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Welcome Speech Feb 2018

Good Afternoon

Greetings, honored guests, friends, faculty, alumni and most importantly the illustrious post graduate students of Africa’s best institution of higher education, the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. You made it here, despite all the academic, financial, societal and family problems you may have faced… You are here against all odd. My name is Christopher Welile Mpehle, the Chairperson of the Post Graduate Association and I am here to speak to you about this great institution.

I am expected to stand before you to speak on the wonderful place. To speak about what your experience at wits is going to be like, I am supposed to represent the so to speak future leaders of this country by so eloquently illustrating the caliber of intellectual associated with the title witsie. Simply spoken, I am supposed to sell you dreams. However, knowing that you were smart enough to make it here, I know that you are far too smart to fall for any catching slogans and/or populist remarks that I may come up with and so I instead I have opted to just be real.

Believe me when I tell you that Wits is undoubtedly the best university in Africa… academic excellence, sporting achievements and a network of highly successful alumni in every field, all these things are great but not what makes us different. What makes us truly special the student population, the most diverse and socially conscious student population in this country. As the young people like to say, we are woke! We are the crème de la crème of South African. We are the ones who will bring about future change to this country! Wits University has undergone an ambitious project known as the Vision 2022 which essentially wants to see us with a greater Post graduate population to increase our research output. If we are to truly achieve this, we must both honestly and realistically address some of the factors that could inhibit us in this regard. It is for this reason, that as the Chief representative of Post Graduate students, I am mandated by my office to highlight the discrepancies between what is said by the institution and what is really happening on the ground.

  • There is no accommodation and there is no funding for academically deserving students. Given the harsh South African historic & economic reality rimarily experienced within the previously disadvantaged student population, we would implore the university to consider the allocation of additional funding opportunities to support these students. NRF and PMA are simply not enough. Despite all the effort of the PGA as a body, low allocation of funds to the association make it near impossible to assist student with these legitimate issues.
  • Furthermore, late acceptances and late ethical clearance not only negatively effects our students academically, but also financially as they may be required to re-register and study for an additional period of time. This is unacceptable on the basis that there has been no wrong doing on their part of the student, but rather a failure of university administrative processes to work in a timely fashion.
  • Post Graduate study time table do not coincide with those of undergraduates. When the university is on break, we are not. Research waits for no man. Accommodation should therefore be available to students over these periods. Too many students are forced to leave accommodation over holiday periods, neglecting the fact that their courses are not finished. 
  • The university must understand the nature of post graduates. The reality is that it is unrealistic to expect a student representative in second year to comprehend the nature of a masters or PHD candidate’s problem. The PGA is in theory meant to champion all Post Graduate issues, however the lack of empowerment as well as clearly defined autonomy of the PGA from the SRC inevitably frustrates the PGAs ability to conduct its business.

Colleagues… The PGA is a body that was established for you. It sits on every university committee from Council where the Chairperson sits, to Senate, Graduate studies committee, you name it. We are represented on every committee. It is important for us to be in tune and in touch with our constituency to ensure that we accurately represent your interest. As a body, the PGA is made up of elected representatives from each school, it is then from those representatives that the executive is selected. The importance of post graduates involving themselves in this process cannot be stressed enough. My term of office will be ending in the next 2 months at which point we will elect new representatives from amongst you. I would therefore encourage you to take part in this process of electing your new leadership and holding. As the outgoing PGA we will be holding a constitutionally require Annual General Meeting (AGM) before leaving office in which you will be invited to come and air your views and hold us accountable. It is at this meeting that the PGA executive in collaboration with yourselves is meant to derive its POA for the term going forward.

Traditionally we have noticed that PG students have a reluctance of being involved in such processes thus not understanding the university dynamics and challenges that we are faced with as a collective of post graduates. Of course, this could be attributed to a number of factors such as external work commitments and the disinterest in what is easily perceived to be petty student politics. However, I would humbly plead with you all to take the time out of your busy schedules to attend the up and coming AGM (date to be announced). You cannot lead without directions, and the direction of any responsible leadership must come from its constituency.

Look, it’s not all negative. Our newly established relationship with alumni relations is looks promising to facilitate greater interaction between post grads and alumni which will provide opportunities for mentorship and possible employment after qualification. There are many changes that have taken place in relation to the operations of the PGA as well as many programs that we will be rolling enhance the PG experience at the university. We also aim to see more social events at the post graduate club where we can all get to interact and know each other. I would also like to take this opportunity to announce the relocation of the PGA offices from the Matrix to the Senate House, near the new Union Offices. The reasoning behind the move is to increase our visibility and accessibility as well as the necessity for us our offices to be in a space that is easily accessible to PGs.

If there is anything that I would like both the students and the university to take from this, it is that we are all a part of the wits community now. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this is the best university not only on the continent but globally. If the university is serious about achieving its 2022 Vision then it will have to seriously consider making post graduate studies more accessible to students. In turn, we as students have to hold ourselves to the highest of standards befitting an institution of this stature. We can truly achieve great things together Scientia et Labore, through knowledge and work.

Christopher Welile Mpehle
PGA Chair