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Rising talent to explore community theatre and policies in Germany

- Wits University

Masters student Relebohile Mabonda wraps up a performance and prepares to join the German Chancellor's Fellowship Programme for prospective leaders.

Community theatres and art spaces require proper policies and management says Relebohile Mabonda

The programme, knows as the German Chancellor's Fellowship Programme of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, supports future decision makers and thought leaders across various fields of studies. 

Mabonda whose research is titled An analysis of stakeholder relationships and the social potentials of culture through the example of community art centres in South Africa and Germany, seeks to produce strategies that can enhance the potential of community art centres in South Africa. With the results from her research, Mabonda hopes contribute to academia and influence policymakers to recognise the value of the arts and community art centres. This builds on her previous research titled Ke mang ya ba ranthanyang? (Who is ripping them apart?) An Analysis of Township Community Art Centre Stakeholders in Democratic South Africa.

Raised in Daveyton, Mabonda first tasted the power of the arts whilst in boarding school in Lesotho taking part in school plays. She was fascinated by storytelling and poetry. On her return to South Africa she joined the local community theatre and this saw her perform in many townships. She later joined the State Theatre’s Youth InTrust and won the most promising performer. Wanting to understand her craft better, Mabonda enrolled at Wits for a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts followed by a BA honours specialising in Applied Drama: Theatre in Education, Communities and Social Context, both attained with distinction.

She has performed at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown.

A rising performer, writer and director, Mabonda’s work is driven by the mission to contribute to social and therapeutic changes in communities. Consequently, her postgraduate studies focus on impact of stakeholders and leadership on community art space and how these influence cultural policies in South Africa.

Mabonda says she is looking forward to her trip. “Germany has a better understanding of arts, politics and innovative cultural policies driven by the idea of social inclusion, something that we in South Africa need for community arts and art spaces.”

Her school is equally excited.

“I am delighted with this opportunity and see it opening many doors of success for this gusty young woman,” says Avril Joffe, Postgraduate Programme Coordinator and lecturer in Cultural Policy and Management at Wits University.

About the fellowship:

The German Chancellor Fellowship is open to citizenship from South Africa, Brazil, China, and the United States of America. For admission, prospective students need to have completed their first degree in fields such as politics, business, media administration, society or culture. In addition, students need to also demonstrate leadership experience. During their one year programme, students must implement a project that supports their career development, has social relevance and  a lasting public impact.

“I am looking forward to participating in the fellowship, I believe this programme challenges the perception that research papers are submitted to gather dust on library shelves. This fellowship promotes knowledge sharing with peers on a globally scale and integrates various perspectives to contribute significantly to the cultural sector, particularly municipal leaders and policy makers,” concludes Mabunda.

In Germany, Mabunda will be hosted by the IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen). Prior to starting classes in October, she will undertake a three-months language course to help with the transition.

Home recognition for Italian Prof

- Wits University

Prof. Maria Marchetti-Mercer has been awarded the Order of the Star of Italy.

Prof. Maria Marchetti-Mercer

The distinction is awarded by the President of the Republic of Italy to Italians and foreign citizens in recognition of their role in promoting Italy abroad or in promoting friendly relations and co-operation between Italy and their country of residence.

The awards are bestowed annually on Italian National Day, to commemorate the institutional referendum of 1946 (2 June) when Italians were called to take a vote and decide the form of their government after World War II.

Marchetti-Mercer, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology received the honour at the Italian Consulate in Johannesburg.

A family therapist whose research mostly focuses on the emotional aspects of migration, Marchetti-Mercer was born in Italy and arrived in East London with her parents when she was a child. This background has shaped her academic career and helped to build ties with Italy.

“I do think that our personal journeys often shape our research interests and this has definitely been the case for me,” she says.

“I came to this country when I was very young and I am aware of the impact that emigration has on families and especially the challenges that emigrant children encounter. This has led me to explore this phenomenon from a psychological perspective especially from the focus of family therapy. More recently I have also looked at second and third generation Italians living in South Africa and their socio-psychological experiences as there has been very little research done in this area.”

Maria-Mercer who joined Wits when she was appointed as the Head of the School of Human and Community Development, says she is humbled by the recognition from the land of her birth.

“I am very honoured but also deeply moved by this award”.

“I am extremely proud of my Italian roots and still have a strong emotional attachment to Italy. I hope that over the years I have portrayed a positive image of Italy through my professional work and in some small way have contributed towards the positive relationship that exists between Italy and South Africa,” she says.

Marchetti-Mercer is collaborating with colleagues to deepen the understanding of Italians in the country. Her latest research examines the experiences of second and third generation Italians living in South Africa. She, together with Dr Anita Virga from the Italian Studies Department at Wits are finalising a book on this research project which is due to be finished at the end of the year.

Funding boost for postgrad research into new-age metals

- Wits University

Wits signs research agreement with AfriTin Mining to investigate and optimise tech metals processing.

Sealing the partnership: Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment Prof. Thokozani Majozi and CEO of AfriTin, Anthony Viljoen

Wits University, through the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, has signed a research agreement with AfriTin Mining Limited (UK: ATM) to advance the company’s mineral extraction capabilities.

The agreement will provide the Minerals and Metals Extraction Research Group in the School with R 7 million in funding over the next five years for postgraduate student research projects.

These projects will look at increasing AfriTin’s recovery and optimising processing of tin, tantalum, lithium and other metals in both virgin ores and tailings. These are considered new-age minerals or tech metals and play a key role in the production of today’s technologies. 

Elaborating on the changes in the minerals sector, the CEO of AfriTin, Anthony Viljoen, says: “Tantalum and lithium are tech metals  whose extraction and processing techniques are yet to be advanced. Therefore, this partnership will expand our knowledge base to support our growth strategy. As a mining company, we are committed to sustainably mining metals that are important for the transition to greener technologies.”

The funding will give the School the resources to pursue new fields of mineral research conducted in partnership with masters and PhD students.

“Postgraduate students are vital to knowledge production and innovation. We welcome this research partnership as it will enable unique postgraduate research projects and will bring students closer to industry expertise that prepare them for the working world,” says Prof. Thokozani Majozi, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.

Manager of the research programme, Professor Herman Potgieter says: “The Minerals and Metals Extraction Research Group applies new and novel extraction technologies to the recovery of metals which not only improves yields, but are also more environmentally friendly and sustainable than current hydrometallurgical processes used in industry. While such technologies are very ore specific, the collaboration will focus on establishing their suitability in the AfriTin mining process.”

The research will involve work across several domains, including alternative leaching technologies, fluidisation and recovery technologies, chemical and compositional measurements, and selected appropriate modelling technologies such as density functional theory (DFT) and Matlab modelling.

The initial focus will be in assisting AfriTin in developing a process for the optimal recovery and production of high purity tantalum, a metal used in the production of electronic components and steels that have corrosion resistant properties. Future research will look at applying and developing new recovery processes for tin, and using alternative leachants and ligands to develop marketable recovery/extraction technology for components in the tin ore, such as lithium.

“We’re excited to have entered into this partnership which forms part of AfriTin’s five year growth strategy, during which we plan to expand our current tin production to include lithium and tantalum,” continues Viljoen.

“By funding this research, we will benefit from Wits University’s expertise for advice, technical reviews and technical evaluations. The company will also have an exclusive option to commercialise intellectual property developed through the agreement.”

About ‘tech metals’ and their uses

Tin’s value lies in its variety of applications, including the alloys it forms with other common metals such as copper. It is used in industrial processes such as glass manufacturing, as well as in chemical processes such as lead-acid batteries, coating metal, and as a reducing agent in fabrics.

Tantalum too has varied uses, including its use in capacitors, as an additional alloying element in stainless-steel, as an alternative to platinum in the chemical, electronic and electrical industry, and for alloys used in aerospace applications.

Lithium is a “new tech” metal, seen as crucial for its use in Li-on batteries that are considered necessary to enable the shift to renewable energy. Lithium also has industrial applications such as car manufacturing, and the health industry and pharmaceutical production.

About the University of the Witwatersrand

The University of the Witwatersrand, also known as Wits University, is a research intensive university in Africa, that is celebrating 100 years of academic and research excellence, innovation, and social justice in 2022.

The history of the University is inextricably linked to mining. Wits is home to one of the oldest mining schools in the world, established in 1896 during the gold rush. Located in Johannesburg (South Africa), the economic and industrial heartland of Africa, Wits University is committed to furthering its contribution to delivering high-level scarce skills for the global knowledge economy and building partnerships that will have a positive impact on society. 

The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment conducts large volumes of contract research for local and international companies, as well as works with the public sector to tackle national problems. The metallurgical engineering part of the School was one of the founding departments (together with the Schools of Mining Engineering and Geosciences) of the University when it was first established as the South African School of Mines in 1904.

About AfriTin Mining

AfriTin Mining Limited is a London-listed tech-metals mining company with a vision to create a portfolio of globally significant, conflict-free, producing assets. The company's flagship asset is the Uis Tin Mine in Namibia, formerly the world's largest hard-rock open cast tin mine.

The company strives to capitalise on the solid supply/demand fundamentals of tin and lithium by developing a critical mass of resource inventory, achieving production in the near-term and further scaling production by consolidating assets in Africa.

Australian Friends of Wits University advance Centenary Campaign

- Wits University

Alumni in Australia have formalised fundraising for Wits in its centenary year with R80 million already pledged by the Zylstra family’s Skye Foundation.

The Australian Friends of Wits University Limited (AFWITSU) was officially launched at the Point Piper Yacht Club in Sydney, Australia, on 26 May 2022.

AFWITSU is a company incorporated in Australia for the purpose of fundraising for Wits and will assist the University to relieve poverty by providing funds to support scholarships and bursaries.

Wits Australia Board and Philanthropy Advisory Committee_BACK LtoR Back: Michael Segerman, Philip Zylstra, Lawrence Jackson Wits Aus Rep, Andy Schmulow, Rob Hamer.FRONT LtoR  Myra Salkinder, Philip Mayers, Lenore Manderson, Graham Craig

Sixty-one Wits alumni in Australia attended the launch of AFWITSU, which was sponsored by the Skye Foundation, an enduring benefactor of the University and whose chairman, alumnus Philip Zylstra, with his wife, Lisa – also a Witsie – were the guests of honour. Stephen Koseff, alumnus, former Investec CEO, and Wits honorary degree recipient, delivered the keynote address.

Australian Friends of Wits University was launched in May 2022 Sydney on

Lawrence Jackson, the Wits Australia representative, acknowledged the indigenous communities in Australia before welcoming guests to the yacht club and online. They included, among others, Wits Chancellor, Dr Judi Dlamini; Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi; Mr Philip Mayers AM*, Chair of the Australian Board of Directors; Mr Graham Craig, Chair of the Philanthropy Advisors Board and former President of the Wits Students’ Representative Council (SRC) in 1972; Mr Robin Margo SC**, former SRC President from 1966 to 1967 and a Rhodes Scholar; and Dr Helmut Heydt, former President of Wits Convocation from 1992 to 1994.

Wits Australia alumni LtoR LtoR Arlene Allardice, Helmut Heydt, Shirley Kalish, Peter Kalish

WATCH an event recording: PHOTOGRAPHS:

Australian Friends of Wits gathered at the Point Piper Yacht Club in Sydney, Australia, on 26 May 2022

The mandate of the Australian Board of Directors is to develop and augment Wits’ philanthropic activities in Australia. The Board members also act as directors of the two fundraising companies – AFWITSU, and Wits Australian Public Health and Medical Research Foundation Limited (WITSAUS).

Mayers welcomed alumni and recalled how Wits was “a formative and transformative time” in his life. Despite a somewhat ad hoc relationship with Wits to date, Mayers said, he was excited that in 2022, Wits’ centennial year, there was “something to rally around”.

“Wits has always meant a great deal to me,” he said, “It doesn’t matter which decade you came from,” and he acknowledged the attendance of alumnus Mr Geoffrey Jochelson, from the class of 1951.

LtoR Wits Australia alumni Jonathan Shapiro, Harold Shapiro, Cecil Hoffman, David Nohr

‘Everything matters when you’re working in South Africa’

Lenore Manderson AM*, Distinguished Professor of Medical Anthropology and Public Health at Wits and a National Research Foundation of South Africa A1-rated scientist, spoke next to introduce the Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Manderson is an Australian national whose father was born in South Africa and studied at Wits before he migrated to Australia for political reasons.

Lenore Manderson first came to South Africa in 1995 – coincidentally at the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – returned in 2003 as an honorary professor, and then chose to move to South Africa in 2014 to take up the post of distinguished professor.

Lenore Manderson is a Distinguished Professor of Medical Anthropology and Public Health is the Wits School of Public Health

“The best decision I made was to move to South Africa as an academic,” said Manderson. “It was an absolute eye-opener. Everything mattered and everything does matter when you’re working in South Africa.”

Her primary role, she says, is to support young researchers. “It’s a pleasure to work with people at Wits who will take their place as exceptional scholars in SA and globally.”

‘The highest standards of corporate governance’

One such exceptional scholar is Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, whom Manderson introduced. She recalled that she and Vilakazi joined Wits at the same time, the latter in the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research.

Vilakazi “embodies what we all envisage at Wits and work towards in Africa and beyond,” said Manderson of Vilakazi, who on 20 May was appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK).

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.

Vilakazi thanked Jackson and AFWITSU for the “incredible gumption put into this initiative.” He said Wits alumni have made distinct contributions to Johannesburg, to Africa, and to the world and that Wits is “a beacon for society with a stellar and enduring legacy as an institution steeped in scholarship, and a commitment to academic excellence”.

This ethos must and will continue, he said, and he reassured alumni that these core values would not be compromised, that the University commits to the South African Constitution, and to upholding the highest standards of corporate governance.

The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged and thanked the donors and supporters, which Wits relies upon.

“Something new will come out of Africa, something magical will come out of this continent,” he said, concluding with former President Nelson Mandela’s words, ‘it always seems impossible until it is done’.

‘Job-ready’ a hallmark of a Wits education

Mr Graham Craig, Chair of the Philanthropy Advisors Board, was Wits SRC President in 1972 when the University turned 50 and he is a former Rhodes Scholar. Craig told alumni that his parents had met at Wits Medical School 80 years ago and “like my father, I married a Sunnyside resident”.

Craig’s wife, Helen, preceded him on the SRC. Craig’s siblings, too, were at Medical School while Craig, an engineering graduate, spent 20 years at Anglo American before relocating to Australia.

Craig recalled that 1972 was a period of maximum resistance on campus with students frequently deported. But Wits graduates were sought after due to their stellar education. A hallmark of a Wits education was that it made you ‘job-ready’ on graduation, he said. He confirmed that his Wits education had stood him in good stead as a Rhodes Scholar.

Craig introduced alumnus Stephen Koseff, recipient of an honorary degree from Wits in 2017 and former CEO of Investec, which is a listed company in Johannesburg and London.

‘Eliminate corruption’, Afro-optimist urges

Wits Australia Stephen Koseff left Lawrence Jackson Australia repright

Koseff congratulated Wits on its centenary and said he was struck by the quality of alumni who have made it on the global stage – he named Natie Kirsh, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Brian Joffe, Patrice Motsepe, and Adrian Gore, amongst others. He acknowledged Wits alumni Professors Glenda Gray, Shabir Madhi and Barry Schoub who helped South Africans navigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Koseff reminisced about his time at Wits in the 1970s, when he read for a BCom and then an MBA. The ‘70s were traumatic in South Africa, he recalled, when Wits was at the forefront against apartheid.

“We used to drive from Benoni to Johannesburg, get takeaways from Pop’s, and had cops with hats hitting us with batons.” Fonder memories included meeting his wife of 45 years at Wits.

Post-apartheid South Africa had made significant progress since the early ‘90s, but the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8, and the change of the ruling party leadership in South Africa in 2009, had consequences. Echoing sentiments expressed in the speech he delivered on receipt of his honorary degree, Koseff reiterated that SA would flourish only if corruption was eliminated and the workforce educated.

He stressed that Wits values and demonstrates strong governance and that the University is already playing a role in education and in relevant skills development. With the support of alumni around the world, he said, Wits could help put the country on the path to prosperity and inclusive growth so that it can serve as an education hub and business centre for Africa.

“My optimistic side says South Africa will prevail – we have come back from the dark days of cops running across campus and RAU students throwing rocks at us. South Africa can be a beacon to the world – we have enough will and enough good people around. Wits gave us a hell of a lot to set us on a path to [success]. We all have an obligation to help and support,” he said.

In pursuit of profit with purpose

Wits Chancellor, Dr Judy Dlamni is herself an eminent businessperson and a medical doctor. She is an alumna of UKZN Medical School (1993) and, like Koseff, earned her MBA at Wits Business School (WBS), in 1999. In April this year, she graduated with a Wits Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

Wits Chancellor Dr Judy Dlamini graduates again in 2022 with a PGCE

Dlamini said that Australia is home to the third highest number of Wits alumni internationally (after Africa and the UK), and includes the likes of Gail Kelly, the first female CEO of one of Australia's big four banks.

Dlamini, who is “quite big on women getting their rightful place” – she established the Female Academic Leaders Fellowship (FALF) at Wits – stressed the importance of “profit with purpose”. She assured alumni that Wits has good leadership and remains locally relevant while pursuing global excellence.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the next 100 years [at Wits] will be better, not only because our VC, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, is now a Fellow of the Royal Society, but also because he has centred his leadership in innovation that serves society. As we harness the tentacles of Witsies all over the world, we will be stronger together. We need your support and collaboration,” she said, and extended special thanks to the Zylstra family and the Skye Foundation for their R80 million pledge to Wits and their generosity in agreeing to match any contributions made this year to the Australian funds.

‘Find and help those people that will change the world’ 

Philip Zylstra, Chairman Skye Foundation

“My parents met at Wits and if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be here either!” engineering alumnus Mr Philip Zylstra and Chair of the Skye Foundation told alumni. Like his parents, Brian and Dorothy, Zylstra met his wife, Lisa, at Wits.

Zylstra’s father, Brian, studied accountancy while his mother, Dorothy, studied teaching.

“[My father] didn’t really speak any English until he started studying at Wits,” said Zylstra. “It changed his life in so many ways. Not only did he complete his CA which gave him the skills and training to run and build businesses, but he made lifelong friendships, opened his eyes to the world, and gave him the gift of an education that he carried with him all his life.”

Similarly, Wits instilled in Zylstra’s mother a lifelong love of learning. He said, “[My mother] is now 85 and still attends French lessons! She went on to obtain multiple degrees over many years at Wits.”

Brian Zylstra established the Skye Foundation in 1997 and his son, Philip, took on the role of chairman when his father passed away in 2012. The foundation funds excellent postgraduate students in any discipline, anywhere they would like to study.

Today the foundation has joint scholarships with Oxford and Cambridge and an honours scholarship programme at Wits and at the University of Cape Town. The foundation has funded over 300 students over the past 28 years.

“We have always felt that the greatest gift and privilege is education and the only way to make some kind of difference is to find and help those people that will change the world – education is the key,” said Zylstra.

Ripples of philanthropy and the Skye’s the limit

Zylstra shared the story of Jeremy, a scholarship recipient who chose to study at Cambridge University. The foundation originally funded a master’s degree for Jeremy.

“We were then asked by Jeremy’s supervisor at Cavendish to fund his PHD. We generally don’t fund subsequent degrees but in this case we decided to do so, as Professor John Ellis wrote to us with a personal request in which he said, ‘I can only say that I have been doing research now since 1985 and Jeremy is the best student/prospective researcher at any level I have come across or heard of in any meaningful way’. After such a glowing reference it was a simple decision!”

Zylstra shared with Australian alumni the letter from Professor Ellis who wrote on confirmation of the PhD scholarship, which included these words: ‘I am always impressed by the way he [Jeremy] seeks out the important, the fundamental, the far reaching, but in a realistic, totally non pretentious way.’

“One never knows where the ripples of philanthropy flow!” said Zylstra.

Skye Foundation matches donations, makes a WiSH come true

Zylstra has fond memories of beers at the Boz after class, rugby matches on Saturdays, and playing in the Raikes Memorial rugby nights in front of mates.

“My father was very thankful for what Wits gave him, and gave back when he was able to,” said Zylstra, whose father was a Wits Rugby Blue. 

Tribute montage to Brian Zylstra of the Skye Foundation from Wits Sport

The Skye Foundation has also funded sports scholarships at Wits, an initiative which began when Zylstra was working at Wits Sport in 1988.

“Our foundation has decided to fund the construction of a building which will house a new Wits Institute for Sport and Health [WiSH]. This will be the home for a world leading sports research, training and clinical service centre for all sports. It will be available to international sports teams as well as for collaboration with leading sports science research projects across the world. It is an R80 million commitment that we hope gives Wits Sport a home to do wonderful work over many years,” said Zylstra.

“Realising the importance of alumni networks to the future of universities, and the projects this Australian alumni network has set as a goal to fund, we have also agreed to match any contributions made this year to the Australian funds.”

If you would like to make a gift to support deserving students who cannot afford to pay University tuition and residence fees, and double your impact in the process, you can do so by donating to Australian Friends of Wits University Limited, which contributes to scholarships provided by Wits. Click to donate. 


* Member of the Order of Australia. In the Australian honours system appointments to the Order of Australia confer the highest recognition for outstanding achievement and service. The Member of the Order of Australia is awarded for service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group.
** Senior Counsel

World Food Safety Day empowers Witsies

- Wits University

Practical demonstration and tips on how to ensure food safety helps Witsies to take control of their own health.

Wits Service Department (World Food Safety Day)

7 June marked international World Food Safety Day. The day is observed annually to draw attention to and mobilise action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health. The Service Department at Wits ran a week-long campaign under the global safer food, better health aimed at students and staff complete with information stalls and interactive games across various campuses.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) unsafe food contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances causing more than 200 diseases with an estimate of 600 million people in the world falling ill after consuming contaminated food.

The Department is tasked with ensuring food safety across six Wits dining halls serving on average 2,5 million safe and healthy meals annually to students and staff at Wits the department also manage  around 37 retail outlets. The service department is using this week to promote and bring awareness on safe food handling and creating ongoing food safety education to staff and students.

The department also hosted an engagement workshop with the University’s catering service providers, retail outlet owners, City of Johannesburg environmental health department, student leaders, business partners, internal and external food auditors as well as the national department of health – food control directorate. Israel Mogomotsi, Director of the Services emphasised the importance of ensuring that food safety is secured throughout the food supply chain from harvesting to transportation, production, right to the food serving stations on campus.

Mogomotsi further urged students to practice food safety within their respective residences by keeping their environment clean, storing food at the right temperature, and ensuring correct re-heating before consuming their meals.

Practising food safety is important, follow these food safety tips to ensure food safety not only for yourself but for those around you as well. Wash your hands before and after food preparation, avoid storing food at room temperature for more than two hours, promptly cool and store leftover food inside a refrigerator and avoid storing leftover food in a refrigerator for more than three days. Visit the WHO's website to read about the five keys to safer food.

Industrial Advisory Board appointed to guide Engineering Faculty

- Wits University

The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment has established an advisory board with key industry representatives.

Image of the Engineering Board

The Faculty hosted the newly formed Faculty Industrial Advisory Board for a two day engagement in June. The board consists of well-respected academics, renowned industry leaders as well as entrepreneurs in the engineering and building sectors.

The main objectives of the board are to advise on strategic matters such as the industrial relevance and suitability of the academic curricula across the Faculty, including suggesting new or modifying courses and degree programmes. They will also provide input on the Faculty’s overall strategy, including research, and foster higher levels of industry involvement. Elected for five years, they  will meet once a year, assisting Faculty with identifying recent or long-term developments or concerns of industry which are likely to have a significant impact on the Faculty activities. The board will play a pivotal role in exploring ways in which the Faculty can foster a higher level of industry involvement in its degrees and research programmes, as well as to identify and advise on major strategic initiatives, such as the establishment of research centres and fund-raising initiatives. This is aligned to the University’s commercialisation and innovation strategy.

Professor Thokozani Majozi, Dean of the Faculty, welcomed the board, noting that the Faculty looks forward to working with  this structure in order to ensure that graduates of the Faculty are responsive to industry’s needs.

Board Chairperson, Steve Harrison, Platform Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Murray & Roberts welcomed his appointment and dived straight into the business of the day. He listed key aspects of industry that Wits should be preparing its graduates in, namely leadership skills. He was complementary of the core skills of Wits graduates and emphasised the need for more soft skills. 

"The University produces world-class engineering graduates with maths and science skills who will be expected to lead from day one,” he said.

Wits alumni and CEO of Nafasi Technologies, Suzie Nkambule will be serving as Deputy Chairperson.

In between the strategic discussions during the meeting, the leaders toured key facilities in the Faculty and interacted with staff members.

Witsie shines at international competition

- Wits University

Engineering student trumps teams at an international simulation competition.

SIMISO winner

Fourth year student at the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering, Buhle Baloyi clinched fourth position at the competition, making him one of top minds at the mental showcase hosted by Simio. 

Baloyi was up against 302 teams comprised of 2032 students from 14 countries. Participants were given a technical industrial engineering simulation problem and had to optimise the distribution network for a logistics company operating along the North Sea. Candidates were judged on the quality of their presentation, analysis of input data, modelling approach, quality of animation, analysis of results, quality of recommendations as well as overall project quality amongst others. 

Baloyi rose to the challenge by using engineering and mathematical skills to create various models using Simio simulation software. He investigated 13 scenarios and proposed a cost reduction model to improve the company’s revenue.

The thrilled Baloyi says: “This win is validation for me, that someone like me can participate in and win an international competition.”

The competition is open to individual and group submissions, however, Baloyi was the only one-man band among the winners. First place went to Claudia Donahue and Alexej Lozevski, a duo from North Carolina State University; second and third place went to teams from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

Baloyi regards himself as a solution-orientated individual and is inspired by his environment. A resident of Mamelodi township in Pretoria, Baloyi sees first-hand how the supply of goods and services are affected by road infrastructure and how the lack of maintenance to water infrastructure further exacerbates this problem. Working to solve these kinds of challenges steered Baloyi towards engineering. “Engineering is about coming up with solutions to real world problems and that is main reason I choose to study engineering at Wits University,” he says.

Dr Joke Buhrmann, supervisor and senior lecturer of operations research and machine learning says the School is proud of this achievement and it is in line with the School’s long-standing tradition of producing high performing students and graduates.

The School exposes students to numerous competitions to test their mantle. As such, fourth year industrial engineering students are encouraged to participate in the Simio competition as part of the engineering graduate attribute project which further challenges students to apply acquired skills to real world problems. Previously Wits’ students have placed in the top 10 at the competition. Simio is a software company, headquartered in the United States and delivers solutions for the design and scheduling of complex systems.

Tracking rainfall moisture in Lesotho

- Wits University

Lesotho is considered to be the water tower of southern Africa and it is key to water security in the region.

Researchers from Wits University and the University College in London (UCL) recently undertook a field trip to the mountainous kingdom, Lesotho, as part of the quest to explore the source of moisture that influences rainfall in Lesotho. The team of climatologists and water experts set off on 2 June headed for the Caledonspoort Border Post leading into Lesotho. By lunch time, the team had crossed into the country and immediately set about collecting water samples.  

Associate Professor of Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits, Jennifer Fitchett says studies into rainfall moisture around Lesotho are critical for several reasons.

“First, Lesotho is considered the water tower of southern Africa, hosting the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which supplies South Africa with water. Understanding the dynamics of moisture sources for Lesotho is important in understanding the water security for the region,” says Fitchett.

Another reason says Fitchett is that the Lesotho Highlands receive approximately eight snowfall events per year, and thus “provides us with the best opportunity to explore the isotopes of snow relative to that of groundwater and rivers. If there is a difference in the moisture sources for winter and summer precipitation, this would be most likely to be traced in this environment.” 

The research also helps to understand rainfall and droughts in South Africa and the movement of moisture that has evaporated from the Indian Ocean to the two neighbouring countries – South Africa and Lesotho.

This study is one of several joint research projects under the Wits-UCL Strategic Partnership Seed Funding launched in 2019. Research awards are granted annually and carry up to approximately R100 000 (£5,000), per project. Thus far, 18 research projects in different disciplines have received funding. The peer-to-peer collaboration promotes research excellence and interaction with a range of students and early career researchers.

Fitchett is working with Principal Investigator Emeritus Professor Anson Mackay and his colleague Professor Jonathan Holmes (UCL). Mackay, however, was not able to join the field trip due to health reasons, but in his place Dr Simoné Dahms-Verster (Wits) and Prof Chris Curtis (UJ) joined Fitchett and Holmes for the fieldwork. The team covered massive ground during the four-day trip moving from Caledonspoort to Sani Top, Sani Top to Katse Dam, Katse Dam to Mafeteng, and Mafeteng to Maseru collecting samples from snowpacks, rivers, dams and springs across the northern half of Lesotho.

“In addition to collecting water samples for analysis, we also collected the GPS coordinates and altitude using a Garmin GPS, the air temperature using a Kestrel 5000, and the water temperature, dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity and pH using a YSI. We collected a total of 35 samples,” says Fitchett.

The water samples are currently being analysed at the Bloomsbury Environmental Isotope Facility at UCL.

Pioneering own solutions

Research equipment can be costly, hard to source and sometimes there is a mismatch between the product on the market and the research needs. The climate and environmental group faced this challenge when it came to rainwater collectors. To overcome this, Holmes built and tested a rainwater collector in his home in the UK and it also proved to be effective in preventing evaporation (a critical factor for rainwater isotope analyses). This prototype was replicated in Johannesburg by Holmes and Fitchett during Holmes’ visit to Wits in June 2022, with the assistance of the Civil and Environmental Engineering laboratories at Wits. Preliminary tests confirmed effectiveness and the equipment has been deployed at three locations. 

The purpose is to obtain weekly rainwater samples from across South Africa against which the oxygen and hydrogen isotope ratios from the water samples in Lesotho can be compared. This will help the team in further understanding the variation in water isotope signatures across southern Africa, and to link these to the primary moisture sources.

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Delivery of quality healthcare and clinical training prioritised in Wits, GDoH agreement

- Wits University

The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) and Wits University sign MOA to deliver quality healthcare services and exemplary health sciences education.

The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) and Wits University have concluded a Memorandum of Agreement that aims to strengthen collaboration between the parties, to enable the delivery of quality healthcare services and exemplary health sciences education.

The Agreement, which serves as a framework, includes the development of ‘Academic Health Complexes’ which will be established as centres of excellence, and which are responsive to the needs of the Gauteng Province and the country.

“We are committed to fostering a close, collaborative working relationship with Wits University, with the objective of enabling functional, agile, and well-managed Academic Health Complexes that will deliver quality healthcare to the public,” says MEC for Health in Gauteng, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, adding that this partnership “will also help to ensure the most efficient, cost-effective, appropriate and sustainable use of our joint resources.”

Where appropriate, the Agreement aims to enable the use of combined resources, maximise output, and improve the quality and service of healthcare delivery, particularly with regards to clinical and academic activities. 

“We welcome the Agreement, which will regularise the relationship between Wits and the GDOH, and which we are hopeful will enable greater and closer cooperation, based on mutual respect,” says Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “We have hundreds of staff members and thousands of students who serve on our clinical platforms every day. The MoA will help to regulate the relationship with the GDoH, and hospital managers, to facilitate the delivery of quality teaching and training on the clinical training platforms, as well as the conducting of globally recognised research.”

The MoA also seeks to:

  • provide high quality academic health programmes, health services and research;
  • jointly govern the appointment, recruitment, management, and discipline of joint staff;
  • ensure that the clinical service platform meets the requirements for academic activities; and
  • develop joint mechanisms to rapidly deal with constraints and challenges related to the clinical service platform.

Governance and Implementation

Wits and the GDoH have three months in which to establish three key structures which will include officials from both Wits and the GDoH: the Overarching Committee; the Governance Committee; and the Academic Health Complex Committees. The Committees are required to develop governing schedules and management agreements to ensure the implementation of the Agreement.

“We are hopeful that this Agreement, if implemented well, will pave the way for the provision of better healthcare services for patients in the Province, whilst ensuring that our future healthcare professionals receive the best training and research opportunities on the continent,” concludes Madhi.

The Agreement will be renewed after five years.

Young South African researchers take leading roles at the ATLAS experiment collaboration

- Wits University

Wits’ young scientist (physicists) take front positions in the world’s largest scientific endeavour to generate new science and expand current knowledge.

Young physicists: Dr Edward Nkadimeng working on TileCal electronics. Ryan Mckenzie beneath the ATLAS detector.

The ATLAS experiment, which is one of the largest collaborative efforts ever attempted in order to explore the secrets of the universe, hosts an internal conference in order to assess all aspects of the experiment including research, maintenance and its upgrade. Themed Atlas Week Getting Ready for Run-III, this event is attended by the entire collaboration spanning 243 institutes from 41 countries, including South Africa.

South Africa’s talent groomed at Wits University, Dr Edward Nkadimeng chaired one of the plenary sessions on 21 June 2022 while Wits’ doctoral student Ryan Mckenzie has been chosen to undertake the roles of deputy run-coordinator and then run-coordinator of the ATLAS Hadronic Tile Calorimeter, both putting the continent’s contribution on the spotlight.

Nkadimeng who was appointed in 2019 by the management of the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS experiment at CERN leads the team for the low voltage power (LVPS) project made up of physicists and engineers from the US and Europe. This international team will be delivering on critical electronics for the upgrade of the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector.

Nkadimeng’s session reviewed tasks including the detector operations, online data selection and processing, data monitoring, calibration and reconstruction, physics analysis, and the upgrade of the detector to the next stages of the experiment. All these tasks are linked, and their results, including any concerns.

“I am humbled by the recognition given the significance of being invited to chair a session at the ATLAS experiment's overview week at CERN. This is, of course, a result of the world-class contribution and the international leadership of Wits University in the field of particle physics,” says Nkadimeng.

Mckenzie, a postgraduate student at the High-throughput Electronics Laboratory within the Institute for Collider Particle Physics (ICPP), will take up his roles from 1 September 2022 up until 30 April 2023 and these encompass the control and management of the entire sub-detector including the co-ordination of over 100 physicists, engineers and technicians. The importance of this role is significant as ATLAS will be undertaking RUN-III data taking during Mckenzie’s tenure.

Mckenzie chaired a session in 2021 ATLAS week focusing on the latest physics developments of the ATLAS collaboration as well as ongoing detector research amongst other topics. The session successfully covered the ATLAS Phase-II upgrade which is to commence in the year 2025 and is focused on preparing the ATLAS detector for the next energy frontier being ushered in by the High Luminosity-LHC

“This event forms a key aspect of what allows the collaboration to span the entire globe and was truly a joy to behold. It was an honour to be selected to fulfil this role, I eagerly look forward towards being part of further contributions made by South Africa,” says Mckenzie.

South Africa in the knowledge community

The SA-CERN programme contribution to the Phase-II upgrade takes the form of high-tech power supplies which provide power to the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector. These electronic components are produced locally thereby illustrating the world-class ability of the South African electronics industry. The SA-CERN programme is also supported by the Department of Science and Innovation and it is hosted by iThemba LABS of the National Research Foundation.

“We are really proud that young South African scientists have grown to become leaders of our global community,” says Bruce Mellado, Director of the ICPP and senior researcher at iThemba LABS.

The South African electronics industry will manufacture and deploy radiation hard and fast high-throughput electronics to meet the requirements of the Phase-II upgrade occurring in 2025 .

The detector measures the energy and position of energetic particles that emerge from collisions between particles in the Large Hadron Collider. These measurements were used for the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, for which the theorists that predicted the particle were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.

These activities and international partnerships represent an invaluable opportunity for South Africa to train students and to conduct technology transfer to local industry. South African students routinely graduate with training gained through their work at the Tile Calorimeter.

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Wits polyglot wins Chinese proficiency competition

- Wits University

A talent for languages and an interest in the cultures of the world is opening doors for a Wits music student.

Performing Nosipho

Nosipho Ntsizi, a masters student majoring in opera music is set to represent South Africa in China later this year after securing first place at the South African chapter of Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition.

The competition was hosted by the Chinese Embassy of South Africa at the University of Johannesburg. Esteemed guests included His Excellency Chen Xiaodong, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology of South Africa and key stakeholders advancing socioeconomic ties between the two countries.

Ntsizi held her own against other participants from South African institutions who were assessed in Chinese language proficiency, knowledge about China, Chinese cultural and talents amongst others. She obtained 100% in the Chinese writing test, completing the 30-minute test in under six minutes. Ntsizi dazzled the audience with a sensational performance, singing two songs, wo ai ni zhongguo which means “I love you China” and wanjiang meaning “A Great Distance Territory” combined with a dance routine.

A talented artist, Ntsizi’s musical talent was first discovered by her primary school teacher in her hometown of Idutywe in the Eastern Cape. While in school Ntsizi performed with senior choirs and was endorsed to perform with the Walter Sisulu University choir as well as Durban University of Technology choir, exposing the small-town girl to tertiary institutions which subsequently ignited a dream to pursue a university degree. Upon completing high school, she successfully auditioned and enrolled to study music. As part of her opera studies the lyric soprano singer was required to study four foreign languages and cultures -Italian, German, French and Russian, nurturing her love for languages. A polyglot, in 2018 Ntsizi set her mind to study Mandarin, a difficult language to learn, Mandarin requires one to memorise over a thousand written characters, learning the tonality as well as pronunciations of this complex language.

Music and languages hold deep significance in her life.

“Music is a universal language that can break barriers and start a conversation amongst different people,” says Ntsizi. “I value humanity and want to use my music and language skills to protect the world and bring peace" adds Ntsizi who aspires to read for PhD studies.

Ntsizi is not the first Wits student to win this competition, in 2021 Simnikiwe Sangoni from the School of Aeronautical Engineering also took first place in the South African leg of the challenge.

Both students are part of the Wits Chinese Student and Scholars Society, established in 2020 members of the student society learn different aspects of the Chinese culture and language.

About the competition:

The Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students is an international competition organised by Confucius Institute Headquarters. Launched in 2002, the annual event sees more than 1,000 university students from over 80 countries participating in the semi-finals and finals in China. In addition, there are more than 300,000 students all over the world involved in the preliminary rounds. This competition is an important platform for international students to learn the Chinese language and understand more about China.

Light-bender recognised with scholarship

- Wits University

Engineering student exploring optics and photonics is among Optica Women Scholars to receive a generous award and international mentorship.

Masters engineering candidate, Alice Drozdov, part of the inaugural class of the Optica Women Scholars

Alice Drozdov, a Masters candidate at the Wits Optical Communication Lab in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering is part of the first cohort of female students described as exceptionally talented in the field of optics, a field in engineering where women are even more scarce than in other engineering fields. The top 20 students were announced by the Optica Foundation located in the United States and will each receive approximately R160 000 and mentorship from experts in the field.

Launched in January 2022, the scholarship seeks to empower and recognise the next generation of female leaders who study light science and technology. More than 160 applications from 36 countries were submitted to the Foundation.

Selection committee member and former president of Optica, Janet Fender, has expressed her delight at the caliber of applicants and her confidence in the class of 2022.  

“When I came up in the world of optics, women peers and role models were rare. I was thrilled to see the outstanding applicants for this program. These scholars will be peers to each other and mentors to the generation coming next,” says Fender.

The excited Drozdov wants to maximise on the opportunities ahead as she expands her knowledge. Prior to the scholarship, Drozdov was selected to attend the Subsea Fibre Optical Communication School from 10 to 16 July 2022.

Drozdov already has three articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and her Masters research is titled Modal Diversity for Long-Range Wireless Optical Communication and seeks ways in which to improve the reliability of wireless optical systems.

“In a nutshell, I am researching a method that will assist in mitigating the effects of atmospheric turbulence (the reason why stars twinkle) on a laser beam.”

Studies into the behaviour of light are critical, especially in high-tech communications and the health sectors, among other places.

Her supervisor, Dr Mitchell Cox who is the co-founder and principal investigator at the Wits Optical Communication Lab, the site of the innovative work, explains that Alice’s leading-edge research uses unique patterns of light (called optical modes) to improve the range and reliability of optical links. “In principle, one day we could simply manufacture special pieces of glass which are used to create and detect these special patterns. Imagine making an existing wireless optical communication system better by simply adding a small piece of holographic glass?”

Their vision is to facilitate a digitally inclusive smart future using wireless optical technology. In many places around the world existing connectivity is not fast, reliable, or cheap enough to sustain online activities that many of us take for granted. “We are researching and developing long-range wireless optical technology which we hope will help bridge the digital divide in situations where existing technologies like fibre are not currently viable.”

The digital divide is not their only driver. “Future 5G and 6G installations will require a massive increase in infrastructure, and fibre is often expensive to install, especially in cities where it isn’t already present. This is an opportunity for ‘fibre, without the fibre’,” concludes Mitchell.

Drozdov is preparing for this future and is active in recruiting young people into the field. She is part of the Wits Optics Student Chapter that aims to spread awareness about science, and more specifically optics. As the social media manager, she curates content disseminated via their channels. She was one of the coordinators of the 2021 Wits EIE Women’s Conference. As an undergraduate student she worked as a laboratory assistant during vacation work and assisted in designing a mirror that moves according to the deflection of a laser beam. As a Masters student, she is a teaching assistant tutoring second and third years in her stream.

Although she has a packed schedule, she enjoys orienteering and has won two contemporary dance competition with her friends.

Instagram handles: @WitsOptics and @WitsOCLab