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Students’ long walk

It’s mid-December in the Karoo. The temperature is around 40 degrees. You’ve just spent a gruelling few weeks preparing for and writing exams. Some of your friends are relaxing and having fun on holiday. So what are you doing pounding the near-melting tar of the N10? Giving someone a future, that’s what.

Feet4Fees is the initiative of a group of young bursary recipients, most of them from Wits, who decided to walk from Wits to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth to raise funds for other students. They raised R7-million, an effort noted even in Parliament.

Group member Andries Kgokane, a second-year student from Mabopane, said: “There is nothing that feels greater than knowing you are doing something for the benefit of others.”

Shadrack Khorombi, a BSc student from the Venda village of Phadzima Dzumbathoho, said: “I was given a helping hand now it was time for me to lend a helping hand.”

Some of the group of 15 did the long walk as a tribute to their parents.

“I never thought the first time I would get to the beach would be by walking there,” joked Tshiamo Sebolai, a biological sciences student from Soweto.

Feet4Fees initiator and Wits student Reuben Oosthuysen said: “I have learned so much, and my eyes and heart have been opened to so many more things than I imagined. To every person who donated and helped us to reach our goal: thank you for making a difference. Your contribution also changed the lives of the 15 students who walked the 1000km; it was an experience of personal growth and joy. We are certainly better equipped to continue ‘paying it forward’.”

He added: “There will be numerous obstacles on the road to accessible education in South Africa. But together I believe there will be no distance we cannot cover.”

Annual Fund champs

One donor who gives monthly to the Wits Annual Fund said: “I was privileged to attend Wits for five years of part-time study (as I had to pay my own way) and was able to become a chartered accountant as a result. Wits is a great institution, which maintains international standards – long may that continue.”

Another said: “It had always been my childhood dream to obtain a degree from Wits University. It was not easy in the early 1980s to get access to Wits because the fees were exorbitant. I had to wait and work to save money to attend Wits. I attended Wits through part-time classes and block release tuition and I paid the fees myself. I identify with the many children who want to attend Wits but do not have financial muscle to do so. I know what it means. As part of my saying thank you to Wits and helping the youth to attend school and the University to advance research and teaching, I will continue making my small monthly contribution to the University. I feel great at the end of each month when my bank notifies me about my Wits deduction. I know that little deduction is making a difference in someone’s life.”

Rock solid alumni

The Geosciences Alumni Fund and the Mones Michaels Trust supported eight Honours students in 2016. One of them, Nkimo Moleleki, explained what this meant to him:

“I am a double orphan who comes from a family of an unemployed guardian and siblings who have no stable or regular work. I am the only one in the family with tertiary education. I realised the need to take a huge step towards bringing sustainability into the family that took me in. I worked for 22 months as a high school teacher after my undergraduate graduation. It helped me save up for further studies and to help my family.

“In 2016 I took the greatest and bravest step in my entire life by enrolling at Wits as a self-funding student.

“This journey could have been nothing but an unguided dive into an ocean had it not been through the help I generously received from the School of Geosciences through sponsors. It goes without saying that my savings were not going to be enough to sustain my tuition and living expenses. I used the money to get to and from school and to buy lunch on a daily basis. I was also able to buy toiletries and stationery. I cannot say enough how helpful the funding has been to me. My family and I extend our most heartfelt gratitude to the School of Geosciences and the sponsors.”

More Witsie heroes

  • As a young boy Dr Harry Allan Broekman dreamt of becoming a doctor. He repeated his matric until his marks were good enough to get into Wits, and worked for several years as a bank teller to save for his studies. Finally, he graduated with his Wits medical degree in 1969 and worked at Coronation Hospital and South Rand Hospital. When he died in 2013, he left R7-million to the Wits Medical School so that others could study medicine without the obstacles he had faced.
  • Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron gave $1-million to Wits as a “pragmatic investment in the development of South Africa and the African continent”.
  • The late Professor Aubrey Sheiham and his wife Dr Helena Sheiham donated R8,8-million to Wits to support the Vice-Chancellor’s focus on addressing inequality.
  • Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan and Professor Hamsa Venkatakrishnan are funding full bursaries to provide scarce skills for the accounting profession.
  • Stuart Philip (BCom 2016, BCom Hons 2017) forfeited a Wits sports bursary for four years in favour of a student who was more in need of financial assistance. Now 23, he has already been a keen hockey player for 19 years, and came to Wits wanting to be on the hockey team, as well as to get a good education. He was offered a bursary, but felt that since his family could afford to pay fees, "it would have been a bit selfish of me to accept the bursary and I knew it could benefit someone else a lot more". Stuart was captain of the Wits hockey team in his third and fourth years and received the Mel Siff Trophy for Sportsmanship at the 2016 Wits Sports Awards. He played for Old Eds club for the first few months of 2017 before leaving for the USA to travel and spend time as a water-skiing instructor at a summer camp. Stuart did his Honours in Information Systems.
  • Thusanani Foundation, established in 2010 by former Wits SRC president Mukovhe Morris Masutha and Ntandokabawo James, has celebrated its first group of Wits graduates in scarce and critical skills. Nqobakonke Ndaba and Phumuza Xulu have completed their Bachelor of Clinical and Medical Practice degrees. “We extend our sincere gratitude to the National Skills Fund for supporting all of our class of 2014 fellows through the Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Scholarship,” the Foundation said. Thusanani has supported hundreds of students at South African universities in a holistic way. Its volunteers speak of their “moral obligation” to do more for those in need. (Read more in the WitsReview of December 2015.)

Been there, felt the hunger

In 2016, former Wits student leaders started the SASSFE fund to improve student access to higher education. “This is our nation-building moment,” said its chairperson, Tiego Moseneke.

The fund now plans to support Masidle Sonke, a programme that provides a meal a day to students who might otherwise go hungry. To donate to Masidle Sonke or to the Wits Food Bank, please contact Karuna Singh: +27 0 11 717 9255 or karuna.singh@wits.ac.za.

Tiger Brands, the food company, has donated R2,5-million worth of non-perishable foods to the Wits Food Bank, to be received on a monthly basis. “We were touched by the plight of the students who rely on the food bank for daily meals and food parcels,” said Charissa Jaganath, Group Manager: Sustainable Socio-Economic Development at Tiger Brands. The company has also given R50 000 to support a food garden at Wits.

The Food Gardens initiative is led by a student society called the Inala Forum, which grows food for the Food Bank. Alumni who can help should contact the forum’s chairperson, Bellise Omondi. Email: omondibellise@gmail.com or inalaforum@gmail.com, or call 076 669 4328.

Helping companies make CSI decisions that count

Tamzin Ractliffe (BA Hons 1992) received the 2016 Giving Back Award from the South African Chamber of Commerce in the UK. The award recognises excellence in promoting corporate support for charities.

She is the founder of the Impact Trust, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation working for social justice, environmental sustainability, literacy and youth leadership. The trust promotes inclusive growth and sustainable development through responsible and effective allocation of resources. 

She said she hoped that the award would support her work to “rekindle and encourage hope in South African business leaders, ex-pats and diaspora”, giving them “the civic courage and conviction to contribute in ways that will help South Africa find its way to the path for a successful future”.

In her career, Ractliffe has created various ways for investors, asset managers and foundations to evaluate the potential and results of responsible investment and philanthropy. Her efforts have been recognised through many awards.

She has an Honours degree in Applied Psychology from Wits, among other qualifications.

Pushing Boulders

Athol Williams (BSc Eng 1992) grew up in Mitchells Plain, but refused to be limited by any apartheid plan. In the mid-1980s he taught himself some of the school subjects he needed to get into Wits, and he got a scholarship and completed his first degree. By his late 20s he was a successful engineer and business consultant in a top international firm.

But he felt he couldn’t be free until others were free too. At the age of 40 he gave up his career to start a non-profit literacy organisation, Read to Rise, which has given books to thousands of South African children. “I’ve committed myself to public service,” he said.

Hear more about his journey in this inspiring radio interview

RAG: Remember and Give

 

Remember the Rag parade? Back in the day Wits students took to the streets in an annual procession of  floats and fancy dress, collecting donations and selling the “Wits Blitz” magazine. The day would culminate in the election of a Rag Queen and an elegant ball, also in the name of fundraising.

Rag started in 1922 “to coincide with the official inauguration of the University and its first graduation,” writes Bruce Murray in Wits: The Early Years. “It took the form of a mock funeral to bury the old School of Mines … The students marched from Plein Square to the Town Hall.”  In 1923, vehicles were decorated to illustrate various student activities.

In 1925, the students staged a daring hoax when they got a traffic cop, Constable Gert Coetzee, to impersonate the Prince of Wales – who was actually in town to open Wits’ Central Block, and who gave his permission for the jape.

Only in 1929 did the event come to be used as a charity fundraiser, initially as the “Hospital Rag”. The first beneficiary was the Johannesburg Radium Fund, set up for the treatment of cancer patients. An amount of £1229 was collected. (A view later developed that raising money for medical care allowed the state to evade its responsibilities.)

The humorous (or not, depending on your cup of tea) magazine appeared first in 1931 and raised nearly £500 that year.

The carnival took a break during World War 2. It resumed in 1945 as the University Rag, though the funds still went to medical and welfare projects, specifically benefiting black and poor white people.

In 1948, Principal Humphrey Raikes tried to stop black students from participating in Rag, as part of the University’s policy of social segregation at the time. The SRC and students defied this order.

In the 1950s, the SRC organised stunts to publicise Rag, including “kidnapping” well-known personalities. The Rag Queen was chosen on the basis of applause. Murray writes: “The Rag committee set the theme for the procession, usually somewhat dull. Float builders spent much ingenuity in translating these to reflect students’ obsessions with alcohol and sex.”

Send us your Rag memories and photos!

University rankings

Fund stats

The Wits Annual Fund was launched in October 2015. The Fund stands at almost R700 000.
25% of all donors to the Annual Fund are repeat or monthly donors and they contribute 35% of the total amount in the fund.

Contributed by:

South Africa 79%
Australia 2.4%
Canada 3.9%
Germany 2.5%
USA 10%
UK 1% 

Your donation matters. Give to the Wits Annual Fund today.

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