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University Legislation and its Constitution

In 1997 the Universities’ Act (Act no 61 of 1955) was repealed by the Higher Education Act (Act No 101 of 1997). An amendment to the Higher Education Act, the Higher Education Amendment Act 23 of 2001, repealed the University’s Private Act (Act No 15 of 1959) under which the University had been constituted. In terms of this Higher Education Act, the University is deemed to be a university.

The University Statute has been updated to cater for national legislative changes and was promulgated in February 2002 and amended in 2004. Thus, the legislation which regulates the governance of the University is the Higher Education Act and the University’s Statute as amended.

In terms of the University Statute, the University consists of:

  • The Chancellor,
  • The Principal who is called the Vice-Chancellor and Principal,
  • Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic
  • Deputy Vice-Chancellors
  • Executive directors,
  • One or more Registrars,
  • The Council,
  • The Senate,
  • The University Forum,
  • The Convocation and its President,
  • The Faculties,
  • The academic members of staff,
  • The support services employees,
  • The students and the Students’ Representative Council.

The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa contains a Bill of Rights which recognises the right of academic freedom. The University is required to be vigilant against any action which interferes with its autonomy. At the same time, it endeavours to promote its commitment to a just, non-racial and democratic society by all appropriate means.

University Policy

The University does not discriminate on grounds of sex, religion, race, colour or national origin in the appointment of staff and the admission of students. In making selections, the University is concerned with academic potential as well as current achievement. More recently, when selecting staff, the University applies the national policy in selecting staff from the designated categories where feasible.

Before 1959 the University was free to act according to this policy, but in that year the Extension of University Education Act was passed, which, as regards residential universities, enforced racial separation. The admission to the University of students who were not white now required Ministerial permission in each case. This policy of separate universities was strongly opposed by the University of the Witwatersrand in sustained and public protest, and a plaque at the entrance of the University Great Hall states the following:

‘We affirm in the name of the University of the Witwatersrand that it is our duty to uphold the principle that a university is a place where men and women, without regard to race and colour, are welcome to join in the acquisition and advancement of knowledge; and to continue faithfully to defend this ideal against all those who have sought by legislative enactment to curtail the autonomy of the University. Now therefore we dedicate ourselves to the maintenance of this ideal and to the restoration of the autonomy of our university.’

In 1983 the Universities Amendment Act repealed the relevant provisions of the 1959 Act and empowered the Minister of National Education to determine conditions of registration at residential universities. Despite the legislation, the Minister did not lay down any conditions for the registration of black students at Wits. Thereafter, the numbers of such students rose rapidly so that in 1994 the total was 6 497. At present, black students make up approximately 84.49% of the total student population at Wits.

In 1987 the Minister of National Education introduced regulations to make university subsidies dependent on the policing of anti-government activities on all university campuses by the university authorities. This measure was vigorously opposed by the University at a General Assembly. In 1988 the Supreme Court held these regulations to be invalid.

On the 19th of October, the Government of the Republic of South Africa renewed its systematic violation of the autonomy of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. At a general assembly of the University held on the 28th of October, members of the University affirmed that:

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg is dedicated to the acquisition, advancement and imparting of knowledge through the pursuit of truth in free and open debate, in the undertaking of research, in scholarly discourse and in balanced, dispassionate teaching. We reject any external interference designed to diminish our freedom to attain these ends. We record our solemn protest against the intention of the government, through the threat of financial sanctions, to force the University to become the agent of government policy in disciplining its members. We protest against the invasion of the legitimate authority of the University. We protest against the proposed stifling of the legitimate dissent. In the interest of all in this land, and in the knowledge of the justice of our cause, we dedicate ourselves to unremitting opposition to these intended restraints and to the restoration of our autonomy.

The 19th day of 1987 will forever remain a day of shame in the history of South African universities. Until full autonomy is restored to the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, the space below this plaque shall remain empty to bear witness to the continuing diminution of the freedom and status of the University by those who rule this land. On the full restoration of our autonomy an inscription on the space below will be added to record the return of Wits to the ranks of the world community of universities enjoying freedom from external control.

The University is committed to the maintenance of high academic standards and the search for excellence. Throughout the University’s history, there has been a constant striving to achieve a high ranking within the global community of world-wide universities, and the curricula, standards and research reflect this search for excellence. However, members of the University have also been actively concerned with South Africa’s many important challenges, and this is demonstrated by current research activities in fields such as nutrition, human rights law, education, literacy, community development, African studies and industrial sociology. The recognition of its role as a major resource centre in Southern Africa at this vital time has also led to its involvement in many community- related programmes. These cover fields as diverse as primary health care, developing small business, legal aid, preventative dentistry, HIV/Aids, upgrading teacher qualifications, and music education for disadvantaged scholars.

Fulfilment of the University’s purpose depends on a shared commitment between the University, its staff and its students. This shared commitment provides the foundation and context for the University’s personnel policies and their administration. The University respects each person’s worth, dignity, capacity to contribute, and desire for personal growth and accomplishment. In return, the University depends on its staff to share a common understanding of and commitment to work for the achievement of the University’s goals.

The Convocation

Convocation is a statutory body comprising graduates of the University, the Registrar, full- time permanent members of the academic staff, professors’ emeriti and other retired members of the permanent academic staff whose period of service was at least 10 years.

Members of the Convocation elect the Chancellor of the University, the President of Convocation and 10 members of the Executive Committee of Convocation (Exco). The President and one elected Exco representative sit on the University Council.

The Convocation is the largest constituency of the University since the founding of the University in 1922. Its statutory mandate is that, “The convocation discusses and states its opinion upon any matters relating to the University including matters referred to it by the Council,” and allow for the views of the Convocation to           be represented at the highest levels of governance of the University.

The day-to-day administrative affairs of Convocation are managed by the Office of Alumni Relations. (The word ‘alumnus’ (pl. alumni /-ni/; fem. alumna, pl. alumnae /-ni/) derives from the Latin alere, ‘nourish’ and is a term used by universities throughout the world to refer to their former students. In recent times a colloquial abbreviation alum is also in use.)

As an important link between the University and its alumni, the Office of Alumni Relations   communicates regularly with the global alumni fraternity through electronic newsletters,       a website, a desktop communicator and a magazine, WITS Review. The Office also oversees an online mentoring platform and a variety of social media sites. A host of alumni events, including reunions are also arranged locally and throughout the world.

The Office of Alumni Relations is situated in Alumni House at the Wits Club Complex on the West Campus. Enquiries: telephone (011) 717-1090, e-mail: alumni@wits.ac.za, website: www.wits.ac.za/alumni