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Profile: Professor Marco Weinberg

- By Wits University

Professor Marco Weinberg is a molecular biologist whose research focuses on the many functions of ribonucleic acid (RNA).

He graduated with a PhD from Wits in 2002 and spent 2 years at the Beckman Research Institute in California, USA as a James Gear postdoctoral fellow studying fast-cleaving hammerhead ribozymes and RNA-based transcriptional modulators.

Thereafter, Weinberg’s work turned to small RNAs that attenuate gene function. He was one of the first to show that small single-stranded RNAs can switch genes off directly using components of a nuclear RNA interference pathway. He has also made significant contributions to the development of novel RNA structures that are processed into safe and useful antiviral inhibitors, specifically against HIV and HBV. Lately, Weinberg’s work focuses on new ways to modulate non-coding RNA genes and how these approaches can be used against latent HIV infection and as useful tools for gene reprogramming.

Weinberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology in the School of Pathology and an active member of the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit. He is also currently a Visiting Professor at The Scripps Research Institute near San Diego, USA. He has over 46 publications (H index = 15), and has been the recipient of the University’s Friedel Sellschop award in 2009, and the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Research Prize in 2008. Weinberg has supervised or co-supervised five PhD and seven MSc students.


Vaccine for HIV possible with new SA research

- By Wits University

“It’s a very exciting time for medical research,” says Professor Lynn Morris following the announcement on last month that she is a recipient of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Flagship Project Awards, given to leading South African researchers.

Professor Morris is based in the School of Pathology in the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences and heads up the Virology Laboratory in the Centre for HIV and STIs in the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of the National Health Laboratory Service.

Her project aims to follow-up on two recent human clinical trials of preventative HIV vaccines.

“While Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) help to save lives it does not solve the problem of halting infection, which is what a vaccine would do,” explains Morris. Her pioneering research project received the MRC Flagship Project Award at a gala dinner hosted in Cape Town. “We now more than ever believe that an HIV vaccine is possible,” she says. 

The Flagship Project Awards are the largest medical research grants from the MRC given to the highest impact, most prestigious research projects or what MRC President Professor Salim S. Abdool Karim calls “big ideas, big science for big impact”. Two out of five submitted Flagship Project applications were successful.

Professor Morris’ research project titled Antiviral properties of HIV vaccine-elicited antibodies aims to provide unique insight into how antibodies develop in HIV negative people who are vaccinated, compared to how they develop in infected individuals. 

Professor Morris and her team have considerable experience in this area of research and more than a decade of long, hard work behind them towards understanding how antibodies develop in HIV infection. They now plan to turn their attention to how antibodies develop after HIV vaccination. Her team includes Dr Penny Moore, Dr Nono Mkhize and Dr Bronwen Lambson. They will also extensively collaborate with Professor Marco Weinberg at the Wits Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit and Professor Caroline Tiemessen, one of five South African Research Chair holders in the Faculty and also a staff member of the NICD.

The two vaccine trials – one using South African developed vaccines, the other American developed – which the team will be analysing are being conducted by Wits Professor Glenda Gray’s Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

The clinical trial of the South African vaccines is completed and more intensive laboratory research is now beginning on the samples stored from those who took part in the trial. The second trial uses the American-developed vaccines which were previously shown to be partially protective in a trial done in Thailand.

Should these vaccines show promise they will be used in large-scale testing to see if they can protect people from HIV infection in South Africa.

“We want to see if these vaccines turn on the kind of broadly cross-neutralising antibodies that develop in 20% of HIV infected people,” says Morris.

Research into broadly cross-neutralising antibodies is a giant step forward in HIV research worldwide because these are the antibodies required for a vaccine. The reason for this is that they recognise most HIV viruses, whereas 80% of HIV infected people develop only strain-specific antibodies, meaning that their antibodies will only recognise their specific HIV virus.

“At this stage no HIV vaccine stimulates the right kind of antibodies but what we want to establish through this research is whether the antibodies in people who are vaccinated are on the right pathway to becoming broadly neutralising,” Professor Morris explains. If this can be achieved, the team is well on its way to providing crucial information that is needed to design vaccines able to stimulate protective antibodies in all individuals.  

For a vaccine to be licensed it must ideally protect more than 90% of people, as is the case with the polio and smallpox vaccines. A lot of research still needs to be done before a possible HIV vaccine can even be considered for production and licensing but there is more hope now than ever before that it can happen.

“What is wonderful is that there is support for high quality research in South Africa through this kind of award,” says Morris.

HIV research in South Africa by South African scientists is critical to population health in South Africa, which displays the fastest rate of HIV infection in the world. Approximately six million people in South Africa are HIV positive and about 1.5 million are on ARVs.


Passing of Professor Geoff Blight

- By Wits University

Statement from Wits University on the passing of Professor Geoff Blight, a stalwart of Wits University

It is with deep sadness that the University of the Witwatersrand learnt of the passing of Geoff Eustace Blight, Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the field of Geotechnical Engineering and Construction Materials, who spent most of his working life at Wits.

Professor Blight passed away on Thursday, 7 November 2013, from cancer. A private funeral will be held for him on Saturday, 9 November 2013, and his family members have requested that they would prefer donations to be made to animal welfare charities in lieu of flowers being sent.

Wits has lost a stalwart who was well-respected by his colleagues, students, industry leaders and indeed by scientists and academics throughout the country and around the world. Our sincerest sympathies are extended during this difficult period to the family and friends of Professor Blight, and those who knew him well. Professor Blight is survived by his wife Rhona, and his three children.


Professor Blight (PrEng) was an A-Rated researcher who held five doctoral degrees, and who was considered as one of the world’s leading thinkers in Geotechnical Engineering. He held BSc(Eng) and MSc(Eng) qualifications from Wits. He completed his PhD in Soil Mechanics and his DSc(Eng) in Geotechnical Engineering at London University, before returning to Wits. In 1985, he obtained his DSc(Eng) in Materials Engineering from Wits and another DSc(Eng) qualification from the University of Cape Town. In 2001, he obtained a D.Eng, degree from Wits focusing on the Application of Research in Practice.

With over 330 papers published in accredited journals, Professor Blight was internationally renowned as a researcher of the highest standing around the world. He was well published internationally and the author or co-author of several books.

He served as a member of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and the Foundation Engineering’s Technical Committees on Tailings Dams, Unsaturated Soils, Residual Soils (former Chairman) and Erosion of Soils, and as a member of the International Solid Waste Association Working Group on Sanitary Landfills. He was also a member of the International Commission on Large Dams’ Committee on Tailings Dams and a member of the drafting committee of the South African Bureau of Standards’ Code of Practice on Mine Residue.

The recipient of numerous local and international awards, Professor Blight was the only South African to be awarded the J James Croes Gold Medal for innovation in research by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1975. He was also the only South African chosen as a Cross Canada Lecturer by the Canadian Geotechnical Society, and was selected by the British Geotechnical Society as a “Rankine” lecturer in 1997. Nanyang University in Singapore selected him as a “GRC Lecturer” in 1997. In 2003, Professor Blight was commended by the Italian National Group for the Prevention of Hydrogeologic Hazards for research on flow failures of tailings dams.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 1991 and as a Founder Member of the South African Academy of Science and the South African Engineering Academy in the same year. Elected a Life Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2000, Professor Blight also received the President’s Award for Exceptional Service to the Waste Management Profession by the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa in 2002.

Professor Blight consulted widely to industry and to several large corporations like Anglo American, Bateman Engineering, Billiton, Eskom, Holcim Cement, Impala Platinum, Mittal Steel and Pretoria Portland Cement.

Wits strengthens ties with UK university

- By Wits University

Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, recently visited Warwick Business School (WBS) at the University of Warwick in the UK.

He met with the Warwick Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Nigel Thrift, and the Dean of WBS, Professor Mark Taylor, to discuss the potential to share knowledge, resources and expertise. Read more

"Kissing genes" breakthrough

- By Wits University

In a ground-breaking discovery that will have a major impact on our understanding of the function of DNA, our genetic blueprint, a group of scientists from Wits and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are the first to show that when genes interact in three dimensions, or engage in “gene kissing”, this has a major impact on how genes are switched on inside the cell.

It is a landmark finding which appears in the  journal Cell, one of the world’s most prestigious research publications. The research was published on 24 October 2013.

This is only the fifth South African-affiliated article that has ever been published in Cell, and one of just two articles in three decades to feature an all-South African-based cast. 

A long-standing question in biology is whether “gene kissing” is a cause – or simply a consequence – of gene activation. This question was finally answered by a team consisting of Professor Marco Weinberg, Associate Professor in the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit in the Wits Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology, Wits graduates Dr Stephanie Fannucchi, Dr Youtaro Shibayama and Shaun Burd and Dr. Musa M. Mhlanga, Research Group Leader of the Gene Expression and Biophysics Group at the CSIR.

The team performed ground-breaking experiments to show that “gene kissing” can switch genes on. The discovery sheds light on how genes change from inactive to active states, and how different genes can co-ordinate their activity simultaneously. 

Within each of our cells lies an incredible 1.2 metres of tightly coiled DNA shrunk to a size 1/50th that of a grain of sand. These genes encode our physical traits, such as eye colour or blood type. However, DNA also codes for genes that function constantly to keep us alive. These need to be switched “on” and “off” by the cell as needed. How gene activity is regulated has been the subject of intense study for many years, and scientists suspected for some time that the physical contact between genes, or “gene kissing” could play a role.

“DNA is coiled and tangled like spaghetti inside the cell,” explains Weinberg. “So there are many places where the DNA touches and intersects. These interactions could be crucial to how the information in the DNA is read and interpreted by the cell, but this had never been shown before.”

The state-of-the-art microscopes, which were custom built in South Africa by the group, were an important tool in being able to achieve single molecule resolution in imaging this gene activity by peering deep into the nucleus of cells. These tools enabled them to see the activity of a single gene. Then using DNA-cutting enzymes, or “molecular scissors”, they were able to cut DNA at precise locations to prevent genes from making contact. “Being able to alter the genetic code in this manner is the “holy grail” of molecular biology, but has only recently been made possible. In this way, some genes were shown to “kiss” in order to be switched “on” and surprisingly in this instance, one gene acts as a master gene to orchestrate the activity of other genes,” says Fannucchi.

Co-author and Claude Leon postdoctoral fellow Shibayama remarks: “We jumped on the technology of producing efficient “molecular scissors” as soon as it became available last year, and our integrated expertise in microscopy and molecular biology, combined with creative thinking, gave us a unique advantage over our competitors in conducting this study.”

The group is focusing some of its efforts on what this work could mean for human health. In late 2011, the lab was the first in Africa to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, a type of stem cell which could hold the key to growing new tissue to replace that which is diseased – and can even be used to create disease models “in a dish.” Combined with the knowledge to alter the genetic code and control gene activity, exciting novel experiments and therapeutic avenues can be envisaged for the future. Scientists will gain a deeper understanding of cancer, chronic diseases such as diabetes, allergy responses and a host of other diseases and important cellular processes. This important research gives scientists across the globe new knowledge and tools about how genes behave and how to direct them, paving the way for future discoveries.

Mhlanga is passionate about what this discovery means, globally and to South Africa: “This work germinated from a desire to answer a fundamental long-standing question in gene regulation. Our goal is that scientists in Africa should not simply be consumers of fundamental scientific discoveries, rather they should be active contributors and producers to this body of basic knowledge. We would like to train the next generation of scientists in Africa to become excellent scientists who routinely produce ground-breaking work. In this endeavour we are very grateful for the continued support we receive from the Department of Science and Technology Emerging Research Area program for several aspects of this work over the last few years.”

Read the Mail&Guardian article

Treasure trove of fossils

- By Wits University

Wits palaeoanthropologist, Professor Lee Berger, and his Rising Star Expedition team have in just 21 days recovered more than 1 000 specimen from a cave about two kilometres from the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

“The site is now the richest early hominid site in southern Africa. It is a treasure trove of fossils and we have only scratched the surface. We will be working here for decades to come,” Berger said during a media briefing on Tuesday, 26 November 2013.

Berger, a Research Professor in Human Evolution from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, is directing the expedition that consists of a team of international researchers. These include a specialised group of six women Berger has sourced through social media and who all fit strict criteria: They had to be tiny and small, specialised cavers and spelunkers with excellent archaeological, palaeontological and excavation skills.  Read more about the expedition launch and these “underground astronauts”.

The expedition started on 7 November 2013 and involved some 40 to 50 scientists, cavers and support staff.

Says Berger: “Within a couple of hours from starting with the excavation we were able to bring up the first specimen to the surface. Since then everyone involved have been working round-the-clock. The advance science team members– who have expertise in excavation, recovery and extracting fossils - worked on a rotation basis.”

“It soon became clear that we are dealing here with more than one skeleton and over the next three weeks this site has met and far exceeded our expectations. The quality of preservation (of the fossils) is exceptional. We have well over 1 000 catalogued specimen so far.”

To respect the scientific integrity of the discovery the team will not be able to answer some of the most pressing questions just yet.

 “At this stage we will not be able to discuss certain aspects of what we have recovered because mostly we just don’t know what it is yet. We cannot say how old these fossils are, only that they are from early hominid. We do not know the species and will not speculate on the taxonomy at this stage. It is a significant number of individuals but we do not know how many yet. We also cannot speculate as to the individuals’ profiles, because we truly do not know.”

Berger says the hardest part now is wrapping-up the excavation on Tuesday and withdrawing from the site for now.

“We will be back early next year, but we are dealing with something remarkable here and we need to go back, rethink and rework our plan on how we are going to deal with this site in the future. We have not yet scratched the surface and this work will go on for decades!”

Berger and the team will have to assess their current expedition plan and come up with workable solutions on how to deal with such a huge amount of specimen.

“It is a painful thing to stop the expedition now, but everyone is exhausted. Extracting the material in just under a month is unprecedented in the palaeo-world. We need to go back and test our equipment, technology and see if we are scientifically on the right track,” says Berger.

Open access to science

It is not just the discovery that has the team all excited. A new era has also dawned for open access to science. School learners, students and the public at large are being involved and kept informed about the expedition through social media, blogs and Skype-discussions with groups around the world.

Berger explains: “We are experimenting with open access by informing the public about the expedition and keeping them up-to-date on our progress but keeping in mind that we cannot compromise the integrity of our science as we still need to publish our scientific findings in peer-reviewed journals.”

“Since our discovery of Australopithecus sediba at the Malapa site in 2008, some 50km from here, our open access policies have also allowed researchers from all over the world to get involve and work with the material we have. It will be the same with this discovery. This is much better approach to science and discovery than small teams working in isolation from other scientists.”

National Geographic blogger Andrew Howley has been blogging video, text and photographic updates on the excavation on a daily basis through a blog managed by National Geographic.

Follow the blog at

Follow the expedition on Twitter @LeeRberger or @RisingStarExped

For more information visit

Wits lauds AngloGold Ashanti CEO

- By Wits University

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, takes this opportunity to express its appreciation to the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, Mr Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, for his public commitment to support a number of disadvantaged financial and accountancy female students at the University.

Venkatakrishnan made the announcement in Johannesburg today.

“This is indeed a generous offer from the leadership of AngloGold Ashanti for which we are extremely grateful. Great universities cannot exist without the support of the private sector in the 21st Century,” says Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.

“Our students benefit hugely from the bursaries and scholarships offered by the private sector. These generous gestures go a long way towards transforming the lives of the future leaders of our country and create hope in society.”

Almost a third of Wits University’s funding is derived from third stream income. Student fees and government subsidy make up the rest of the funding. “The support from the private sector secures the institutional autonomy of the University. It also allows the University to deploy its resources towards the strategic advancement of the University,” adds Habib.

Professor Ruksana Osman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities concurs: “It is inspiring to see the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti foregrounding and committing to the education of female students in particular. We are delighted at his personal generosity and commitment, and challenge other corporates to follow suit.”

For more information contact Professor Habib on 083 301 6536 or Professor Osman on 082 457 0626. 

Info booklets for inner city housing

- By Wits University

A new initiative which aims to improve inner city landlord-tenant relationships and sectional title management has produced user-friendly information booklets explaining aspects of South African rental housing and sectional title legislation.

Download the booklets.

Illegal evictions, utilities disconnections and withholding of rent are common practices in low income areas in particular and tend to take place in a vacuum of information about the rights of tenants, landlords and sectional title owners.

In response, and arising out of research with students in Yeoville-Bellevue in 2010 and 2011, the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies (CUBES) at Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning has worked with partners to produce three information booklets. Two of these have been produced in collaboration with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) of South Africa, namely the booklets for tenants and for sectional title owners. The third booklet is a guide for landlords.

According to CUBES researcher, Margot Rubin, the project was born of the Centre’s long interest in housing. “We realised that there were many rumours around landlord-tenant relationships, and no clear information on what was actually legal,” she says.

“When landlords get upset with tenants they’ll cut off their water, or cut off their power, either as a form of eviction or as a way to curtail unwanted behaviour. Sometimes they’ll evict without a court order, which is totally illegal. Tenants tend to stop paying rent when something goes wrong, which is a breach of contract. However, they are allowed to remit by deducting a certain amount of rent, depending on the problem, but not enough people are aware of the consequences of their behaviour.”

Sectional title buildings are also complex to administer, with a lack of clarity around the responsibilities of trustees, body corporates and owners. “Also in situations of lower income households, people can’t always pay their levies,” says Rubin.

The info booklets reflect the change in South African housing law from a common law basis to a constitutional and legislative basis. “The constitution decides your right to housing and it’s regulated through legislation including the Rental Housing Act and the Sectional Titles Act,” says Rubin.

CUBES will engage with their partners, including community organisations from Yeoville and beyond, as well as human rights and legal aid organisations, to distribute the info booklets.

Wits researchers talk HIV breakthrough

- By Wits University

Two Wits scientists have made major inroads into the quest to find a vaccine to prevent HIV infection.Wits researchers Maria Papathanasopoulos and Dr Penny Moore will present a research lecture on their internationally recognised work at Wits University on Tuesday. Read more

Geek Awards

- By Wits University

The builder of machines with minds. This is how computer scientist, Abejide Ade-ibijola, describes himself.

Ade-ibijola is one of the few scholars pursuing a PhD in the School of Computer Science. He is part of a select group of postgraduate geeks who were recognised for their outstanding academic achievement at the Schools’ awards ceremony.

The dynamic young scholar who is proficient in over 20 programming languages received the Local and International Publications Award and the 2013 PhD Tutor Award for being the most dedicated, hardworking tutor.  

Officiating over the ceremony, Professor Ebrahim Momoniat, Acting Head of the School spoke at length about the role postgraduate students, particularly those who in addition to the demand placed by their own academic load, distinguished themselves as tutors.

“Great tutors are fundamental to how teaching is conducted at Wits. They give junior students hands-on experience in the laboratories and assist them to come to grips with the complex material presented to them in class,” he said.

Given that there are variations in tutor commitment and perseverance in dealing with juniors, those who excel deserved to be celebrated.

The awards ceremony also served as a networking opportunity for sponsors and students operating in this niche market. Click  to view award recipients, prizes and sponsor list.

With only a few specialists in the area, Professor Fazal Mohamed, who presented the keynote address, urged students to move on to the next level by studying for higher degrees.

He said “those who have higher degrees are less likely to be unemployed. The trend the world over – in America, Europe, Australia – is that many people are going back to do higher degrees.”

 “Computer science is a fantastic degree and it is the degree of the century,” he enthused.

The relatively small School has 121 postgraduate students, impressively 31 are PhD candidates. Software specialists and programmers in the country are in short numbers and the statistics become even more concerning when viewed through a demographic lens.

Consequently companies are investing in programmes to attract more women into the field.

Mpho Raborife (PhD), Lebogang Mashiloane (Masters), Christine Trewick (Masters) and Daria Tkachova (Honours) were recognised as the highest achieving female students in the School.

Graduate Programme Manager at Standard Bank, Amanda Hickman, was among the sponsors at the event.

When asked about the type of graduate that the institution is looking for she said that there is definitely an earnest search for women with IT skills.

“We are looking for a balance between personality and skills. An individual who can fit in with the business culture, is proactive and is resilient when facing challenges,” she said.

As a recruiter for one of South Africa’s big four banks, Hickman was complementary about Wits graduates whom she said Wits graduates never fail to impress.

Wits University is the only African university chosen by top international recruiters to be ranked in the Global Employability University Ranking which was published in the New York Times recently.

The Global Employability University Ranking is a list of the top universities as selected by more than 5 000 recruiters, including CEOs and Chairpersons, from top companies in 30 countries, who were asked to rank universities based on the employability of their graduates. Each had 10 votes to cast and could also add additional universities. Wits came in at 139 on the list.

From KZN to the gold fields

- By Wits University

The Gold Fields-sponsored student turned-academic is the first black South African to get a PhD in Geophysics, and has collected a host of local and global awards for his internationally groundbreaking work on 3D seismic reflection data from the Wits Basin, which are central to South African gold mining. Read more about Dr Musa Manzi in this article published in Gold Fields’ newsletter .

Honorary doctorate for Pius Langa

- By Wits University

Former Chief Justice Pius Langa was conferred with a posthumous honorary Doctorate of Laws at Wits University’s Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management graduation ceremony on Thursday, 21 November 2013.

His brother, Mandla Langa, accepted the doctorate on his behalf and delivered an address to the graduands. “When I say ‘my brother’, claiming the man who was this country’s second chief justice and first black person to ascend to that position, I feel somewhat self-conscious. The possessive pronoun sits heavily on my tongue, because even though we were connected by blood, Pius belonged to a very wide constituency,” he said.

Mandla described how, at Pius’ funeral, he realised that the man he’d known for many decades was a mystery to him. He said that as a family, they thought they’d suffered a loss, but when they saw the outpouring of grief, they realised that they had no idea of the actual size of the loss.

“Because we had no instrument with which to get a measure of things, we looked into the eyes of others to act as a rough guide to the extent of our bereavement,” he said.

As an author of fiction, Mandla took the liberty of imagining what his brother might have said to the graduands on the occasion of their celebration. “One of the most important observations which he would have made is that we are living in a very complex time. He would have enjoined young people to read the tea leaves – to read the news and interpret the news for themselves, especially with some of the developments that have taken place.”

Mandla referred to the incident at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year and said that Pius would have spoken about human rights, and the need for the African continent to safeguard the future of its young people.

He said he would also have spoken about the essentiality of education, especially as we head into a future which is complex, and the scourge of HIV/Aids in Africa, which Pius felt needed all the resources that the continent could muster.

“He would have spoken about the inequalities in this country, and the fact that we are still the most unequal society. He was especially conscious of the issue of gender and I’m sure he would have been appalled by some of the recent acts of violence against women and children.

Mandla encouraged the graduands to continue with a sense of mission and to find their own, individual ways of meeting the challenges which beset society. “Do not be intimidated by the challenge or daunted by the magnitude of what needs to be done. You are the hope of Africa and you will not fail.”

Listen to Mandla Langa's address.

Read the citation for former Chief Justice Pius Langa.

The NHI: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

- By Wits University

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits University hosts the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi for a conversation on the National Health Insurance on Thursday, 28 November 2013. Motsoaledi has a vision for the development of South Africa that is dependent on a healthier, more equal population.

In this conversation, Minister Motsoaledi will elaborate on his vision for South Africa and the NHI’s role in realising this, in a conversation entitled The National Health Insurance: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow taking place on 28 November 2013 from 10h00-13h00 in the Public Health Lecture Theatre, School of Public Health Building, 27 St Andrews Road, Wits Education Campus. To RSVP contact

“The socio-economic polarities experienced in this country impacts on individual welfare to the extent that it may impede the course of South Africa’s social and economic development,” says Professor Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko for Bioethics Centre.

She recounts that in 1996, the Constitution of South Africa made a promise to improve the quality of life and free the potential of each citizen.  Section 27 of the Bill of Rights further declares that all citizens have the right to access health services including reproductive health.  This placed an obligation on the state to progressively realise this right for all. 

In 2004, the National Health Act identified that past socio-economic injustices continued to have an impact on health and articulated a standard of healthcare in line with the Constitution.  The National Health Insurance is a financial policy being developed to finance access to healthcare. 

“The NHI aims to pool resources, unite citizens as healthcare users and bolster the healthcare system.  The success of the NHI is based on the principles of the right to access, social solidarity, effectiveness, appropriateness, equity, affordability and efficiency and most importantly cooperation between the state, its citizens, beneficiaries and the private sector,” says Dhai. 

“The Minister’s priority tasks are to improve the quality of care in the public sector and reduce private healthcare costs.”

Motsoaledi is a medical doctor who studied at the University of the North and the University of Natal, Durban. Whilst his political awareness was awakened at a young age, it was during his university days that he began participating in political activities as a Student Representative Council (SRC) member. In 1980 he participated in the formation of the student movement AZASO, was elected President of the University of Natal Medical School SRC in 1982 and in 1983 was instrumental in mobilising students in Natal to form the United Democratic Front (UDF).

He joined the ANC when serving as a medical intern and has since held numerous portfolios. As a member of parliament he continues to apply himself to reversing social inequalities, especially those in healthcare. The National Health Insurance is one mechanism towards this end. 

“SA’s health system needs fixing”

- By Vivienne Rowland

South Africa is still doing something wrong if it is not getting results that are in line with financial investment in the health care system, says South Africa’s health minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

“There is still a lot that needs to be in place before we successfully implement a health care system which will benefit all. The way health care is financed in this country is one of the most important issues that need to be addressed,” said Motsoaledi.

The minister was speaking at a discussion titled The National Health Insurance: Turning the tide in South Africa’s health sector which was hosted by the Wits Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics in the Wits School of Public Health auditorium. Debate has been raging on whether National Health Insurance (NHI) will benefit only a few, or the masses as the government proposes.

“The NHI is sometimes misunderstood and there are people who would like to see it not happening. I am not so naïve as to think the implementation will be plain sailing. There are people opposed to it who believe that quality health care is not everyone’s right, but is for a chosen few. South Africa needs it and it should be for everyone,” said the minister.

Dr Motsoaledi drew comparisons between South Africa, African countries, Europe and the US to illustrate the shortfalls within the current South African health care system and to indicate which models the country should aspire to.

Describing Africa as a “disaster in the making” he said: “It is not a co-incidence that European life expectancy is much higher and the mortality rate very low because the governments look after their people. When an African leader gets sick, he goes to Europe for medical care because he knows he will get good quality there. We need to aspire to that.”

The minister said South Africa needs universal health care because there are persistent problems and the 8.5% of the gross domestic product which is spent annually on health care, is not reflected in the results.

“Overall, South Africa is showing poor performance in terms of health care relative to cost. We are spending more and more, but we are getting poor results. We need to turn the tide.

“I was there when our public hospitals worked and were world class. I worked in some of them. We should first get our infrastructure to work properly and up to that standard
again,” he said.

The minister elaborated briefly on an NHI pilot project which tackles teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and abortions, among other things, in schools. The aim is to roll out the project to all public schools in the future.

Motsoaledi said that, as part of the Public Sector Expansion Plan, the Department of Health aims to have 1 000 PhD graduates in health care within the next 10 years. “We need to build human capital in South Africa if we want to have any hope of success in administering quality health care,” he said.


Wits produces most employable graduates

- By Wits University

Wits University is the only African university chosen by top international recruiters to be ranked in the Global Employability University Ranking which was published in the New York Times recently.

The Global Employability University Ranking is a list of the top universities as selected by more than 5 000 recruiters, including CEOs and Chairpersons, from top companies in 30 countries, who were asked to rank universities based on the employability of their graduates. Each had 10 votes to cast and could also add additional universities. Wits came in at 139 on the list.

Ever wondered which universities produce the most millionaires?

Wits is also ranked 57th in the world for producing the most number of alumni millionaires according to a study compiled for Spear’s Magazine. Wits came in ahead of the University of Colorado (57), Brown University (62), the London Business School (63), Stanford Business School (67), Monash University in Australia (73) and the University of Cape Town (79).

The study also lists which subjects produced the most millionaires, with engineering coming first, followed by an MBA, economics and law – although according to Spear’s, millionaires produced by these subjects have often left their degrees behind in professional life.

This follows on the Times Higher Education ranking of universities that produce the most number of CEOs. Titled the THE Alma Mater Index: Global Executives, the ranking puts Wits at 24 in the world (they list the top 100) placed above prestigious institutions such as New York University, Korea University, the University of Stuttgart and Texas A&M University, to name a few.

Wits is the highest ranked African institution on the list. The University of Cape Town, the only other African university on the list, came in at number 79.

“It is gratifying to know that as a university at the heart of the national and continental economy, Wits continues to provide the world with a growing cohort of world class African CEOs,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

The Global Employability University Ranking forms part of the Global Employability Survey, an online survey conducted in 20 countries worldwide with the objective of describing the ideal university from a corporate perspective.

One of the trends picked up by the Global Employability University Ranking is the breakthrough of a number of Chinese universities (five noted with two in the top 50) while universities from other Asian countries make their first appearance: three from Hong Kong, two from Singapore, and two from South Korea. India went from one to three universities with a very strong performance from the Indian Institute of Science.

Another new trend is the phenomenon known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are online programmes made available by universities. The recruiters who were surveyed said they felt certain that this new form of higher education would have a great impact on the economic model of universities since it was bound to reduce a university's financial burden.

Wits Centre and partners to assist UN

- By Wits University

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University together with its coalition partners in Africa and Asia, has been selected to develop a template for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

This announcement was made by the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (UN Working Group).

The UN Working Group’s decision follows an open call earlier this year for project proposals on this topic, and an objective evaluation of the many proposals received on the basis of, among other things, the value and experience of the proposers.

“The UN Working Group has awarded this important National Action Plans (NAP) project to the coalition, with precise instructions to assist it in developing a NAP Template for use by governments, business enterprises, civil society and other stakeholders on a variety of topics,” explains Bonita Meyersfeld, Associate Professor and Director at CALS. 

“This template will also inform the UN Working Group’s guidance to UN Member States and other actors at the UN Human Rights Council and other fora to better ensure accountability for human rights violations in the context of business activities.”

This is a significant step as it marks the first award and commissioning by the UN Working Group of a project involving third parties from these regions in this regard.

Background: In 2011, the Human Rights Council in Geneva unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (Guiding Principles). The authoritative global reference point for business and human rights, these Guiding Principles outline global standards for preventing and addressing business-related human rights harm. Shortly thereafter, the Human Rights Council established the UN Working Group to promote the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles and provide advice and recommendations regarding the development of domestic legislation and policies relating to business and human rights. A core component of the UN Working Group’s mandate is translating the Guiding Principles from paper into practice. This project aims to develop a model for implementation.

Project Team: Coalition partners are the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria; the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law at the University of Johannesburg; the Asian Business & Rule of Law initiative at the Singapore Management University Law School (SMU-ABRL), Singapore Compact, ASEAN CSR Network as well as independent consultants, Joanne Bauer, Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, USA and Sumi Dhanarajan, Adviser at SMU-ABRL and a board member of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

South-South Strength: We are delighted that our proposal has been chosen by the UN Working Group after its rigorous selection process. As a coalition of academic institutions and organisations from the Global South, we intend to map relevant national legal and regulatory contexts and, importantly, to examine issues that are underexplored in the global conversation about business and human rights, particularly with respect to gender, conflict and the specific concerns of, and opportunities for, emerging economies. Through extensive desk-top research and cross-regional consultations with states, policy-makers and key stakeholders, including civil society actors, we hope to support and develop robust approaches to National Action Plans for implementing the Guiding Principles.

Geneva: The coalition will be participating in the 2013 annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights which will be held in Geneva on from 2 to 4 December 2013 in part fulfilment of the NAP project.

Debating Union on a winning streak

- By Buhle Zuma

The Wits Debating Union has presented the spoils of their victories amassed from local and international competitions to the head of the University, Professor Adam Habib.

As in the previous years, the year 2013 proved to be just as productive for the Witsies, known in international debating circles as the “Kings of Debate in Africa”. The Union presented three gold trophies and several medals to Habib on Friday, 15 November 2013.

Two trophies are from the Kgorong Championships hosted by the University of Limpopo, where the Union floored debating teams from South African universities. The team also earned another trophy at the Pretoria Parley Tournament staged by the University of Pretoria.

Internationally, the Witsies reached the semi-finals of the competitive Paris Open IV tournament collectively organised by universities in France.

Professor Habib applauded the Union adding that debating which requires passion, tolerance and meaningfully contesting ideas, is at the core of building 21st Century citizens.

He said that the successes of the Union were not surprising given the history of the University.

“Political activity at Wits is at its most vibrant level and therefore discourse is at its most vibrant level.”

“Not only is this who we are, but it defines us and makes us great. It makes us great as business leaders, it makes us great as civic leaders, it makes us great as government leaders,” said Habib to the students.

Habib further wished the Union luck for the upcoming World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) to be held in Chennai, India. A team of six members will represent Wits at this annual international student event to be hosted for the first time in India.

He urged them to be good ambassadors of Africa as “the world has as much to learn from Africa as we have to learn from the world”.

The inaugural WUDC was hosted by Glasgow University Union in January 1981 with 43 teams from seven nations competing. Since then it has dramatically expanded to an event that hosts over 400 teams (each composed of two individual students) representing over 250 universities of 70 different nations.

Wits hopes to host the WUDC in 2015. In the coming weeks the University will host the South African National Schools Debating Championships. Taking place from 6 to 12 December 2013, this competition brings together the best high school debaters to compete for the title of National Champion. Teams are grouped according to juniors (Grade 7-9) and seniors (Grade 10-12).

Debating as an activity promotes critical thought, confidence and focuses on finding solutions. It provides a platform for robust and constructive engagement about a range of topics such as morality, politics, education, philosophy, leadership, censorship and international relations amongst other things.


  • 1998 Southern African Universities Debate Championships English First Language Finalists
  • 1998 Southern African Universities Debate Championships English Second Language Champions (i.e. winners)
  • 1998 Mayor’s Cup Champions
  • 1999 World Universities Debate Championships semi-finalists
  • 2009 Southern African Universities Debate Championships Public Speaking Champions
  • 2010 Southern African Universities Debate Champions
  • 2011 Southern African Universities Debate Champions
  • 2012 Southern African Universities Debate Champions
  • 2012 Southern African Universities Debate Championships Adjudicating Champions
  • 2012 Southern African Universities Debate Championships Best Speaker
  • 2012 Pan-African Universities Debate Championships Adjudicating Champions
  • 2012 Pan-African Universities Debate Championships Best Speaker
  • 2012 World Universities Debate Championships Octa-finalists
  • 2012 WUPID Champions
  • 2012 Gauteng Provincials Champions
  • Internationally Ranked the Best Debate Union in Africa
  • Internationally Ranked 23rd out of 150 Best Debate Union in the World
  • 2013 Paris Open IV semi-finalists
  • 2013 Southern African Universities Debate Championships –  top 10 speakers

Honouring School's anti-apartheid legacy

- By Wits University

Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning celebrated World Town Planning Day on Friday, 8 November 2013, by proudly receiving a gavel from the Association of Chartered Town Planners of South Africa (ACTPSA).

This is in honour of the School’s strong legacy of anti-apartheid planners and its continued work in promoting spatial inclusivity - dating back to 1977 when the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) withdrew its association with Planning Schools in South Africa after the brutal murder of Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko.

In the 1990s the ACTPSA existed as an off-shoot to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and disbanded in 2002. The gavel will be housed in the School’s Martienssen Library and recognises the work of the late Professor John Muller, head of the Wits Planning Department, who rejected exclusion during apartheid. 

“Professor Muller attempted to increase the number of black students who could enter the Planning Programme, despite legislation to keep "non-white" students out of tertiary education and in particular out of so-called ‘scientific’ areas of study,” says Garth Klein, Senior Lecturer in the Wits School Architecture and Planning.

“When the RTPI withdrew from South Africa in the 1970s, Wits was initially the only school which accepted students regardless of colour. The University continued its close relationship with the RTPI and this led to a number of students attending the Town Planning Summer School, receiving scholarships and an on-going professional relationship between the RTPI and the Wits Planning School.”

Muller also made an apology on behalf of the planning profession to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the 1990s after the collapse of apartheid. This was an important and fundamentally challenging issue, given the appalling spatial realities that South African urban and rural settlements faced after the spatial fragmentation that had been so firmly instituted during the apartheid years. “Obviously not all planners were involved in the apartheid project,” says Klein. “It was critical as a discipline to apologise for what that system had produced and that we commit ourselves to how we could work toward an inclusive city.”

The Director of the Planning Programme, Associate Professor Fana Sihlongonyane, accepted the gavel on behalf of the School and praised the late John Muller. Listen to his address

Another anti-apartheid member of the School of Architecture and Planning, the architect Clive Chipkin, was honoured by Wits in June this year when the University conferred an honorary doctorate on the preeminent architectural historian of Johannesburg.

Chipkin graduated with a B. Arch. degree from Wits University in 1954. His practice both rejected and contested apartheid and never participated in any government, provincial or municipal work during the apartheid era (1948-1994). His professional practice has mirrored his values. In 1986 he was a founding member of the group "Architects against Apartheid" - an informal pressure group that challenged their colleagues to support radical changes to the Architects’ Act of 1970 and the Code of Conduct of the Institute of South African Architects.

Today, the School continues to contest spatial inequality, while promoting a sense of place and quality environments. The School is involved (via both theory and practice) in the Yeoville Studio, Inner City policy and planning, housing rights and design, township history, green building and is still constantly addressing how the transformation agenda can be taken forward.

World Town Planning Day was initiated in 1949 by the late Professor Carlos Maria della Paolera of the University of Buenos Aires to advance public and professional interest in planning and is celebrated on 8 November annually in 30 countries and recognises and promotes the role of planning in creating liveable communities.

Big data under spotlight

- By Wits University

One of the biggest challenges for scientists this century will be to develop supercomputers that can process huge data output from big science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array.

To address this and other data questions, renowned world physicists and engineers will be attending the 2014 High-performance Signal and Data Processing workshop to be held at Wits University from 27 to 31 January 2014.

They include Dr Peter Jenni, one of the “founding fathers” and former spokesperson of the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012, and Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Wits alumni and Project Director of the Square Kilometre Array.

“There are supercomputers in the world, but they are essentially doing a lot of computation and are extremely expensive. We want to process big flows of data,” says Professor Bruce Mellado from the High Energy Physics Group (HEP) in the School of Physics at Wits University. Together with his colleagues in HEP and fellow workshop organisers, Dr Oana Boeriu and Dr Trevor Vickey, Mellado and his team is developing and building a high-throughput supercomputer.

“Called the Massive Affordable Computing (MAC) project, HEP aims to use existing computer elements available on the market to build supercomputers that are cheap and energy efficient,” Mellado says.

Processing the vast quantities of data that the SKA will produce will require very high performance central supercomputers capable of 100 petaflops per second processing power. This is about 50 times more powerful than the current most powerful supercomputer and equivalent to the processing power of about one hundred million PCs. The technological challenges related to high-throughput data flows at the ATLAS detector today are common to those facing the SKA in the future.

With this workshop, themed Challenges in Astro- and Particle Physics and Radio Astronomy Instrumentation, the organisers aim to bring together key people to discuss the grand challenges facing the signal processing community in Radio Astronomy, Gamma Ray Astronomy and Particle Physics. But, the development of high-throughput computers will also have a revolutionary impact on data processing in all fields of science - including the medical sciences, palaeosciences and engineering - and the organisers hope to attract delegates from those fields of study as well.

The workshop will also have plenary sessions for in-depth presentations and knowledge sharing between delegates will be in lecture format, as well as a classroom environment for hands-on hardware training. General overviews and in-depth presentations will be given.

Students and young researches are also welcome to deliver presentations and encouraged to submit abstracts. The registration and abstract submission are now open till 31 December 2013.

It is envisioned to publish a book of proceedings. Proceedings will be peer reviewed. The deadline for proceedings submission is 15 February 2014. The conference is co-presented by the SKA Africa, the University of Cape Town, the National Research Foundation/iThemba Labs, Stellenbosch University and CERN-SA.

Four decades and still going strong

- By Wits University

Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron praised the Wits Law Clinic for its dedication over the past four decades to provide access to justice for thousands of South Africans.

Speaking at its 40th anniversary on Wednesday, 27 November 2013, Cameron said the Clinic has since its inception in 1973 bridged the gap between rich and poor; and between justice and injustice.

“It also bridged the gap that existed between the academic and practical worlds by revolutionising the training of legal practitioners in that people were trained that the law is a calling for those who are committed to justice,” Cameron said.

Former students, lawyers and academics from the Clinic celebrated the milestone birthday with a cocktail function at the Wits Club, Braamfontein Campus West. Wits Chancellor and Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, added his praise and thanked the Clinic its dedicated service to people: “I urge you to carry on and keep the faith as there is still much more work that needs to be done to give our people access to justice”.

Cameron also emphasised that this celebration as well as celebrating 20 years of democracy next year provide an opportunity to look back and reflect on what it means to live in a constitutional democracy.

“We have to go back and look at our history, where we come from and our responses then. The law should be used to create justice among people and this is something the Clinic has understood well. The fundamental role of the law under a constitutional democracy is to create social justice,” he said.

Professor Philippa Kruger, Director of the Wits Law Clinic, said the Clinic started in 1973 as a small advice office with one academic staff member and 20 students who participated on a voluntary basis to address the growing frustration with the injustices of the time and give people access to justice.

In 1989 the course Practical Legal Studies became a compulsory course for all final year law students. With increased student numbers, the Clinic was able to provide legal advice and assistance to more people than before. During 1993 the Attorneys Act was amended to enable candidate attorneys to serve their articles of clerkship at a properly constituted and accredited law clinic. Many candidate attorneys have since entered the attorneys’ profession having been trained at the Clinic.

Today, the Clinic is one of the biggest law clinics of its kind in South Africa, and is renowned for its work, particularly in areas of public interest law and claims against the state. It has secured R22 million in compensation to victims in the past three years, mostly in civil claims against the police for brutality.

“We have lots of important judgments we are very proud off. The Clinic continues to give poor people access to justice and legal representation while treating them with the dignity and the courtesy they deserve,” Kruger said.

Professor Mtende Mhango, Deputy Head of School of the Wits Law School, said the Clinic enjoyed the support the School, the University, friends of the Clinic and its dedicated staff to give people access to justice.

“This Clinic contributes to the high quality of our undergraduate law students because it is at the Clinic that they are continuously exposed to the law and its effects in practise,” he said.

Read more about the Clinic.

Entrepreneurship professor honoured

- By Wits University

Wits Business School Professor in Entrepreneurship, Boris Urban, was awarded the prestigious and much coveted Research and Knowledge Exchange (RAKE) prize at this year’s ISBE Conference in Cardiff, UK. With over 300 delegates at the 2013 conference, Urban was the winner and sole participant from Africa.

The Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Research and Knowledge Exchange (RAKE) fund is an initiative supported by Barclays Bank and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) administered through ISBE. The RAKE initiative aims to encourage and support research activities from academics, third sector organisations, consultants and practitioners with the ambition of drawing together and generating an entrepreneurial community of practice to facilitate knowledge exchange and transfer.

The ISBE is a network for people and organisations involved in small business and entrepreneurship research, policy, education, support and advice, with more than 30 years’ experience and a 4 000 strong network. ISBE makes a valuable contribution, and engages with, all elements of the entrepreneurial community.

Urban had this to say about his achievement: “This award is important in that it recognises excellence in research. It recognises that this type of research, the findings and conclusions will be of significant interest to multiple audiences. These include scholars of entrepreneurship and business, public policy makers interested in promoting economic performance and sustainable growth, and entrepreneurs looking to enhance their effectiveness.”

“In line with Gary Hamel’s maxim that as researchers we ought to commit to revolutionary goals but to take evolutionary steps, this award recognises my consistent efforts to conduct research that has a theoretical reach, is empirically sound, and managerially relevant,” he added.

About Professor Urban

Boris Urban is a Professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration, Wits Business School (WBS), Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of Witwatersrand. He has more than 30 years academic and professional experience in business, where he has practiced, taught and researched strategy, organisational behaviour and entrepreneurship. Since 2009 Urban has held the Chair in Entrepreneurship (Lamberti Foundation) at the WBS.

He has more than 50 peer reviewed publications in scholarly journals, including high-impact ISI and FT Top 40 ranked journals. He has presented several papers at international conferences and won best paper awards. He is the book series editor and author of Perspectives in Entrepreneurship: a Research Companion published by Pearson Publishers and Springer Books internationally. He is co-author of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice published by Oxford University Press, which is prescribed as a standard text at several universities.

Wits in International Innovation

- By Wits University

Professors Norman Owen-Smith and Barend Erasmus from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences are featured in the October 2013 edition of International Innovation, a magazine which serves as a global dissemination resource for the wider scientific, technology and research communities.

The October 2013 edition has a special focus on the environment and, in particular, climate. It explores the impact of climate change and mitigating future impacts.

In the article, titled “The Conservation Conversation”, Owen-Smith and Erasmus elucidate their research aims, which centre on understanding the causes of changing populations of large African land mammals and the vegetation features they depend on.

The magazine also features an article on the Centre for African Ecology at Wits which is conducting long-term research into Africa’s complex ecosystems. In its search for a better understanding of the interactions between herbivores, humans and vegetation, the work is lighting the way for improved conservation actions across the continent.


Wits placed third in PneuDrive Challenge

- By Wits University

Wits students have excelled in the PneuDrive Challenge 2013 Engineering Design competition, winning third place for their Water Solar Still, a unique design concept that addresses water losses in tailings dams.

The third year mechanical engineering students, Gregory Behrens, Travis Bennett, Paul Hon and Thomas Wyszkowski-Korwin, showed how water can be captured and then fed back to mining operations for reutilisation. This has the advantage of minimising the dependency on fresh water supplies.

An additional entry from Wits University – The Dust Emission Filtration System – won the Autodesk Design Prize, a secondary competition component that was added for students who had the confidence to explore and use Autodesk.

The student engineering design competition, which has run annually since 2008, provides a learning platform that brings together engineering theory, the latest technology in drive engineering, pneumatics, and business relevance.

The sponsors of this year’s competition, SEW-Eurodrive and Pneumax, required students to explore a “Greener Mining” theme.

First place went to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for their Waste Granite to Cobblestone Machine design, and second place went to Tshwane University of Technology for their Dust Buster design.

The difference between first and third places was very tight, with the judging panel – comprising a range of local engineering experts – having to review and deliberate their decisions at length.

Wits, as a participating university, is entitled to R40 000 worth of sponsor products for completing the competition.


Left to right: Students Travis Bennett, Gregory Behrens, Thomas Wyszkowski-Korwin and Paul Hon with their lecturer, Frank Kienhofer (third from left).

Kierkegaard show at Wits Theatre

- By Wits University

Drama for Life at Wits University invites you to the Kierkegaard Comedy Show, presented by Claus Damgaard.

For more than a decade Danish-born Damgaard has been experimenting on how best to make the timeless ideas of Sᴓren Kierkegaard more vividly accessible to present-day audiences.

The show is held as part of the European Union Inspiring Thinkers Series, by Drama for Life in collaboration with the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

In his comedy show, Damgaard brings the 200 year-old thinker back to life in a contemporary and accessible manner. He is very interactive in his way of communicating Kierkegaard, and mixes theatre, lecture and of course, comedy.

“With woman, fun came into the world…” Kierkegaard is reported to have said, and now Damgaard shares with us his very own experiences in this regard.

Damgaard describes his performance as “Kierkegaard in action”, taking contemporary life and viewing it through Kierkegaard’s philosophical prism on human existence. He uses Kierkegaard’s texts on the human love life in a modern context… the result: a deadly serious comedy show – about love, sex and romantic relationships.

The show takes place on Monday, 11 November 2013 at the Wits Theatre, 24 Station Street, corner Jorissen, Braamfontein. Entrance is free. Safe parking is available in the Senate House basement parking, entrance on Jorissen Street.

For more information contact Gudrun Kramer on (011) 717-4733 or email  or visit the Facebook page

Colloquium on Véronique Tadjo

- By Wits University

There will be an international colloquium on the work of Professor Véronique Tadjo from 23 to 26 November 2013 at the University of Johannesburg.

Tadjo, Head of French Studies at Wits, is emerging as one of the strongest and most vibrant voices in contemporary African literature. She is a poet, a novelist, a writer of children’s books. She is also an academic and a public intellectual and as such her voice defies easy categorisation. Alternatively described as Ivorian, Franco-Ivorian, and African, Tadjo has lived extensively in Kenya, Nigeria, the UK, the US, and is currently based in South Africa.

The purpose of the colloquium is to read Tadjo’s body of work and to assess its place in post-colonial African literatures in light of her feminism, her engagement, her multi-culturalism, and her artistic production.

Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi, Stanford University
  • Professor Odile Cazenave, Boston University
  • Professor Romuald Fonkoua, Université Paris-Sorbonne
  • Professor Pierre Halen, Université de Lorraine, Metz France

To download the colloquium programme, click .

Dwolatzky wins IT Personality of the Year

- By Wits University

Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering and Mteto Nyati, Microsoft SA MD, are the co-winners of the 2013 IT Personality of the Year Award.

The winners were announced during the Institute of IT Professionals SA (IITPSA) President's Awards ceremony at Montecasino.

“This is the first time that I've come to a casino and actually won something,” joked Dwolatzky on accepting the award. “The key thing I'd want to state is that working for Wits University has been the best in my life. They have always allowed me to experiment and I've always got fantastic support from colleagues.”

In their citation for the IT Personality co-winners, the judges noted the common link between Dwolatzky and Nyati – both have a passion for nurturing young talent and emerging entrepreneurs, and have made that a core principle guiding their careers.

“While winning this is obviously a great honour, it is also a huge opportunity to draw attention to the JCSE and the Tshimologong Precinct. Hopefully it will help in attracting support – financial and otherwise – to these initiatives,” said Dwolatzky.

The Tshimologong Precinct is an exciting new-age software skills and innovation hub in Braamfontein, the scene of much urban renewal in recent times. The Precinct is part of an ambitious ICT cluster development programme, Tech-in-Braam, that has swung into action and is making the once dilapidated suburb the new technical heart of South Africa and beyond. Read more.

The IT Personality of the Year Award is now in its 35th year. Past winners include Alan Knott-Craig, Andile Ngcaba, Mark Shuttleworth, Asher Bohbot and, last year's winner Rob Stokes, founder and CEO of Quirk. The award is presented by the IITPSA in association with ITWeb, GIBS and Gartner Africa.

Dwolatzky is the second academic and professor to win the award. The previous occurrence was in 1982. Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, said the recognition was well deserved.

With a career spanning 40 years, Dwolatzky said the local IT landscape was filled with challenges, but also opportunities. "Innovation and change continue to sweep through the IT industry. It is imperative that we meet these challenges and grab hold of all the opportunities. The level of international competition faced by the local IT sector is huge. I remain optimistic though as I know how good local skills are and how innovative we are as an industry."

Dwolatzky called for widespread collaboration. "Government, corporate South Africa, local universities and individual professionals need to band together to support and grow the local IT industry." He said his priorities as the 2013 IT Personality of the Year would be a continuous focus on growing and developing local skills, building partnerships and finding ways to support innovation.

Celebration of NRF rated researchers

- By Wits University

There are 286 National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researchers at Wits, 15 of which are A-rated. The total figure represents a 21% increase on last year, and there are a few pending applications which, if they are finalised before the end of this year, will push the 2013 figure to close to 300.

In celebration of the achievements of these researchers, and the standards they set for hard work, continued productivity and international recognition, all current NRF rated researchers at Wits were invited to an event which took place on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 at the Origins Centre.

Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, told the researchers they were the crème de la crème of the Wits academy, and thanked them for their wonderful work.

“We’ve said we want to be a research intensive university, and you can’t be a research intensive university unless your senior academy is at the cutting edge of research; unless your researchers are active; and one of the great predictors of active researchers is the rating system.

“I want to say thank you on behalf of the entire executive team, and I want to say that we are going to create a truly enabling environment for every one of you to do what you are best at – produce cutting edge knowledge in the fields in which you are true leaders.”

Listen to Professor Adam Habib's speech.

Dr Thandi Mgwebi, Executive Director of the Directorate for Institutional Engagement and Partnership Development at the NRF, congratulated Wits on its decision to become a research intensive university.

She said that although the South African research system had seen an increase in scientific paper publication, from about 5 000 in 2002 to close to 13 000 in 2012, the system was characterised by a number of challenges. Below par spending is restricting research performance, and significant parts of the system are driven by emphasis on number of outputs rather than quality, as indicated by high output but low citation levels.

“We acknowledge the need to scale up the science enterprise. As such we are speaking to the Department of Science and Technology to put together a proposal to not only target the development of the next generation of researchers, but also give more support for established researchers, and to scale up and upgrade existing research facilities,” said Mgwebi.

She said the aim of the newly established Directorate for Institutional Engagement and Partnership Development was to respond to institutions individually, and that they would be talking to Wits to find out how they could help strengthen the research path which the University had chosen.

Listen to Dr Thandi Mgwebi's speech.

There are currently about 2 600 NRF rated researchers in the country. In 2000, there were about 1 000 NRF rated researchers, and they came from the natural sciences and engineering exclusively. In 2002, the rating system was opened up to the social sciences and humanities, and by 2011, there were 827 NRF rated researchers from the social sciences and humanities.

Helen Laburn, Wits Professor of Thermal Physiology, addressed the accusation that the University was being discriminatory by hosting the annual celebration of NRF rated researchers, which is in its third year.

"There are many here who come from backgrounds other than science and engineering, and it has been quite clear that we give as much encouragement, training and input to those researchers as we do to any other in the University. Some researchers from previously excluded disciplines may have come late to the party, so to speak, but it certainly isn’t true that the Research Office gives less encouragement and input to those researchers than we do to the traditional science and engineering group in our University.”

Laburn said that by hosting the celebration, the University was making it clear that they recognised NRF rated researchers as an elite group, and that they made no apology for that. “The Senior Executive Team, the leadership of the University and the Research Office consider the NRF rating to be a clear and unequivocal indication of research competence, reputation and stature,” she said.

Listen to Professor Helen Laburn's speech.


Wits launches Malaria Institute

- By Wits University

The Faculty of Health Sciences has announced the launch of the Wits Research Institute for Malaria on Thursday, 28 November 2013.

The formation of the Wits Research Institute for Malaria (WRIM) will provide an environment to enhance the ground-breaking research already taking place at Wits into one of Africa’s deadliest diseases. The new Institute will fulfil not only the mission of Wits University, but also that of global players such as the World Bank and the Global Fund.

Headed jointly by Professor Maureen Coetzee and Professor Thérèsa Coetzer in the Wits School of Pathology, the WRIM has been formed in an effort to strengthen malaria research in the existing fields as well as in the fields of epidemiology and clinical medicine. 

“Wits is in the unique position of having three excellent research groups working on malaria vectors, parasites and pharmacology. The Wits Faculty of Health Sciences supported the combination of these groups into an Institute,” comments Assistant Dean: Research and Postgraduate Support, Professor Beverley Kramer.

“The problem is that in Africa there are very few research institutes that have the capacity to address a host of issues and make an impact on the disease. The WRIM aims to produce top quality research and researchers that will benefit malaria control in Africa and place it amongst the leading malaria research groups in the world,” says Coetzee.

Every 60 seconds a child dies of Malaria. It remains one of the major disease burdens globally with over 200 million cases per year and over 650,000 deaths, predominantly in children under 5 in Africa.  The estimated annual cost to the African continent is over US$ 1 billion. In the past 10 years, a concerted drive to control malaria has been put into effect in many African countries with the support of the Global Fund for Aids, TB and Malaria; the President’s Malaria Initiative, the World Bank and several international donor funding agencies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the EU and the Wellcome Trust.

Coetzee is a Research Professor of Medical Entomology in the School of Pathology, while Coetzer is Head of the Plasmodium Molecular Research Unit and Head of the Red Cell Membrane Research Unit in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology in the Faculty’s School of Pathology and the National Health Laboratory Service.

Habib honoured with leadership award

- By Wits University

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, was announced as the winner of the Leadership Award made by the Minara Chamber of Commerce on Friday, 22 November 2013 at a ceremony in Durban.

The Award recognises Habib for his “exceptional leadership in advancing the progress and service of humanity”.

The Honourable Minister of Finance, Minister Pravin Gordhan was the keynote speaker at the event.

The Minara Chamber of Commerce Recognition Awards recognises, acknowledges and celebrates “outstanding personalities and exemplars of humanity who create history and who leave an indelible impression of their existence, to shape not only their lives but the lives of their contemporaries and succeeding generations”.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was made to the late Mr Walter Sisulu “who has given a lifetime of service to a field of endeavour with distinction”.  The Businessperson of the year went to Dr Iqbal Surve, while Hashim Amla walked away with the Young Achiever Award. The Community Builder Award went to Mrs Z Noor for her selfless sacrifice to assisting the marginalised in society.

The Minara Recognition Awards intends to serve as a beacon of inspiration for succeeding generations to emulate in achievement and spirit to advance the progress of; not only themselves; but humanity for their contemporaries and beyond. The definitive quality reflected in their journey of achievement is a spirit of selfless commitment and sacrifice.

Rising Star Expedition launched

- By Wits University

An international team of researchers will in the next few days begin excavations on a new site that may contain evidence of early human fossil remains in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COHWHS), some 40km north of Johannesburg.

Professor Lee Berger, a Research Professor in Human Evolution from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, will direct the expedition at Rising Star Cave. Berger is best known for the discovery of Australopithecus sediba at the Malapa site in the COHWHS — one of the most significant palaeoanthropological discoveries in recent times.

Berger announced the expedition today, 6 November 2013, at a media briefing held at Wits University.

to Berger’s speech.

Download high res images.

The latest discovery was made by an expedition team sent out by Berger to search the deepest recesses of the caves in the Cradle. “The exploration team leader Pedro Boshoff and his two assistants, Steve Tucker and Rick Hunter, were able to access a chamber deep underground that is nearly impossible to get to, where they have found some significant fossils on the surface of the cave floor,” says Berger.

The first step in the Rising Star Expedition is to get the fossils out of the cave and to study them thoroughly before any pronouncement can be made.

“We do not know as yet what species of hominin we have found, and we will not speculate. Our aim is to get the fossils out carefully, study them, compare them to other fossil material from around the world and then proceed to analyse and describe them. This is part of the scientific process and we are hoping to publish our findings — if all goes well — late in 2014,” explains Berger.

The key challenge is that the new site is in the cave structure of the Cradle and is about 30 metres underground, with a very small opening through which only persons with a bust size of 18cm and less can fit.

This compelled Berger to call on his community of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn friends to help him find “tiny and small, specialised cavers and spelunkers with excellent archaeological, palaeontological and excavation skills.”

Within days Berger had a list of 57 qualified candidates, of which were selected to participate in the excavation, all of them women.

“These are highly trained scientists with caving experience from the US, Canada and Australia who are currently in South Africa preparing for the excavation,” adds Berger. “Only a limited number of people will be allowed to the access-restricted site, as one of my key priorities is the safety of our scientists and researchers. We also have to do the best that we can under the circumstances to get these fossils out of the cave, through a complex recovery process.”

Members of the Speleological Exploration of South Africa will assist the expedition.

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, says: “The University is home to the richest collections of hominid fossils in the world, and discoveries made by Wits scientists in the Cradle of Humankind are some of the most significant in the palaeosciences record. Professor Berger and his team have already added to this valuable collection with the discovery of Australopithecus sediba, and the latest find to be excavated by the Rising Star Expedition will once again demonstrate the tremendous promise of the palaeosciences on the continent.”

Dawn Robertson, CEO of the Gauteng Tourism Authority that manages the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, says the latest discovery “once again shows the importance of the region to science as it continues to add knowledge to our understanding of human origins in Africa and we cannot wait to see the results of this expedition. Gauteng Tourism is striving to emphasize the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site as one of the unique selling points of our province and this expedition provides the perfect platform to highlight this incredibly significant area.”

“This project is the essence of exploration, and we are thrilled to support Lee Berger and his team,” says Terry Garcia, executive vice president for Missions, National Geographic. “We look forward to sharing the project results across the globe.”

To ensure the safety of the scientists and allow the team to focus on the excavation, access to the site will be restricted. Updates on excavations will be provided through a blog managed by National Geographic, found at

The excavation and scientific analysis that follows will be featured in a National Geographic/NOVA television special.


The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COHWHS) consists of the fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and the Environs. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and is managed by the COHWHS Site Management Authority in accordance with World Heritage Convention, the Operational Guidelines and the World Heritage Convention Act, 1999.

Wits University has a long association with the COHWHS in terms of scientific discoveries and research. The University owns and manages important fossil sites in the Cradle, and Wits scientists’ contributions to some of the most extraordinary fossil finds here have led to South Africa being a world leader in palaeosciences research with a huge offering to palaeo-tourism.

This is the first exploration Berger is undertaking after being named a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence earlier this year, and the expedition is supported by the National Geographic Society. Explorers-in-Residence are some of the world’s preeminent explorers and scientists who develop programs in their respective areas of study, carrying out fieldwork supported by the Society.




Wits Advancement collects 9 awards

- By Vivienne Rowland

It was a night of great triumph and recognition of hard work when the Wits Advancement and Partnerships team walked away with no less than nine Marketing, Advancement and Communication in Education awards on Tuesday, 19 November 2013.

The awards were part of a three-day congress, held by Marketing, Advancement and Communication in Education (MACE) at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein.

The awards, held in the Centenary Complex on the UFS campus, are hosted annually as part of the congress to recognise, reward and celebrate excellence and the achievements of university and Further Education and Training (FET) College practitioners in marketing, communication and advancement.

The Wits Advancement and Partnerships team entered various categories and collected nine of the coveted awards.

Wits Alumni Relations won awards in five categories. The Wits alumni website won the Electronic Media: Websites category; The Edge 4 Young Alumni won a Merit Award in the External

Electronic Newsletter category; the Wits Book won the Special Internal Publication category; The Edge won the External Electronic Newsletter category; the WITSReview won an Excellence Award in the External Magazine category.

“This year’s MACE awards again confirmed the Wits Alumni Relations Office as a leader in electronic and print publications amongst universities in South Africa. Wits graduates are amongst the best in the world and thus deserve and expect a world-class alumni programme,” said Peter Maher, Director: Wits Alumni Relations.

The Wits Marketing and Communications office walked away with three awards. The Sexual Harassment Case Study won an Excellence Award, while the Dungbeetle campaign won the Media Relations Merit Skills Award for writing, creativity and innovation.

“It is indeed a great honour for the Wits Communications team to be recognised by our peers in this manner. Our team has undertaken over 300 publicity campaigns in 2013alone, which is contributing towards positively profiling Wits in the public sphere, with tangible results. Warm congratulations are extended to the entire team!” said Shirona Patel, Wits' Communications Manager.

The Marketing Division won an Excellence Skills Award in the category Integrated Campaigns and Projects: Events for photography, creativity, innovation and design for its Wits90 campaign, during which Wits’ 90th birthday was celebrated last year.

“The Wits 90 campaign was a celebration across the University and involved the collective efforts by all in the Advancement Division. It created a sense of pride at Wits and we are delighted to have been recognised. Well done to the team!” said Ferna Clarkson, Wits' Marketing Manager.

The Wits Development and Fundraising Office (DFO) were the proud winners of the Audio Visual: Video and Film Production award for excellence in skills for photography, creativity and innovation for its Wits Century Film.

Wits participated alongside tertiary education institutions such as the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Durban University of Technology, the University of Johannesburg, UNISA, the University of Limpopo, the University of Cape Town, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Boland College and the University of Stellenbosh, to name a few. 

MACE fulfills a leadership role in the higher education and FET sectors within southern Africa by adding value to practitioners in Marketing, Communication and Advancement through high quality development programmes, facilitating networking partnerships and transformation, as well as promoting best practices amongst these professions at its member institutions.