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Former presidents rise to the #Wits100 challenge

- Wits University

Wits SRC president pledges USD100,000 to aid students, challenges others to #WitsForGood challenge.

Student leaders from 1968 to 2021 convened on 9 September to discuss how they could rise to the #Wits100 challenge and give back, for good.  Over 13 presidents, including former justice and Wits Chancellor Justice Richard Goldstone and Professor Max Price, former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences attended the momentous occasion. This gathering was timely as the University forges closer bonds with graduates, students and partners ahead of its centenary in 2022.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal welcomed the diverse group of presidents describing them as a cohort of “great Witsies who despite their eclectic mix of skills and attributes have one thing in common and that is living true to the values of Wits University.”   Vilakazi said that it is heartening to learn that these leaders want to serve Wits beyond their student years.

Price embraced the convention and advised that more student leaders get involved. He also asked how former student leaders and Witsies could get involved through projects that would strategically advance the #Wits100 campaign, and the University in the long-term. 

Linda Vilakazi, the first black president of the SRC also welcomed the challenge stating, “it is worth it.” She committed to galvanise former student leaders to support the #Wits100 campaign, including those from the Black Student Society.

“I am putting my hand up and I am definitely going to go all out,” for this challenge said Vilakazi, who is also co-founder of the South African Student Solidarity Foundation for Education (SASSFE), a network for all universities’ alumni to support students in need.

Former Wits SRC Presidents meet virtually

Current student challenges

The outgoing 2021 Wits SRC President, Mpendulo Mfeka, raised a number of issues that confront students, including the lack of accommodation, financial exclusions, hunger and mental health, the latter exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

 “Food is a real crisis and there are students who do not know from where they are going to get their next meal,” said Mfeka. This issue has escalated as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many families have lost employment and businesses.”

The 2020/2021 SRC, under Mfeka’s leadership raised R4 million to assist students.

A Challenge to SRC Presidents

The socio-economic plight of students touched Rex Heinke, the 1971 SRC President, and a member of the Wits Fund Board in the USA. He subsequently pledged $100,000 in aid of student support and challenged other presidents to support the campaign.

“I recently learnt about some Wits students not having enough food to eat and no sufficient place to live. It pained me enormously to hear that and I had to do something to help. My wife and I will be contributing this year and next year to ease the hunger and housing shortages of Wits students,” he explained.

The appellate counsel has used the donation as a challenge to other former SRC presidents to give towards a joint fundraising goal to commemorate the Wits centenary in 2022.

“We hope that you will do the same and that you will encourage your friends to make contributions. We urge each of you to contribute whatever you can. Even if your contribution is small, it is important that as many SRC Presidents contribute to demonstrate our commitment to Wits that could encourage others to follow our lead.”

As a proud Witsie, Heinke has a great affinity to the institution. He said that in 1971, during the height of apartheid, “Wits was a beacon of light and hope” and exposed him to the atrocities of the oppressive undemocratic system. Through his challenge, he hopes to shine a light in students’ lives.

Addressing meeting attendees, Heinke said: “Wits needs your help now to build a new generation of South African leaders to fulfil the dream of a free and democratic South Africa. You showed your commitment and your leadership by becoming an SRC President. Now it is time for you to again commit and lead Wits, and to become part of the #Wits100 anniversary campaign.”

Heinke’s contribution will be channelled towards the Wits Food Bank and the Wits Covid-19 Relief Fund, established last year. The Wits Food Bank, established in 2013, assists approximately 5 000 students per year.

Read more about how you can get involved in the #Wits100 campaign: Wits.For Good