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100 Years of changing the world. For Good

- Professor Zeblon Vilakazi

Guest Editorial: Wits remains a beacon of hope in society. We continue to strive for excellence in all that we do and use our knowledge for the good of society.

Wits University, and Witsies, have undoubtedly changed the world for good over the past 100 years, be it through research and innovation, teaching and learning, or civic action, as reflected in the following pages in Curiosity 14: #Wits100.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi | Curiosity 14: #Wits100 ©

It was at Wits where engineers developed and tested the first radar set. Fast-forward 70 years and researchers are now testing the safe encryption and transmission of data through light on the same spot. Wits was the first South African university to own an IBM mainframe computer. Fast-forward to 2019 and Wits, in partnership with IBM, became the first African university to access a quantum computer.

Witsies took to the streets to oppose apartheid and other atrocities, resulting in campus raids, violence, imprisonment and even death for people like David Webster. Fast-forward to the 21st Century and Witsies continue to demand access to higher education, and to engage in civic activities whether it be insisting for the treatment of HIV/Aids, speaking out against xenophobia, or advocating for measures to mitigate climate change.

Teaching and learning at Wits started in 1922 in response to a need from industry and the City. Fast-forward to 2022, and Wits’ response to the coronavirus pandemic can be felt at the local and global levels through its innovative research (including vaccine development), blended teaching and learning programmes, community initiatives, and social activism.

Today, we are confronted with a myriad of complex planetary problems including global change and inequality, erratic energy supply and crime, lack of governance and ethics, the intersection of communicable and non-communicable diseases, pandemics, and so on. It is at Wits where we can bring the best intellectual talent and resources to bear, across disciplines, institutions, sectors and geographic boundaries, to find solutions to these challenges, some of which are still unknown.

We can continue to make a positive impact on society from our locale in the Global South if we remain true to our values – search for and stand up for the truth, hold those in power to account, act with integrity, entrench proper governance systems, guard our academic freedom and institutional autonomy, tolerate differences of opinion, and stand up for democracy, justice, equality, and freedom.

We must continue to promote freedom of enquiry and the search for knowledge and truth, foster a culturally diverse, intellectually stimulating and harmonious environment within which there is vigorous critical exchange and communication, and encourage freedom of speech and public debate through facilitating dialogue and interaction between different parties, with the goal of increasing mutual respect and trust, amongst others.

Wits remains a beacon of hope in society – a national treasure that has developed with the City of Johannesburg and industry, an institution that will continue to impact society for good, for the next 100 years. We must continue to strive for excellence in all that we do and use our knowledge for the advancement of our community, city, country, continent, and the globe. For Good. 

  • Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office. Read more in the 14th issue, themed: #Wits100 where we celebrate a century of research excellence that has shaped today and look forward to how our next-generation researchers will impact the next 100 years.