Start main page content

Wits.For Good. solutions inspire hope

- Professor Zeblon Vilakazi

Editorial: From solutions to the structural, political, and socioeconomic challenges in South Africa, to those ‘moonshot moments’ that advance society for good.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University | Curiosity 11: #Viral © 

It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the way we live, work, and play but challenges persist in South Africa. Yet the current situation also presents opportunities, and now is the time to galvanise our collective strengths towards addressing multiple challenges. That is why this issue of Curios.ty is themed #Solutions.

Our first feature story (pg. 8) interrogates both infrastructural frustrations around energy, water, roads and buildings and – importantly – presents research-based suggestions of how to overcome these. Our second feature, on how our economic reality adversely affects vulnerable South Africans, is a sobering indictment of the complicated interplay of politics, economics and people (pg. 30). Solutions proposed by Wits researchers are backed by translational research that drives life-affirming and empowering policies.

Wits scholars suggest we consider the kind of society we want to create and envisage new ‘knowledge architectures’ from the Global South (pg. 6). As a key player in higher education in Africa (and, increasingly, globally), we would be remiss not to continue interrogating our role and relevance. How can higher education remain relevant for good? 

In the classrooms, Wits educators are advancing mathematics education (pg. 25), while mathematics postgraduate students are number-crunching creatively to boost a tourism sector decimated by travel restrictions.

Wits is inexorably part of the history and fabric of Johannesburg and as we approach our centenary in 2022, our urban architects suggest how the City’s spatial geography can be reconceived for inclusivity and development (pg. 12). 

Yet cities and classrooms globally are now mostly remote and online, and Wits scholars explore if online platforms can help therapists and tutors transform care and teaching beyond the pandemic (pg. 20). In the Digital Arts sandpit online, academics get serious about gaming, with game design that creates empathy by exploring themes such as sexual identity and privilege (pg. 18), even as we’re cognisant that insidious forces exist online that threaten democracy and demand vigilance (pgs. 42, 44).

Empathy and understanding are critical to advancing society for good. This means care and concern for the environment while making tough decisions (pg. 46), and considering people with disabilities and how they are required to negotiate their intimate and lived realities (pg. 34). In the boardroom, Wits academics explore the abstraction but no-brainer that love should drive strategy and the ‘bottom line’ (pg. 22). 

With South Africa reduced again in June 2021 to a level 4 lockdown to limit transmission of Covid-19, revisiting our values provides pause for thought. The stories in this issue make courageous efforts to address both unprecedented and persistent problems – a ‘wealth tax’ to end poverty (pg. 14), philanthropy to advance Africa (pg. 50), and the complexities of a National Health Insurance (pg. 40).

But I’m encouraged by astounding evidence of ‘moonshot moments’ – Witsies are advancing science itself and photographing black holes in outer space (pg. 26), devising biomedical engineering devices to enable understanding of those who stutter (pg. 36), reimagining the way vaccines and lifesaving drugs could be delivered in future (pg. 48), and thinking deeply about how our brains solve problems (pg.28). 

These solutions are grounded in the values that characterise Wits University – on the edge of research excellence and exceptional academic standards, and a commitment to societal good in Africa and beyond.

  • Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.
  • This article first appeared in Curiositya research magazine produced byWits Communications and the Research Office.
  • Read more in the 12th issue, themed: #Solutions. We explore #WitsForGood solutions to the structural, political and socioeconomic challenges that persist in South Africa, and we are encouraged by astounding ‘moonshot moments’ where Witsies are advancing science, health, engineering, technology and innovation.