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VC awards incredible students

- Refilwe Mabula

The exceptional intellectual capacity of 20 students was celebrated at the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship Awards breakfast on Sunday, 3 April 2016.

These scholarships are awarded to the top 10 most outstanding matriculants from all schools who have chosen to do their undergraduate degrees at Wits University and to the top 10 matriculants from Quintile 1 and 2 schools, categorised as schools with the lowest infrastructure and learning resources.

“The scholarships are intended to reward incredible students, who are the crème de la crème in society and people with incredible talent. The 20 young men and women sitting here represent the best in the country and not only in the University, “says Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib.

During his address, he told the recipients that Wits aims to be at the top of the academic pyramid and therefore it is important to recognise their excellence and attract them to the institution.

“Great universities are built by great academics and students. We want to create an enabling environment for students to learn and that is why we spend so much of our time and resources to win over these young men and women.”

Professor Adam Habib and VC Scholarship recipients

He assured the students, who were seated among their parents, that they had come to the “best university”, adding that Wits’ robust, politicised environment will force them to study and teach them to operate in the multi-cultural environment.

Habib also encouraged the students to participate in extra-mural activities in order to learn outside the classrooms as much as they learn inside the classrooms.

Bachelor of Accounting Science student, Tladi Johannes Shumba was one of the scholarship recipients. Shumba is a graduate from the Wits Targeting Talent Enrichment Programme that prepares high school learners for university.

He was accompanied by his former principal at Dendron Secondary School, Moloko Matsapola. Dendron is one of the top rural performing schools in the country where mathematics, science and accountancy are compulsory subjects.

The event was also attended by donors and representatives from the various Wits faculties.


What transformation looks like to SA vice-chancellors

- Kemantha Govender

South African vice-chancellors discussed transformation at their universities and how these challenges relate to the country.

Recent calls for transformation in the higher education sector is showing the growing impatience among young people, says University of Fort Hare’s Vice Chancellor, Dr Mvuyo Tom.

Tom was one of four South African vice-chancellors – Dr Max Price (University of Cape Town), Professor Dan Kgwadi (North-West University), and Professor Adam Habib (University of the Witwatersrand) – to speak at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics’ symposium which focused on transformation in the higher education sector on 17 March 2016.

The head of all these four universities acknowledged that transformation is paramount and spoke about the different forms it takes.

Change is key

Change is something that we must anticipate all the time within our lives, sectors and organisations and change cannot be avoided,” Tom said.

Advocating for a holistic approach to transformation, Tom said we should move beyond focusing on just one aspect of transformation at a time.

“Transformation should be such that it unleashes the human spirit and capabilities. We blame each other instead of taking positive steps and only focus on one aspect (of transformation),” he said.

He also called for the triple challenge (poverty, inequality and unemployment) in South Africa to be met with rapid transformation. “With poverty levels increasing, the inequality of social justice becomes more prominent.”

He suggested that transformation must also have practical applications and solutions if South Africa is to move forward.

Engaged scholarship

Price talked about how engaged scholarship or social responsiveness should be incorporated so that the core business of teaching and research could address the needs of communities.

He said that it is vital to look at things like how money from research grants can be used for community outreach and how people can be steered into research and teaching that can have greater community engagement.

He suggested that promotion criteria could go beyond looking at how many papers academics publish and also focus on their efforts towards engage scholarship.

Price gave an example of UCT law students who are required to fulfill a 60 hours community service requirement. “We need to make research responsive and we have the ability to make resources available to communities,” said Price. He was talking about an initiative in which organisations can engage with the University to work on collaborative projects or seek assistance from UCT. There has been at least 18 projects undertaken with communities, Price said.

Kgwadi urged university communities to challenge the stereotypes we hold as a way to contribute to transformation in the broader society. He said that there are lots of fears because of what transformation entails and we need more dialogue in this regard.

He stressed that equality needs to be the cornerstone of transformation. Kgwadi added that a new strategy that was approved by council to transform and position the North-West University as a superior learning institution with a commitment to social justice.

Alienation and access

Habib said there are two significant challenges that face higher education: alienation (even though majority of black students are in universities, they are alienated from the curriculum, symbols and practices and access (increase in number of students and decrease in subsidies).

“RhodesMustFall said alienation will no longer be around. It was never about the statue the statue was one manifestation of a broader alienation,” he said.

He said this activism raised imperative questions for students such as what does it mean to be an Africa student in an African university in this century?

Habib said we need a transformation agenda that looks at names, symbols, curricula, in-sourcing of workers and language challenges.

Access no longer affects just the poor, the middle class are also struggling and Habib said universities need to continue exploring opportunities to increasing funding for those students who don’t qualify for financial aid but also can’t afford fees.

Habib said for the moment, free education is not possible for everyone but should be free the poor.

“FeesMustFall brought to an end a system that says subsidies can decline and that fees can increase. Despite all the differences I have with the FeesMustFall activists, I agree with their demands,” said Habib.

Professor Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, said that there has been a growing demand for social relevance and accountability and universities have been challenged on their responsiveness since the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Universities have the capacity for reflecting in order to drive putting theory into practice wherein the underlying issues are identified and innovative solutions for societal issues are established.”

The symposium formed part of the week long Ethic Alive programme hosted by the Centre for Bioethics from 14 until 18 March 2016. Professor Martin Veller, Dean of Wits’ Faculty of Health Sciences, launched the Faculty’s Transformation Pledge at the symposium.

No longer a little office somewhere

- Refilwe Mabula

Wits' new Disability Rights Unit, will no longer be "a little office somewhere."

The new Disability Unit (DU) at Wits, will continue advancing the rights of people living with disabilities and strive to contribute to universal access to education.

The unit, now named as the Disability Rights Unit (DRU) was launched on Thursday, 7 April 2016 at its new location on the first floor of Senate House, Braamfontein Campus East.

Head of the Disability Rights Unit, Dr Anlia Pretorius said the unit previously used to be described as “a little office down there somewhere.”

“Many people now ask why have we moved up to the first floor, and I say, because we have moved up in life and we now have a rightful place where our students actually feel valued because they can see that the University really values them, as equal members of the Wits community,” says Pretorius.

Deputy Vice- Chancellor ( DVC): Academic and Vice Principal, Professor Andrew Crouch, a speaker at the launch said Wits became a trendsetter in institutions of higher learning when it launched its DU in 1986, providing access to education for students with disabilities during a time when they were marginalised from society.

The DVC added that the DRU will serve the needs of about 600 students living with disabilities, though he feels that the number could be higher.

“Not all of them declared on registration that they have a disability.”

Chief Director at Department of Social Development, Lidia Pretorius, who delivered a message on behalf of the Deputy Minister for Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu encouraged the students to utilise the facilities to propel themselves and to “return to the facility as owners of the economy to pave the way forward for the next generation.”

Design and facilities

The DRU was previously located on the ground floor between Senate House and Central Block, a noisy area with a large influx of people. This made it very difficult for students in wheelchairs to get in and out of the offices and also provided difficulty for them to concentrate during examinations due to high noise levels in the those corridors.

Architect, Gunther Wagner took guests who included donors, staff, current and past students on walkabout to show them how the design and facilities at the new unit would address some of the challenges students encountered at the old unit.

With automated sliding doors and height adjustable tables, the unit was designed in a manner which would improve the rationality of movement and with some of the walls sound proofed, improve concentration levels.

The overall design was also centred on the idea of keeping the unit legible and simple. The choice of materials used also contributed significantly to the design, such as rubber flooring to reduce injury in the case of any accidents.

“Conceptually, the design of the new unit was based on logic and clarity. From a university perspective, the design envisioned to break down the barriers that we have as a society and to make sure that the students are always a part of this campus,” said Wagner.

The importance of disability units

Sesi Mahlobogoane, Director Social Inclusion and Equity at the Department of Higher Education and Training who was one of the guest speakers said she was proud of the new unit that appeals to the call of the constitution to include everyone, including people with disabilities.

“Without these units, staff and students with disabilities are lost as to how to navigate their way,” said Mahlobogoane. She shared with guests why these units were so important:

  • They provide a safe space for students with disabilities to disclose their disabilities without fear of being discriminated.
  • They provide an opportunity for students living with disabilities to state their needs in expectation of being provided with reasonable accommodation.
  • They provide the service to both academic staff seeking to make learning material accessible to students with disabilities and to enable the unit to bridge the gap between the academic needs of the students and the institutions ability to respond to those needs.
  • Disability Units also serve as a source of reliable data in terms of the disability needs of the students and the capability of the institution to respond to those needs.
  • They provide an opportunity for the assessment of disability for those students unaware of their disabilities.
  • Without disability units students easily drop out of University. They reduce the number of students with disabilities dropping out of University through the emotional support that the unit also offers them.
  • DU have the potential to mobilise resources and the culture of institutions to enable participation of students with disabilities beyond academics.
  • They advocate the needs of students with disabilities for appropriate resources and assistive technologies.
  • They play a role in the development of norms and standards for funding disabilities in the post school education and training system.


Professor Vishnu Padayachee inducted into the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars

- Wits University

Award honours former university staff who gained marked distinction elsewhere in their fields.

Distinguished Professor Vishnu Padayachee has been inducted into the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars on 11 April 2016.

Padayachee was one of 16 scholars who were awarded a Lifetime Fellowship of the society by the University, where served as a visiting professor, through a United States-South Africa Leadership fellowship, at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 1986.

Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars 2016

The Society of Scholars was created on the recommendation of then president Milton S. Eisenhower and approved by the university board of trustees on May 1, 1967. The society inducts a limited number of former postdoctoral fellows, postdoctoral degree recipients, house staff and junior or visiting faculty who have served at least a year at Johns Hopkins and thereafter gained marked distinction elsewhere in their fields of physical, biological, medical, social or engineering sciences or in the humanities and for whom at least five years have elapsed since their last Johns Hopkins affiliation.

Padayachee is a Distinguished Professor and holds the Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron Chair in Development Economics in the School of Economic and Business Sciences at Wits. He is also a professor emeritus in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

In 1996, President Nelson Mandela appointed him to the board of directors of the South African Reserve Bank on which he served for nearly 12 years, completing his third term as a nonexecutive director in September 2007. Although trained in Keynesian macroeconomics, his research and graduate teaching fall within the confluence and traditions of political economy, economic history, and development studies.

In his acceptance speech, Padayachee said he was honoured by the award, and that he was grateful to many of his colleagues and students for assisting him through his successful career.

“They taught me mostly through their example so much about the real business and the purpose of academic endeavour: the freedom to think openly and critically, about the excitement of graduate teaching, about the value of elegant writing, about the fuzzy warmth generated by good research and publishing in top journals, about aiming ever higher and higher, about never settling for an average career,” he said.

“I learnt a lot too both academically and socially from my graduate students, many from my own continent, whom circumstances had precluded me from meeting before.”

Canteen Kopje saved from further destruction

- Wits University

High Court grants final court order to protect oldest dated archaeological site from mining company.

A final court order has been granted to the McGregor Museum in the Northern Cape High Court today, 19 April 2016, that prevents unlawful mining operations on the National Heritage Site of Canteen Kopje, a historical and archaeological key point at Barkly West in the Northern Cape.

The law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, acted for the Museum on a pro bono basis. The University of the Witwatersrand provided support and advice to the legal team and the McGregor Museum as Canteen Kopje has been a vitally important excavation site for archaeologists from the University’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies.

A second legal process is now underway where the Museum as well as Wits and Sol Plaatje Universities are requesting a review of the decisions made by the Department of Mineral Resources to grant a mining permit over a heritage site. (More details below.)

Permanent protection from mining company

Canteen Kopje is the country’s oldest dated archaeological site. Together with the heritage of communities still living in the area, it boasts a Stone Age history stretching back some 2.3 million years.

Alluvial diamond mining began there on 18 March 2016 but was almost immediately halted by urgent legal action instituted by the McGregor Museum with assistance from Sol Plaatje and Wits University. The interim interdict granted on 19 March 2016 against the mining company, Jackie M Wesi Mining (Pty) Ltd, gave temporary protection, which has now been made final.

The Department of Mineral Resources, the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) and the South African Police Services were co-respondents with the mining company but decided to abide by the decision of the High Court and to not oppose the Museum’s application for a final court order.

The mining that was allowed to go ahead left a gaping hole in the middle of the site, with artefacts strewn across the damaged surface.

The national and international archaeological fraternity rallied quickly and addressed letters to the Department of Arts and Culture and South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) calling for the mining to be stopped.

Sol Plaatje University and the University of the Witwatersrand added their voices, as did the South African San Council and the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco). Media coverage started the day that mining commenced and spread rapidly via social media.

Professor David Morris, Head of Archaeology at the McGregor Museum, says: “This is a victory not just for Canteen Kopje. This interdict upholds the provisions of the National Heritage Resources Act and the procedures it requires. We came perilously close to a discrediting of authorities and laws which would have set a dangerous precedent for South African heritage as a whole.”

Review of mining permits

It remains to be understood how the provisions of minerals and heritage legislation had failed to protect the declared heritage site in the first place. 

In this regard, Lara Granville, a director from Norton Rose Fulbright who represented the Museum, says that “the McGregor Museum, together with the University of the Witwatersrand and Sol Plaatje University have also launched a review of the decisions of the Department of Mineral Resources to grant a mining permit over the heritage site; and of the decision of Sahra to lift a cease works order over the site. That application is aimed at securing the protection of such cultural and historical sites into the future, and ensuring that administrative agencies abide by the legislative requirements to protect our heritage”.

Lee Berger on TIME 100 list

- Wits University

Wits palaeoanthropologist honoured as one of the most influential people in the world.

TIME named Professor Lee Berger from the University of the Witwatersrand to the 2016 TIME 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

The list, now in its 13th year, recognises the activism, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals.

As TIME editor, Nancy Gibbs, has said of the list in the past: "The TIME 100 is a list of the world's most influential men and women, not its most powerful, though those are not mutually exclusive terms. While power is certain, influence is subtle. As much as this exercise chronicles the achievements of the past year, we also focus on figures whose influence is likely to grow, so we can look around the corner to see what is coming."

Aus. sediba and H. naledi leads the way 

Berger is an award-winning palaeoanthropologist, researcher, explorer, author and speaker from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University in Johannesburg. His explorations into human origins in Africa over the past two-and-a-half decades have resulted in many new and notable discoveries, including the most complete early hominin fossils found so far, which belong to a new species of early human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, and, in 2013, the richest early hominin site yet found on the continent of Africa and a new species of human relative, Homo naledi, announced in 2015.

Tribute to African scientists 

“It is an honour to be included in the TIME 100 and a tribute to the world-class and influential science being produced on the African continent by African scientists and African institutions such as Wits University. This recognition also reflects the hard work of my colleagues, who are and continue to be critical to both the discoveries being made, as well as the interpretations put forward in the scientific literature,” Berger says. 

“Wits University continues again and again to produce high quality science that reaches and impacts on a global audience and I am thrilled to be part of that. New discoveries continue to be made by my colleagues and me at an ever increasing pace, and I hope, and indeed expect, that the research coming out of palaeoanthropology at Wits will continue to have a significant impact on science worldwide,” Berger adds.

Open access

As the Research Professor in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at Wits, Berger says he believes that TIME’s decision to recognise the influence of his team’s research on world science is partly due to Wits University’s leadership in open access and open sourcing. The University is a signatory to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities

Berger is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Prize for Research and Exploration. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, a member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, and a Fellow of the Explorers Club. Among other positions, Berger serves on the advisory board of the Global Young Academy.

Full list

The full list and related tributes appear in the 2 May 2016 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, 22 April 2016, and now at

Wits remains an African powerhouse

- Wits University

Wits University has been placed in the top two of the Times Higher Education’s snapshot ranking of the best universities in Africa 2016.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Africa University Rankings 2016 was released today, Thursday, 21 April 2016.

South African universities dominated the rankings with six institutions from the country making the top 15.

Uganda’s Makerere University is the only institution outside South Africa to make the top five in fourth place. List of full rankings.

“This snapshot ranking is based on the same criteria as the World University Rankings but we are keen to develop a bespoke range of metrics, following a public consultation, for a full Africa University Ranking,” said Phil Baty, THE rankings editor.

Wits University has always approached the rankings with a level of measured circumspection, given that many ranking systems use different methodologies.

Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib said the University will continue to focus on building a nationally transformed, responsive and globally competitive institution.

Thabo Mbeki Foundation, Wits join forces

- Wits University

Thabo Mbeki Foundation and Wits University have joined forces to address Africa’s biggest challenges.

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF) and the University of the Witwatersrand have signed a memorandum of agreement that will advance peace, conflict resolution and security in the continent by establishing the African Centre for Conflict Management.

The African Centre for Conflict Management (ACCM), to be hosted in the Wits School of Governance, will serve as the foundation and hub for the development of African focused research, whilst lessons are drawn to avoid future occurrences.

It is reported that 78% of global conflicts take place in Africa. Conflict and insecurity remain some of the major challenges confronting the continent, leading to the curtailing of growth and the reversal of substantial gains that would have otherwise been made in various African countries. It is therefore important to ensure that conflicts are averted and, where they have occurred, are managed as expeditiously as possible in order to minimise damage.

“The ACCM will contribute to Africa’s renewal by undertaking research and analysis on African conflict management, democracy and governance and by building a generation of policy analysts and practitioners. Its strategic vision is to support the creation of a culture of democracy and peace on the continent,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Furthermore, it is envisioned that the ACCM will contribute to the academic conversion of the TMF assignments by facilitating the theoretical knowledge that will facilitate the production and dissemination of knowledge relating to the promotion of peace and security, democracy and governance regionally, continentally in Africa, and globally.

Students will also benefit. “Doctoral and postdoctoral students will be able to help with preparation for missions and may accompany Mr Mbeki in his work,” says Professor David Everatt, Head of the Wits School of Governance. “This will be unique access for students of peace, security and governance in Africa”.

“For the TMF, this presents a unique opportunity to advance the Foundation’s mission of making the necessary interventions in the continent to advance its renaissance.  Africa which is at peace with its self, respecting the rule of how and good governance is an essential aspect of this ideal. This partnership provides in a practical sense the ability to make the necessary interventions in the interest of Africa’s people,” says Dr Brigalia Bam, Chairperson of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

About the Thabo Mbeki Foundation

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation is a non-profit organisation launched by former President Thabo Mbeki at the end of his service to the South African Government in 2008. The Foundation was established to support Mbeki’s continuing engagements with efforts aimed at achieving the African Renaissance.

The Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

The Wits School of Governance is the leading African institution in the arena of governance, policy and development management for the public sector. Since its inception in 1993, it has been at the forefront of an international movement to transform public and development management, and currently produces the largest number of postgraduates in its field in southern Africa.

National Orders for four Witsies

- Wits University

Wits congratulates all those honoured, and especially those Witsies who have made a mark in our society.

The Wits recipients of National Orders for this year are Professor Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (posthumous) (Father of Zulu poetry), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (President of Wits Convocation), Professor Helen Rees (internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, reproductive health and vaccines), and Wits alumna, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser (choreographer).

They were honoured during a ceremony by President Jacob Zuma today, Thursday, 28 April 2016.

“As we continue on this path of creating a shared humanity and history for all South Africans, it is fitting that Professor Vilakazi (scholar, poet and lecturer) and Mrs Glasser (teacher and choreographer) are honoured today for their contributions to create a multiracial and multicultural society.

“We are also very proud and privileged to have Professor Phakeng in our midst where she continues to play a significant role in shaping our young leaders as the President of Wits Convocation.

“And we commend the countless contributions made by Professor Helen Rees to address today’s biggest global health challenges through her outstanding research and intellectual achievement at the highest level,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Order of Ikhamanga

Recognising South Africans who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport:

Professor Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (posthumous) - Order of Ikhamanga (Gold)

At the time of his death in 1947, Vilakazi was the first black PhD-graduate in South Africa and working in the Department of African Languages at Wits – a teaching position that made him the first black South African to teach white South Africans at university level. Together with Wits linguist, Professor Clement M. Doke, Vilakazi co-created the Zulu-English dictionary.

He is revered as the ‘father of modern Zulu poetry and as the literary giant of the Zulu language of the first half of the 20th Century[1]”. Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once lived bears his name.

The Order of Ikhamanga (Gold) is awarded to Vilakazi for his exceptional contribution to the field of literature in indigenous languages and the preservation of isiZulu culture.

Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser - Order of Ikhamanga (Silver)

A Wits alumna, celebrated teacher and choreographer, Glasser is the founder of Moving into Dance (MID) – a non-racial dance company that in 1981 held the first mixed race dance performance in the Great Hall at Wits.

Through MID, Glasser inspired and transformed hundreds of performers, teachers, choreographers and leaders in the dance community, and brought together people from all races in the 1980s to break down apartheid-barriers.

In 2014 she received a Knighthood in the Order of Oranje-Nassau from the Netherlands.

The Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) is awarded to Glasser for her excellent contribution to the field of dance and transference of skills to the young people from all racial backgrounds, fostering social cohesion in the time of apartheid.

Order of the Boabab

Recognising South Africans who have contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation:

Professor Helen Rees (OBE) - Order of the Baobab (Silver)

Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Rees has a long and distinguished career as an internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, reproductive health, vaccines and drug regulation. She serves in leadership roles in both national and international structures and chaired, and continues to chair, various councils and research bodies of the World Health Organization related to Ebola vaccines, polio and immunisation. She is currently chair of the Medicines Control Council and was appointed to this position by the Minister of Health.

In 2001 Professor Rees was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).

The Order of the Baobab (Silver) is awarded to Rees for her excellent contribution in the field of medical science and research. Her work gives hope to communities who have been affected by the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng - Order of Boabab (Silver)

Professor Phakeng is the first black woman to obtain her PhD in Mathematics Education. A Wits alumna and former associate professor at Wits, she is now the Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation at Unisa and President of Wits Convocation. She is the founding director of the award-winning Marang Centre for Maths and Education at Wits and has been named the “most influential woman in education and training in Africa (CEO magazine)” and “most outstanding senior black female researchers the past five to 10 years (2011 National Science and Technology Forum)”.

The Order of Boabab (Silver) is awarded to Phakeng for her excellent contribution in the field of science and representing South Africa on the international stage through her outstanding research work.

[1] Natalia 35 (2005), Adrian Koopman pp. 63 – 74