.

In “we the people” there is a similarity but there is a difference in what is meant in “we the people”. SA has one the best constitutions in the world, partly because it has inherited some of the best elements from other constitutions. The SA Constitution is a representation of some of the best constitutions around the world. SA’s Constitution did not only incorporate elements from other constitutions; it looked at the history of the country first. It looked at how and what South Africans suffered during slavery, colonialism and apartheid and how can the constitution be adapted so we do not repeat these. The SA Constitution is not just a recite of borrowing from other constitutions. There is a big distinction between the US and the SA Constitution. The SA Constitution not only promotes civil and political rights, it also protects socio-economic rights unlike the US Constitution.

What did the US do to move from being colonised to having an actual democracy and where could Africa have gone wrong?

There is no real democracy. More than 2500 years ago, the Greeks taught us that democracy is actually an approximation to their ideals and these ideals are participation, representation, accountability. Today, we refer to these as governance. In Africa, what we are trying to do is that we are trying to approximate on some of these big issues around how many people are represented in parliament. How accountable are our leaders? How open is our system? The question in Africa is why have we not build up much more stronger constitutional or democratic systems? One response is the question of time. Our constitutions are very young. Most of our constitutions are from 1960’s (only about 55 years), compared to French Constitution from 1789. African constitutions are relatively young and that’s the issue we have to confront. Secondly, our democracies are being negotiated under very difficult circumstances of poverty, of ethnic fragmentation, of all kinds of divisions. Other societies have confronted those issues and in doing so, they have done very well over the years. The US Constitution was not a linear thing that was created and all was well. The US Constitution was exclusionary in its long history. There was a time where women couldn’t vote and there was a time when blacks couldn’t vote. This is a society where people owned other people as slaves so the equality was for other people and not others based on unscientific things like gender because they or women or blacks. A route to democracy or to approximating the democratic ideals is never a straight line. The African countries in their own journey to create their own societies had two big intrusions, which were slavery and colonialism. Countries which were practising democracy back home colonised other countries and denied the people in those countries their democratic rights.

What possible strategies are there to overcome colonial inequality?

In South Africa, the issue has often come up that we have inherited a system of massive inequalities. How then do we begin to use public policy to actually right these historical wrongs? South Africa is trying to move to a context where it has a growing economy but also an economy that is addressing the problems of inequality. Although this is a very difficult balance, very delicate, we have to work at it. To address inequality we need public policy, we need engagement of all sectors to address that issue because it is a time bomb in South Africa.  Also people should always investigate alternative economic systems and what impact they might actually have.

Achille Mbembe scoops the 2018 Gerda Henkel Award

- Wits University

Acclaimed Wits historian, Professor Achille Mbembe has been recognised for his sterling scholarly achievement.

The Gerda Henkel Prize, which is worth 100, 000 euros was set up in 2006. It is awarded every two years to excellent and internationally acclaimed researchers who have demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement in the disciplines and funding areas supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and can be expected to continue to do so. Mbembe, who has an A1 rating from the National Research Foundation was selected from a number of scholars from universities worldwide who had been nominated for the Award.

He is a Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) and is widely regarded as one of the most important public intellectuals writing about contemporary African and global phenomena in the world today. Mbembe was born in Cameroon and obtained his PhD in History at the Université de Paris I-Pantheon Sorbonne and a DEA in Politics at Sciences-Po (Paris).

Professor Achille Mbembe of WiSER is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

He previously taught at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University. From 1996 to 2000, he was the Executive Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). He has been a Visiting Professor in various academic institutions including Harvard University; Yale University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Irvine and the Jakob-Fugger Zentrum of the University of Augsburg. 

Earlier in his career, he published extensively in African politics and history. His landmark work, On the Postcolony has deeply influenced postcolonial thought and various other disciplines in the field of the humanities. 

Mbembe, who has won numerous awards including the 2018 Ernst Bloch Award and the 2015 Geschwister Scholl-Preis, has powerfully contributed to the renewal of critical theory from a global Southern perspective with his later work , Sortir de la grande nuit, 2010; Critique de la raison negre, 2013; and Politiques de l’inimitie, 2016). 

A wonderfully learned, rigorous and original mind, his many books have been translated in various languages, including German, Italian, Spanish, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and Arabic. 

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a worldly recognised public intellectual, as well as one of the leading and most recognisable voices writing in French today.

Aspirations of a Just City

- Wits University

Could radicalism be a way to tackle historical injustices in cities?

The conversation around transformation is one which often leads to debates on decolonisation.

Transformation is a growing imperative for cities to undo the historical disparities of the past. Cities in Africa owe much of their segregated town planning to the colonial powers who designed these cities. Infrastructure and town planning were used as elements to build divides in cities.

In South Africa, the apartheid regime’s Group Areas Act was one of the tools used to further segregate cities while creating unjust systems within cities.

Decades later, with the dawn of democracy and liberation, these forms of segregation methods are non-existent. However, despite this, the legacy of apartheid is still visible in South African cities through architectural planning. Many of the cities continue to have elements of colonialism and segregation which are not representative of the new democratic state.

A dialogue held by the Wits City Institute and the African Centre for the Study of United States (ACSUS) earlier this month, delved into how architectural planning can contribute to transform cities and to embrace urban justice.

Professors Gilbert Khadiagala, Toni Griffin and Tawana Kupe

The dialogue, Just City Dialogues between Professor Toni Griffin from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Professor Noëleen Murray and Dr Mpho Matsipa from the Wits City Institute, shared insights on the architectural planning of Johannesburg and St Louis in Missouri (US). It explored ways in which these cities can be transformed as both have similar histories of segregation and oppression, for Johannesburg being apartheid and St Louis being slavery.

“St Louis has a long history of conditions of injustice going back to the reconstruction of a country coming out of slavery of where black bodies were viewed as property. Today, the US still has cities that are segregated by race,” said Griffin.  

These forms of segregations are “due to the legacy of past laws and regulations of our city that excluded blacks and moved them into a certain part of the community and pushed them to another,” she said.

Griffin is a Professor in Urban Planning and leads The Just City Lab, a research platform at Harvard that investigates the definition of urban justice and the just city and examines how design and planning contribute to the conditions of justice and injustice in cities, neighborhoods and the public realm. Through her work, she is trying to understand how cities can move from conditions of injustice to justice.

Matsipa, a researcher at the Wits City Institute whose work is focused on urbanism and art, shared her experiences of the injustices that exist in the inner-city of Johannesburg. Like Griffin, she believes that radicalism is needed to address issues of injustices in Johannesburg and to transform the city.

“The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we reimagine the city and what are the kinds of interventions that are radical and transformative for that city?”

“We need to claim the rights to imagine the city that we want to live in without necessarily feeling completely beholden to certain planning gestures that were fundamentally intended to segregate the city,” said Matsipa.  

She added that when it comes to a Just City, what is important is the distribution of knowledge and how knowledge circulates.

Murray, the Director of WCI, echoed Matsipa’s remarks, saying cities need to be reimagined differently for them to transform. She leads the New South Project that focuses on the south of Johannesburg. The project investigates the making and unmaking of the space envisaged by a set of key architects, planners and urban designers on out-mined land in a scheme.

Murray said that there is no doubt that town planning contributed to the segregation and segmentation created by the apartheid government.

“We should all be worried about planning. Planning is what made apartheid happen. It made it material. The Group Areas Act and Population Control played a huge factor in segregation,” she added.

Wits prepares for 2018 USSA tournaments

- Tshepiso Mametela

Wits will host three sport codes, while hoping to impress away from home in seven codes during the University Sport South Africa tournaments in July.

Wits Basketball are the defending champions at the 2018 USSA tournament

Wits has begun preparations to host three sporting codes in rugby, volleyball and basketball from 2 to 6 July, as preparations for the annual University Sport South Africa (USSA) tournaments get into fifth gear.

The Wits netball, hockey and tennis men’s and women’s teams will also be vying for prestige away from home when their respective campaigns get underway on the grounds of the University of Free State in Bloemfontein, while the Wits chess team brace for their start in Secunda, Mpumalanga.

Coaches Mark Haskins and Nthabeleng ‘Dunga’ Modiko, will meanwhile lead their charges into battle on the turf of the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, when the respective men’s and women’s football tournaments get underway.

Wits will also send a full-strength gymnastics hoard out onto the shores of the Mother City, as the University of Cape Town play host to the year’s USSA Gymnastics tournament. 

“The stakes are especially high for the football, basketball and hockey [teams], who need to qualify for the 2019 Varsity Football, Basketball and Hockey events by finishing in the top 8,” said senior manager for high performance, Michael Dick.

“The Wits Ladies football side will also be hoping to finish in the top 8 [in order to] qualify for the 2019 Varsity Football event as they have never qualified for the competition in the past.”

Also hoping to defend their titles will be the Wits Basketball men’s and women’s teams, especially as the inaugural Varsity Basketball comes to a head at Wits later on in the year.

“This makes this year’s USSA basketball tournament a nice curtain raiser for the event in October,” added Dick. “It will be a good indication of which teams are to watch when the first-ever Varsity Basketball event eventually kicks off.”

Cranium of a four-million-year-old hominin shows similarities to ours

- Wits University

The “virtual” revisiting of a fossil described as “the oldest evidence of human evolution in South Africa” shows surprising results, compared to modern humans.

A cranium of a four-million-year-old fossil, that, in 1995 was described as the oldest evidence of human evolution in South Africa, has shown similarities to that of our own, when scanned through high resolution imaging systems.

Dr Amelie BeaudetThe cranium of the extinct Australopithecus genus was found in the lower-lying deposits of the Jacovec Cavern in the Sterkfontein Caves, about 40km North-West of Johannesburg in South Africa. Dr Amelie Beaudet from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies of the University of the Witwatersrand and her colleagues from the Sterkfontein team scanned the cranium at the Evolutionary Studies Institute, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, in 2016 and applied advanced imaging techniques in “virtual paleontology” to further explore the anatomy of the cranium. Their research was funded by the Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences, the Claude Leon Foundation and the French Institute of South Africa and was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

“The Jacovec cranium represents a unique opportunity to learn more about the biology and diversity of our ancestors and their relatives and, ultimately, about their evolution,” says Beaudet.

“Unfortunately, the cranium is highly fragmentary and not much could be said about the identity nor the anatomy of the Jacovec specimen before.”

Through high resolution scanning, the researchers were able to quantitatively and non-invasively explore fine details of the inner anatomy of the Jacovec specimen and to report previously unknown information about the genus Australopithecus.

“Our study revealed that the cranium of the Jacovec specimen and of the Ausralopithecus specimens from Sterkfontein in general was thick and essentially composed of spongy bone,” says Beaudet. “This large portion of spongy bone, also found in our own cranium, may indicate that blood flow in the brain of Australopithecus may have been comparable to us, and/or that the braincase had an important role in the protection of the evolving brain.”

In comparing this cranium to that of another extinct group of our family tree, Paranthropus, that lived in South Africa along with the first humans less than two-million-years ago, their study revealed an intriguing and unexpected aspect of the cranial anatomy in this genus.

“We also found that the Paranthropus cranium was relatively thin and essentially composed of compact bone. This result is of particular interest, as it may suggest a different biology,” says Beaudet.

Jacovec cranium

Situated in the Cradle of humankind, a Unesco World Heritage Site, the South African paleontological sites have played a pivotal role in the exploration of our origins. In particular, the Sterkfontein Caves site has been one of the most prolific fossil localities in Africa, with over 800 hominin remains representing 3 genera of hominin recovered since 1936, including the first adult Australopithecus, the iconic “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot”, the most complete single skeleton of an early hominin yet found.

“The Jacovec cranium exemplifies the relevance of the Sterkfontein fossil specimens for our understanding of human evolution,” says Beaudet. “Imaging techniques open unique perspectives for revisiting the South African fossil assemblage.”