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Drawing arts investment in a WAM world

- Wits University

There were splashes of colour, champagne and canapés, glitz and glam at the Wits Art Museum soirée ahead of the SA premier of Oh to Believe in Another World.

The star-studded cast of Joburg’s glitterati and Wits alumni included world-renowned artist William Kentridge, who is director of the film Oh to Believe in Another World; Comrades Marathon legend Bruce Fordyce; entrepreneur extraordinaire, Reeva Forman; and Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Dr Mpho Phalatse, amongst others.

Wits VC Prof Zeblon Vilakazi left with Joburg mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse centre and Mrs Mary Vilakazi right

“It was 1995 when I was first introduced to Wits University when I came here from Pretoria, trying to be an engineer – a big mistake! I wasted two years of my life but I must say that in those two years, I enjoyed every part of the University – student life was great!” said the mayor, who subsequently earned a medical degree at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in 2005.

The former Sunnyside resident recalled visiting The Wits Theatre in the 1990s and watching Wits arts students perform – some of whom are today amongst the biggest arts icons and legends in this country.

“I remember 1995 at the Freshers’ Ball the first time I heard the legendary Thandiswa Mazwai sing – I think she stayed at Jubilee, just across from Sunnyside – and look at her today; another big name in the arts in South Africa. Wits University has really produced and invested in the arts over the years,” said Phalatse.

“The last thing I’d like to share about my experience of the arts while I was a Witsie is the annual RAG procession that used to go through Johannesburg – I don’t know if we still have it? I haven’t seen it for a while – but that was an all-time favourite for all of us Witsies.”

The #Wits100 Centenary Campaign, which aims to raise R3 billion for research and innovation, infrastructure, teaching and learning in the University's centennial year, culminates in a Homecoming Weekend at Wits for alumni, staff, students and the Johannesburg public from 2 to 4 September 2022. The Homecoming Weekend programme includes a float and parade through Braamfontein.

Wits, WAM, Joburg and Kentridge

Wits VC Prof Zeblon Vilakazi with artist and alumnus William Kentridge at WAM July 2022

WAM celebrates its first decade in 2022 in concert with Wits’ centenary and the South African premier of Oh to Believe in Another World. The film itself spans the 1920s through 1950s and is a masterful production of film, puppetry, performing arts, and music that reimagines the lives and loves of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich during the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was Shostakovich's 10th Symphony that was the impetus for Kentridge’s celluloid interpretation.

Russians, rebels and Africans

The Russian Revolution more than 100 years ago gives Kentridge’s film historical and temporal context. This both enables immersion in a Soviet epoch arcane to Africa and provokes reflection on a Brave New World a century later. Similarly, Wits University in its centenary year, in a post-pandemic, politically tumultuous and socio-economically devastated South Africa, imagines and believes in another, better, world.

Addressing the 150 guests at WAM and later at the Wits Linder Auditorium, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said: “Just as William Kentridge draws us from the outside into a new realm, navigating through complexity, interacting and intersecting with different periods, places and people, imagine if we could, for just one moment, believe in another world? A more equal world filled with hope and possibility. A world in which the arts are treasured and curated for the benefit of future generations. A world in which education and innovation is properly valued and funded.  Imagine if we could make this our new reality? As we turn 100, we are reimagining the future of Wits University, and the future of our society, and we invite you to walk this journey with us.”

Wits VC Zeblon Vilakazi at Wits Linder Auditorium for SA premier of Oh to Believe in Another Word

The South African premier of Oh to Believe in Another World, at the Wits Linder Auditorium on 27 July 2022 after the WAM VIP cocktail event, was Kentridge’s gift to his alma mater and his city, both of with which he has enduring ties.

“I do want to say one thing about the idea that I am gifting this to Wits and to you,”  Kentridge told guests at WAM. “I see it completely the other way round. I see it as a fantastic chance for the work that we’ve made – and there’s been a big team of us of; editors, filmmakers, actors, dancers – who’ve been part of making this Shostakovich project, which would be shown in Europe. So to have the chance to actually show it at home … it feels [like] a gift you are giving me. So thank you for the generosity of that gift to enable us to see it here.”

In addition to premiering Oh to Believe in Another World as a Wits centenary event, Kentridge has also donated an edition of his prints for sale, the proceeds of which will go towards deserving Wits art students.

Coal mining by-product may offer building solution

- Wits University

Recipient of the DAAD grant scholarship is currently in Germany testing engineering ideas behind his research.

2021 winner of the Daad Scholarship Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe

Coal is the primary source of energy in South Africa and is also used in the chemical and steel industries. However useful it maybe, coal mining companies and related sectors have to deal with the disposal problem of coal waste, an uneconomic by-product.

A Wits PhD chemical engineering candidate is investigating how coal waste combined with preceramic polymer resin can be used to produce conventional building materials like roof tiles. 

Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe, who is in his second year of PhD studies says that ‘the environmental concerns of coal waste and the exciting and interdisciplinary nature of the research led to the selection this area of research.”

According to a report by the Department of Energy, coal constitutes approximately 72% of the country’s energy supply, and is mostly used for power generation. Thus, the waste generated during this process is significant and holds great potential.

Local and International supervision

Eterigho-Ikelegbe is currently in Germany to research polymer resin material, an important product which can be used to bind and harness coal waste to produce conventional building material.

The aim of his research is to find a suitable ratio of coal waste and preceramic polymer resin to produce structural/building composites that maintains the strength and durability of conventional building materials.

“If this research is successful, it could significantly impact the SA coal industry and society as using coal waste in place of virgin raw materials would lead to energy savings, job creation, and resource conservation,’ he says.

Eterigho-Ikelegbe’s academic sojourn is courtesy of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) grant scholarship, also known as the German Academic Exchange Service. The scholarship provides grant support for outstanding students, globally, to conduct their research in collaboration with a state-recognised institution of higher education or a non-university research institute in Germany. Applications for 2022 are now open.

He is currently a visiting student in the Materials and Earth Sciences Department at the Technische Universität Darmstadt (TUD) a public research university in Darmstadt.

International exchanges are the way to go

TUD is a perfect fit as preceramic polymer resins is well researched in the country, says Eterigho-Ikelegbe.

“I believe that my supervisors’ [at TUD] extensive experience in the area of my research will no doubt have a profound effect on the robustness of my doctoral thesis,” he says.

Eterigho-Ikelegbe also believes that this research opportunity will propel his career in the future, saying that during his time at TUD, he is expected to publish his findings in peer-reviewed journals and present at a conference.

Apart from advancing his research career, Eterigho-Ikelegbe has a passion for helping his peers excel in their postgraduate studies. “On my return [to South Africa], I hope to facilitate DAAD bootcamps to assist other researchers and scholars secure DAAD scholarship grant.”  “I am [also] keen on building solid collaborations with other researchers locally and internationally.”

More than anything, Eterigho-Ikelegbe is proud to represent Wits University internationally.

“I consider myself a ‘proud Witsie’ because of the opportunities that enrolling for a research degree at Wits has exposed me to,” he says. “I have received invaluable training and mentorship from my Wits supervisors, past and present.”

He also encourages students to take the leap and apply for the DAAD scholarship grant programmes. He says that a major benefit to the DAAD scholarship grant is that one can apply for it at any stage of one’s research career (masters, PhD, and postdoctoral), giving students ample time and opportunity to prepare their application.

“My advice for students is to seek such opportunities to advance themselves.”

A key message that Eterigho-Ikelegbe wants to leave students is to never let fear keep them from doing anything.

“Never be afraid to take on global opportunities,” he says. “Do not sell yourself short, just go for it.”

Wits University has a variety of student exchange agreements with international partner institutions. Students are encouraged to spend part of their studies and/or research abroad as this is essential in producing competitive graduates and the internationalisation of education. The University, as a top ranked University globally, also plays host to hundreds of inbound students from other universities, attracted to the University by its academic and research profile. Both outbound and inbound exchanges are facilitated by the Wits International Students Office.

Wits Centenary promotes community partnerships

- Wits University

The Wits community joined hands with NGOs in Tembisa township to clean the Kaalspruit tributary, a feeder to the Hennops river.

The waste, big and small including microparticles journeys from the Kaalspruit river in Tembisa into the Hennops river - the pride of Gauteng, and continues to flow downstream to meet the Crocodile river in Limpopo province before finally resting at Haarties Dam in the North West province. Although seemingly insignificant, the troubles at the Kaalspruit river have a much bigger impact on the health of rivers in three provinces, and thus this seemingly small river upstream cannot be ignored in efforts to clean rivers in tourist attractions and affluent areas.

It was with this in mind that Wits researchers and students working on the Hennops river basin embarked on a campaign to partner with communities located along the feeder rivers of the Hennops to address the accumulating challenges of the basin.

On 15 July 2022 ahead of Mandela Day, staff and students travelled to Tembisa where they met with communities to clean the Kaalspruit. The outreach conceptualised as a Wits Centenary event and highlights the linkages between research and communities as well as the collaborative spirit required in effecting change.

Initiated by the School of Chemistry, the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, the Wits Global Change Institute, the operation is part of a larger project titled A combination of chemical analysis and stakeholder engagement in solving the Hennops river pollution. The project is sponsored by the Water Research Commission of South Africa and is led by Prof. Luke Chimuka, Prof. Mulala Simatele, Dr Heidi Richards who are assisted by their PhD student Lucien James and masters student Thabiso Letseka.

Speaking about the factors that contribute to polluted rivers, Prof. Simatele says he is hopeful that issues of waste management that plague the area will be resolved by stakeholders, especially the municipality. 

“If they are not there to take waste away, people see the river flowing and believe that the river will take their waste away. But the river is a living element and can be overwhelmed and this is exactly what is happening to the rivers.  The municipality needs to rethink their service provision model,” says Sitamele.

The Kaalspruit runs between an informal settlement and an established township.

"We hope that our initiatives will continue in the area, hopefully leading to the improvement of environmental condition. Furthermore, the improvement of the Kaalspruit’s condition will hopefully help the entire basin, now being less polluted."


Mind-blown by interactive brain experiences 

- Wits University

A showcase of local neuroscience talent was on display by Wits NeuRL and collaborators at the recent #Wits100 event.

On 29 July, the Wits Neuroscience Research Lab (NeuRL) based in the School of Human and Community Development hosted an interactive experience of the brain and behaviour.

Wits NeuRL interactive and immersive showcase of multidisciplinary local neuroscience talent at Wits Centenary Event

[Click here for all the event photographs by Dr Joshua Davimes, Lecturer in the School of Anatomical Sciences].

Students and early career researchers in Psychology, Engineering, the RAIL (Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence and Learning) lab in Computer Science, and the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) led the initiative to highlight the interdisciplinarity of the brain sciences in Wits’ centenary year.

Over 100 attendees engaged in cognitive neuroscience tasks on creativity, working memory and verbal fluency. They tried digital neuropsychological assessments, explored visual consciousness illusions, and discovered pioneering research on neuroanatomy, epilepsy, implicit prejudice, and social-emotional processes in early childhood development.

Wits NeuRL interactive and immersive showcase of multidisciplinary local neuroscience talent at Wits Centenary Event

However, the science communication event was not limited to students and researchers – families and the public also participated! Exhibitors of all ages played with RAIL lab’s robot dog and experienced virtual reality in the main programme’s exhibition.

Robodog at Wits NeuRL Wits centenary neuroscience and brain event

“It was really special to celebrate this historic time for Wits by looking at the future of the brain sciences, with students and emerging researches really driving its success. It was equally special having our families there, watching our children and loved ones come together to learn and celebrate science, and Wits of course!” says co-organizer, Dr Sahba Besharati, a neuropsychologist and Senior Lecturer in cognitive neuroscience in the Department of Psychology and co-Director of wits NeuRL.

Dr Sahba Besharati Co Director Wits NeuRL right and family at the NeuRL centenary event

Dedicated to the late Dr Ian McKay and in collaboration with the Origins Centre, the parallel junior programme explored brain anatomy and evolution with playdough and 3D printed brains, stone tools, bones and artefacts.

New frontiers in the brain imaging sciences were also on display in the new electrophysiological (EEG) lab housed at the Department of Psychology and recent advances in optical neuroimaging were exhibited with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

In celebrating 100 years of excellence at Wits, this centenary event made science and the brain fascinating and fun for the whole family!

How we can sustain all life forms

- Wits University

Repairing Earth as a whole, together, is a precondition for human durability.

As part of Wits University’s focus on the intersection of climate change, sustainability and inequality, the first presentation in a seminar series was launched, with the internationally-acclaimed scholar Professor Achille Mbembe delivering his address: Notes on planetary habitability.

In opening the seminar, Professor Imraan Valodia, the new Pro-Vice Chancellor: Climate Change, Sustainability and Inequality, conveyed the importance of such an academic enquiry. “Society is at a precipice and the pathways we have chosen in the past two centuries have resulted in critical ecosystem losses and seemingly intractable levels of poverty and inequality. The question is, what can Wits do? Part of it is rigorous academic enquiry. We have leveraged the university’s intellectual capabilities and so present this series of lectures in partnership with the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WiSER) and Future Ecosystems for Africa.”

Professor Achille Mbembe

In his keynote address, Mbembe explained that the philosophical and existential questions posed about planetary habitability, are far from abstract, and cut across academic disciplines and Faculties. Scientists and humanists alike are grappling with the concept of habitability. “What conditions are favourable to life? How do these conditions come to be? Critically, how can they be harnessed, maintained and reproduce in such a way that sustains all life forms?”

He added that planetary equilibrium has been disrupted to such an extent that climate change is a political question, and one of social justice.

“We have, myopically, taken for granted our grounded existence on earth. We have assumed that the earth is entirely at our service and disposal. Hence, many crucial resources have been exhausted. Why did the earth become to be considered in such a narrow way,” asked Mbembe. 

He referred to the centrality of the natural world in African cosmology for example, and respect for the earth as ancient and working on “deep time,” which suggests the slow and considered evolution of life on earth.

“We have all finally come to the realisation that there needs to be a significant adjustment to how we conduct our lives and to acknowledge that parts of the world will be entirely inhospitable to humans,” said Mbembe. He said that every person needs to ask themselves how they can share the earth among themselves and other complex life forms. “We can’t waste time with the usual partitioning and divisions. Repairing it as a whole, together, is a precondition for human durability.”

Mbembe called this reconstitution of the earth an “opportunity for biosymbiosis.”

Professor Achille Mbembe delivers the first Climate Change and Sustainability lecture

Planet-centered thinking and Life Futures

There is a new field of enquiry emerging under the broad theme of “Life Futures” which, encouragingly, have brought academics together and out of siloed thinking.

“For a long time the human race has been concerned with how life emerges and the conditions of its evolution and resilience. We know from this that life has the ability to reproduce itself and in most instances is self-sustaining. Remarkably, there are abundant organisms that are able to survive in what would be incompatible to human life.”

Mbembe explained that we are living in a very specific moment in which relationships across species and systems are being reorganised. He said that histories are colliding, and that human and earth histories are now indivisible. “It’s a clash of temporalities. Terrestrial time and our time now fold into one another. They are entangled in rhythm and pace. Our bodies as well as the body of the earth are intermingled in ways we have never really analysed before,” he said.

Climate change is a major event calling for renewed intellectual investments and new research.  

“The core question must therefore be framed in terms of how complex life can be sustained and shared. Critically we move beyond asking how life emerges. The question is, how does it end?”   

Wits Business School’s huge turnaround

- Financial Mail

All the new registered programmes offer active learning, says Director.

The days of false dawns for Wits Business School are over, says Director Maurice Radebe.  The brand image has been burnished, the school is helping shape important debates, student numbers are up and major corporates are returning to the fold for executive education. “This time we’re really back,” he says.

When he joined Wits last year, the former Sasol executive was tasked with returning the school to its old position of eminence. Some predecessors had begun the process but it needed to accelerate. Progress had to be visible.

Radebe says that is being achieved. “By revisiting our strategy and repositioning the brand, we can see the results. It’s been an eye-opener. It’s about execution and implementation.

Read the full article on Financial Mail.

Wits scientists launch book about Africa’s largest and longest running birth cohort

- City Press

The study tracks the lives of 3 000 people born in South Africa in the early 1990s and affectionately known as "Mandela's Children".

Over half of the women who had been part of Africa’s largest and longest-running birth cohort study felt overwhelmed by debt and reported intimate partner violence and depression compared to their mothers.

This has been revealed in a book titled Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country we Wanted to Create written by Professor Linda Richter, director of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Richter, one of the founders of the Bt30 study as it is known, launched the book on Friday for the academics at the Origins Centre in Wits and on Saturday, hosted an event to thank the participants at Jabulani Sports Complex in Soweto.

Read the full article on City Press.

Hand-up, not handout

- Wits University

Voices of affirmation encourage students as Wits celebrates partnership with Tiger Brands.

Calvin Ubisi

“I remember when I left home to start my studies, I only had R60 tied to a handkerchief. I did not know anyone where I was going or what I would stay,” said Mary Jane Morifi.

This is the memory of Mary Jane Morifi, of her financial situation as she embarked on her studies. Morifi made the long bus drive from Pretoria to Cape Town with fear and hope that she would be okay. However, upon reaching her destination, terror gripped her as she spent two days at the bus station. Lucky for her, a stranger with good intentions finally took notice and assisted her.

Her experience, although it happened in 1982, is still a reality for many South Africans who are first in their family to go to University and venturing into unknown territory.

Morifi, the Chief of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Tiger Brands, shared her story with students who are beneficiaries of the Wits Food Bank managed by the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach Office.

Attuned to the stigma associated with receiving support and being regarded as poor, Morifi called on the student not to look at the support as handout but as a “hand-up” on their way to becoming.

(l-r) Karuna Singh (WCCO: Senior Student Dev Proj Officer), Tshegofatso Mogaladi (Deputy Dean of Student Affairs), Mary Jane Morifi (Chief of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, Tiger Brand) and Peter Bezuidenhoudt (Director: Wits Development Office)

Tiger Brands is one of the anchor sponsors of the Wits Food Bank which supports more than 3000 students with a range of food hampers and provides a daily hot meal.

Morifi spent the day on campus along with teams from Tiger Brands. The teams consisting of professionals from various departments also interacted with students sharing practical advice about the working world and career paths. The day also included packing food hampers for the Food Bank.

Masters student Emma MbedziEmma Mbedzi, a Masters student in Biological Medicine says the Wits Food Bank is a lifeline to her. Mbedzi was without financial support when she started her honours degree as there are only a few sponsors who fund postgraduate studies. As a result, many students with aspirations to study beyond the first degree find themselves in predicament.

Having lost her mother at a young age, Mbedzi knew that her grandfather’s pension was not an option, as it was barely enough to sustain the family. So, she turned to the Wits Food Bank.

After seeing the need, Mbedzi is now a volunteer and is up early to open the doors of the Bank and to serve students coming in to grab bread before going to class.

“I know the struggle, so I am happy to be here even on cold winter days when it’s hard to get out of bed,” she says.

Another student volunteer Cavin Ubisi was introduced to the Food Bank by a friend who was using the bank in 2019.

“At the time I was an outsider and did not fully appreciate what’s going on here,” he says.

In his third year he moved out of Res and no longer had sufficient funds to afford all the necessities and turned to the Food Bank.

For him, volunteering is a way of giving back and believes this is now his way of life.

“Most people think you need to make it big in order to give. You don’t need much, just time,” says Ubisi who is pursuing his honours in quantity surveying.

The Food Bank seeks to provide support with dignity to students in need and entrench the spirit of kindness.

A hand-up, not a hand out is a mindset that is propelling students forward as they transition to a better future, shaping others in the process.

New Deputy Vice-Chancellor: People Development and Culture appointed

- Wits University

Professor Garth Stevens will oversee Human Resources, Transformation and Employment Equity, the Disability Rights Unit and other related units.

Professor Garth Stevens, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: People Development and Culture

Professor Stevens' appointment was approved by Council late last week following it being tabled at the Senate and the University Forum.

He will occupy this reconfigured post as Deputy-Vice Chancellor: People Development and Culture. The post seeks to address the current and future challenges related to people development and institutional culture at the University. He will also aim to address the intersection between technology, transformation, diversity and inclusion within the South African higher education context.

He will oversee Human Resources, Transformation and Employment Equity, the Disability Rights Unit and other units which fall within the broader equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice portfolios. You are welcome to read his statement of intent and view his full curriculum vitae on the intranet. He will take up the post from 1 January 2023 for a period of five years.

Professor Stevens currently serves as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, a position that he has held for almost four years. He has previously held the positions of Acting Dean, Deputy Dean, Co-Assistant Dean (Graduate Studies), and Assistant Dean (Research) in the Faculty. Prior to joining Wits in 2006, he lectured at the University of the Western Cape in the Psychology Department, conducted research at the University of South Africa’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences, and worked as a researcher on the Medical Research Council-UNISA’s co-directed Crime, Violence and Injury Lead Programme. 

A clinical psychologist by training, Garth is also a Professor of Psychology and is the Past- President of the Psychological Society of South Africa. He is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and held a B-rating from the National Research Foundation in his last review period. 

His enduring research interests include foci on race, racism and related social asymmetries, historical/collective trauma and memory, and critical studies of violence. He was the co-lead researcher on the Apartheid Archive Project, examining experiences of racism during apartheid and their continuing effects in contemporary South Africa. Professor Stevens is also the co-lead researcher on the Violent States, States of Violence Project, which re-engages a theorisation of violence in the contemporary world.

"On behalf of the Senior Executive Team, we wish Professor Stevens success in his new position, and look forward to working with him in this role. The search process for a new Dean of the Faculty of Humanities will be initiated soon," says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

1575 book titles in 100 years

- Wits University

Wits University Press is the oldest university press in South Africa and celebrates its centenary in 2022.

Wits Press hosted a champagne and canapés centenary soirée at the Wits Club on 25 August, at which one of its latest publication, Wits at 100: From excavation to innovation, was revealed.

A veritable Who’s Who of scholarship, academia, and publishing, around 120 people attended the Wits University Press centenary celebration.

A twitter of literati

Distinguished guests from Wits included Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal; Dr Daisy Selematsela, Head of Wits Libraries; Wits authors including Professors Susan Booysen, Marcus Byrne, Nicky Falkof, Khwezi Mkhize, Hlonipha Mokoena, and Amanda Esterhuysen, amongst others.

Partners in publishing who attended included Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Executive Director of the Public Affairs Research Institute; Christo De Klerk, Vice-President of BlindSA; Samukelisiwe Mfuphi, National Coordinator of the Academic and Non Fiction Authors Association of South Africa; Sarah Mosoetsa of the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences; Mpuka Radinku, Executive Director of the Publishers Association of South Africa; and Lazarus Serobe, MD of the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation, amongst others.

A Press for a research-intensive University

Chairman of the Wits Press Board and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Professor Garth Stevens, was Master of Ceremonies:

“Over the last decade I’ve been inspired to see how Wits University Press has evolved and adapted to changes in the higher education sector, to changes in technology, and in the knowledge project broadly. And it has been fantastic to watch how they have engaged in debates on decolonisation and decoloniality and what it means to be a publisher in a research-intensive university today, and championed the importance of supporting a university press at a top-tier institution such as Wits,” said Stevens.

Wits Press Publisher, Veronica Klipp, regaled guests with archival anecdotes of Wits Press’s origins and trajectory over a century.

Quoting the late Professor Bruce Murray, who wrote two official monographs of the history of the University and who, in Wits: The Open Years, A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1939–1959, wrote: “While a small-scale, under-funded operation, WUP [Wits University Press] was none the less responsible for a series of important publications.”

 Klipp said, “This is a rather underwhelming assessment, given that the Press had published more than 1000 titles in its first seventy-five years, but it is probably an accurate reflection of its activities at that time.”

That time, a century ago, at the first ordinary Senate meeting on 27 March 1922, a proposal for the establishment of the University of the Witwatersrand Press was approved. A publications committee was set up to oversee its activities and to assess the academic merit of submitted manuscripts.

The primary function of WUP was “to make available in printed form the research work and scholarly or scientific writings of members of staff”.

Just as mining is integral to Wits University, so too did it permeate early publishing. The first book publication carrying the imprint of the Wits Press was The National Resources of South Africa by Wits Professor of Economics, RA Lehfeldt.

“The School of Mines and Technology and the Witwatersrand Council of Education had already been publishing what we’d consider to be scholarly books,” said Klipp. “In 2021 we sold books to 31 countries. In short, the publication of quality local research for a global audience remains a key principle driving the Press today. By the end of this year we will have published 1575 titles. We hope to publish many more important books in Wits Press’ next century,” said Klipp.

Wits University at 100: From excavation to innovation

Similarly, Wits University’s centenary book published by Wits Press and titled Wits University at 100: From excavation to innovation, is a nod to the University’s deeply entrenched roots in mining and in Johannesburg.

The book, unveiled for the first time at Wits Press’ centenary event, outlines the University’s origins as the South African School of Mines, which was established in Kimberley in 1896 and transferred to Johannesburg as the Transvaal Technical Institute in 1904. The Institute became the Transvaal University College in 1906 and was renamed the South African School of Mines and Technology four years later. Full university status was granted in 1922, incorporating the College as the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 

Wits University at 100: From Excavation to Innovation captures important moments of Wits’ story in celebration of the University’s centenary in 2022. It explores Wits’ origins, the space and place that it occupies in society, and its innovation agenda for its next century.

Furthermore, in September 2022, Wits Press will republish Murray’s two monographs: Wits: The Early Years, A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1896–1939, first published in 1982, and Wits: The Open Years, A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1939–1959, first published in 1997.

A Press that embodies the lifeblood of Wits

Eminent author and Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing in the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits, Ivan Vladislavić delivered the keynote address.

The author of The Restless Supermarket, which won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2002, said: “These past few weeks, I have been time-travelling in the Wits University Press archive. It is a collective memory of a sort, incomplete and inconsistent, as memories usually are, but full of interesting things.”

Although Vladislavić is not a Wits Press author, he found in the archives the publications that he has edited for the Press over the years.

“The 1 500 titles on the list, chosen for publication by many different people in very different eras, provide a sample of the ideas that have preoccupied the scholars associated with Wits since its founding, what they thought, argued, discovered or disputed,” he said.

“They also show what the University press, and to some extent the University itself, thought worth preserving and communicating to the world; and more broadly what the society valued or discounted.”

Vladislavić said that his archival time-travelling suggested that Wits Press publication output peaked in the 1970s and 80s, when no fewer than 770 titles appeared – more than half the total to date.

“The focus of the publishing in these prolific decades – according to my quick survey – was on Geology and Hydrology – reminders of the origins of the University and of Johannesburg itself.”

Vladislavić concluded: “Wits Press is very much part of the local publishing industry … It publishes for both the local and the global markets, and for many years has taken on authors from beyond the University and the country. It now produces 20 to 25 titles a year, many of them in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In recent years, the focal points have been gender, psychology, decolonization, and the politics of knowledge generally. Wits Press embodies the critical reflection and exchange that are the lifeblood of the University.”

Wits Press Fun Firsts

Did you know?

  • The first black author published by WUP was the Reverend John Henderson Soga, whose book The South Eastern Bantu, first appeared in English in 1930.
  • The first book by a woman was Maria Breyer Brandwijk’s On the phytochemistry of some South African poisonous and medicinal plants in 1938, followed in 1947 by the anthropologist Hilda Kuper’s The Uniform of Colour. (Kuper is referred to as a ‘Sometime lecturer’ on the title page as married women were not allowed to have permanent appointments).
  • Author BW Vilakazi was the first black teaching staff to be appointed at Wits, though only as ‘language assistant’ and not as lecturer – even after becoming the first black person to attain a DLitt degree in 1947. Vilakazi’s second book, Amal e’Zulu, is considered one of the top 100 African books of the twentieth century, and it became one of the Press’ top sellers in the apartheid era as a set work in schools, with 96 000 units printed between 1945 and 1980.
  • The first book was printed in Braille in 1950. This was an extract from the Satyricon translated by GJ Acheson. 

Arts and science collide to transform the Great Hall in light show extravaganza

- Wits University

The #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show on 2 September at 7pm on the Great Hall façade will reflect, create, improvise, and imagine Wits’ stories.

Visible Resonance is a multimedia activation on the façade of Wits’ Great Hall to mark the University’s centenary at the Homecoming Weekend on campus from 2-4 September 2022.

It's free. All welcome. No booking required. Simply turn up at the Great Hall Piazza and listen for the drums to summon you!

The #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show combines light projection and animation technology, improvised dance, theatrics, percussion and real time artistry to deliver a dynamic and poetic reading of the University’s past, present and future.

This multimedia extravaganza by Marcus Neustetter, The Trinity Session and OMAi, in collaboration with various participating artists, Harmonics, B&S Sound, the Wits Choir, the Wits Department of Theatre and Performance, and you, is an improvised, interactive, euphoric, and entrancing experience for everyone! 

The Visible Resonance Light Show is a series of improvised sets that take the creative energy of the studio into the public Piazza, and presents the raw makings of new futures through encounters across different disciplines, technologies, and visions. The public can expect multi-layered images of various textures, historical and imagined stories,” says Neustetter.

The Light show will also be livestreamed on Wits University’s YouTube at 19:00 on Friday, 2 September 2022. 

City resonance

A Wits Fine Arts alumnus, Marcus Neustetter is a cultural activist and producer entrenched in Johannesburg. His multidisciplinary approach features the production of art at its intersection with science and technology, and includes site specific installations, mobile and virtual interventions, and socially engaged projects worldwide.

Neustetter and fellow Wits alumnus, Stephen Hobbs, established The Trinity Session in 2001. The Trinity Session makes art in complex, social-public situations; where the dynamics of context, site, available resources, and creative solutions converge to create unique artistic conditions and opportunities.

The Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show features interactive performances by the Wits Theatre and Performance Department

It’s no accident that the Wits Great Hall is the site of the #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show. The University, too, is as much a part of Johannesburg as is gold mining and civil activism. Similarly, Neustetter and his contemporary art production team The Trinity Session, are defined by exchanges with the City of Gold in relation to Africa.

“The Trinity Session team Johannesburg has always served as a catalytic reference point for how to think beyond the often conventional structures of the art world, and to forge new relationships across disciplines in search of change. Wits University is an important anchor in the city and the site of innovative diverse practices. The Great Hall façade is therefore perfect to host this visualisation of a collaborative journey into the unknown,” says Neustetter.

Innovative art and tech

It is at the #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show that context, site, creativity – and technology – combine to illuminate Wits’ history while improvising imagined futures.

“In the context of the ‘moonshot moment’ that Wits Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vilakazi referred to, the Visible Resonance Light Show reflects the University’s research innovations and aspirations, while remaining rooted in the locally relevant change-making that binds us to the underlying networks on earth,” says Neustetter, whom the Wits Advancement Division commissioned specifically for this aspect of the Centenary Campaign.

To prepare for the light show and in pursuit of a common artistic language, The Trinity Session and OMAi explored various relevant sites. These sites at Wits included the Structured Light Laboratory in the School of Physics, the Origins Centre, the Cradle of Humankind, the Planetarium, and the Wits Art Museum. In the city, content has been sourced from change-making community projects in Noordgesig, Soweto, and growing-and-greening projects in Orchards.

The Wits Visible Resonance Light Show by Marcus Neustetter, The Trinity Session and OMAi features various performing artists, drummers, Wits Theatre and Performance

Neustetter explains: “We have proactively gathered meaning and inspiration from different contexts and we have tested locally relevant form and content. Using the Tagtool app, we are able to respond immediately and build on our personal practices and research areas through intuitive mark-making and collective projection. The process and tool are both experimental in nature and thus become the perfect media for our final expressions on the Great Hall façade.”

Tagtool is a light drawing app invented by artist group, OMAi [Office for Media and Arts Innovation], which enables the user to paint and animate in real time. The app transforms interconnected iPads into collaborative visual live instruments that enable painting with light, creating animated artworks and images, and telling improvised stories.

OMAi’s participation in the Visible Resonance Light Show is supported by the Embassy of Austria.

Watch a video of what the Tagtool app can do, ahead of experiencing it visually and aurally enhanced and at scale on the façade of the Great Hall. The basic version of Tagtool is free.

Illuminating networks

“Tapping into The Trinity Session’s current responses to today’s complex conditions and potential future crises, the Visible Resonance Light Show encourages artists and collaborators to reflect on tensions in the urban and natural environment, and social and natural [mycelium] networks, towards co-production and innovation in cross-disciplinary practice,” says Neustetter.

Indeed, research at Wits in the 21st Century is increasingly cross-disciplinary and multifaceted. Research practice today frequently straddles STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] to integrate with the arts as STEAM. The 2018 Watershed exhibition, in which Neustetter participated, is one such example.

More recently, photonics and optics research at Wits has illuminated how data can be transferred via light. Professor Andrew Forbes heads up the Structured Light Laboratory, which hosts a laser show in the foyer of the Physics Building at the Homecoming Weekend on 2 September at 18:00.

Travelling at the speed of light, one would encounter a black hole in our galaxy, the first image of which Wits Professor Roger Deane helped photograph. This image was revealed to the world in May this year, at a global simultaneous press conference at the Wits Planetarium – which is freely accessible over the Homecoming Weekend – and ahead of its reimagining as a Digital Dome in Wits’ centenary year.

All images by OMAi.

Wits invites public onto campus to join centenary celebrations

- Wits University

Wits marks its 100th birthday with jam-packed Homecoming Weekend.

Brass band

The University of the Witwatersrand is celebrating its centenary this coming weekend, 2- 4 September 2022, by offering the public a chance to experience its treasures, places of interest and art performances.

The Wits Homecoming Weekend will be a buzz with a variety of entertainment for young and old, including exhibitions, film screenings, musical and theatre performances, a park run, campus tours, food and drink stalls, an arts and crafts market and much more.

As the institution marks its 100th anniversary, it is also opening all Wits museums free to the public to experience the vast collections and some hidden treasures.


Arts and crafts

Rosebank Market will be part of the celebrations with over 100 arts and crafts traders as well as food vendors where revellers can purchase decadent and tasty treats, unusual antiques, organic fruit and veggie, original clothing, and an assortment of handmade arts and crafts.

  • Date: 3 September 2022
  • Times: All day
  • Venue: Hall 29, Braamfontein Campus West

Kids, tweens and teens

Yebo Gogga Yebo amaBlomo exhibition returns after the pandemic put this much-loved annual exhibition on hold. This free interactive science exhibition is for anyone who fancies racing cockroaches, sampling mopane worm pizzas, and experiencing fauna and flora, creepy crawlies.

  • Date: Friday and Saturday (3 and 4 September 2022)
  • Time: 08:30 – 15:00 (Friday) and 08:30 – 16:00 (Saturday)
  • Venue: Oppenheimer Life Science Building, Braamfontein Campus East

Family fun

#Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show will be an extravaganza where arts and science meet wizardry and imagination fuses with music and dance. This multimedia extravaganza by Marcus Neustetter, The Trinity Session and OMAi, in collaboration with various participating artists, Harmonics, B&S Sound, the Wits Choir, the Wits Department of Theatre and Performance, and you, is an improvised, interactive, euphoric, and entrancing experience for everyone! Find out more.

Bring your own picnic basket to enjoy under the Joburg sky. Please note no alcohol or no glass will be allowed but there will be beverages on sale.

  • Date: Friday, 2 September 2022
  • Time: 19:00 – 21:00
  • Venue: The Piazza, Wits Great Hall, Braamfontein Campus East

Museums and exhibitions

The Adler Museum of Medicine offers an enlightening showcase on the history of medicine in southern Africa. The museum contains interesting and invaluable collections depicting the history of medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy through the ages.

  • Date: 2 – 4 September 2022
  • Time: Daily from 09:00 – 17:00 during Homecoming
  • Venue: The Adler Museum, Wits Medical School Campus, 7 York Road, Parktown Health Sciences Campus

Celebrate the history of modern mankind by visiting The Origins Centre and embark on guided tours of the 10 Centenary Objects Exhibition - a display of 10 iconic artefacts from Wits’ collection of the Earth Sciences Cluster as well as the Origins of early Sapien’s Behaviour Exhibition - a showcase of a unique archaeological discoveries that have been made at three sites. The exhibition presents the culmination of 30 years of archaeological research in the Southern Cape. Suitable for all ages.

  • Date: 2 – 4 September 2022
  • Time: Daily from 09:00 to 17:00
  • Venue: The Origins Centre, Braamfontein Campus East

A farewell and an exciting welcoming await those who visit The Digital Dome (previously Wits Planetarium) during Homecoming Weekend. Open to all, visitors will be able to say their final goodbye to the old Zeiss projector while getting a sense of what is to come with the future Wits Digital Dome. There will be live 10-min tours of the night sky on the hour with the old Zeiss projector; as well as a 5-min full-dome digital show played on repeat (approximately four shows per hour).

Music and arts 

Art lovers can indulge themselves with various exhibitions, musicals, shows and productions across Wits’ theatres and museums.

Wits100 Free People’s Concert is a throwback to the daring and defiant concert hosted by Wits University in 1971. Wits was one of the few venues in the country that allowed groups of mixed race to gather and reimagine a different South Africa. The 2022 concert caters for generations of South Africans from Mango Groove, Jesse Clegg to Big Zulu, Holly Rey, Samthing Soweto to name a few.

  • Date: 3 September 2022
  • Times: From 12:00 (Saturday afternoon) to 02:00 (Sunday morning)
  • Venue: Dig Fields, Braamfonteint Campus West
  • Tickets cost R100 and are available at webtickets.

The Wits Art Museum (WAM) hosts three art exhibition – Her eye on the storm, a tribute to photo activist Gisele Wulfsohn, Donna Kukama’s Away of remembering existing and WJK: In black and white by William Kentridge.

  • Dates: 2 – 4 September
  • Time: Daily from 10:00 to 16:00
  • Venue: WAM, corner of Bertha (extension of Jan Smuts Avenue) and Jorissen Streets, Braamfontein

The School of Arts hosts Gideon Nxumalo’s 60th Celebration of Jazz Fantasia presented by Mdu Mtshali. Nxumalo, was commissioned by Wits University to produce the album Jazz Fantasia which is widely regarded as a seminal South African jazz record. A musical genius, Nxumalo has been hailed is one of South Africa's greatest unsung musical and cultural heroes. The 45-minute performance features piano, bass, drums, saxophone, vocals and two special guests on horns.

  • Date: Sunday, 4 September 2022
  • Time: 14:00
  • Venue: The new Chris Seabrooke Music Hall, Braamfontein Campus East
  • The performance is free but seating is limited.

Drama for Life will launch the centenary conference series with productions like Morwa – The rising Sun, Playback theatre – My Memorable moments, Lerumo Badimong Spear in the land of the Gods. Free entry. Shows will be across different locations.

Sports, health and relaxation

The Wits campus has expansive lawns and beautiful gardens that aid fitness and relaxation.

Wits Park Run starts at 08:00 on Saturday, 3 September outside the Wits Club.

Yoga on the Lawns starts at 09:30 – 11:00 on the Wits Science Stadium Lawns.

The Wits Legends vs Orlando Pirates Legends game takes place at the Wits Football Stadium on Yale Road. Match starts at 11:00.

Rugby: Witsies are up against Germiston Simmers at 13:00 – 17:30 at the Wits Stadium. 

Netball: The Wits netball legends want to teach the Wits newbies donning their old jersey a thing or two about quick-steps. In a Wits Netball vs Wits Legends match starting at 09:00 to 12:00 at the Wits Bozzoli Netball Courts.

Welcome home, Witsies! Something for every generation at Homecoming Weekend

- Wits University

Wits University is as much a part of Johannesburg as is gold mining, and we are opening our gates to all to celebrate with us.

Wits Homecoming Weekend | 2 - 4 September 2022

Welcome message from Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal:

Welcome to Wits! Our University is a national treasure that occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of both Witsies who have walked these halls and friends of Wits all over the world. For 100 years the institution and its staff, students, and alumni have played an integral role in the development of the University, the City of Johannesburg, and our country, and have made a global impact ‘for good’. We are grateful to our alumni who have generously supported our vision to secure Wits’ place as one of the world’s great universities. They have contributed to mapping a bright future for this remarkable institution and to strengthening our impact. We also want to show you – the Joburg public – who we are, what we can achieve together, and the immense impact Wits has had in changing and shaping society for the better. 

“Join us on campus this weekend when we open our gates and invite all Wits communities and the public to our Homecoming Weekend festivities.”

Explore the different events and plan your weekend or visit the Wits Homecoming Website for more information.

Ke Nako! – It’s time to celebrate!

Wits Centenary Parade

The Wits Homecoming Weekend kicks off on Friday, 2 September at 1pm with a Wits Centenary Parade through Braamfontein. Reminiscent of the RAG floats and festive fundraiser of yore, the 2022 Remember and Give parade brings Witsies to the streets and Braamfontein neighbours to their sidewalks to rekindle the music, marching bands, mascots, and multitudes that make Wits and Braam city cousins.

Visible Resonance Light Show

#Wits100 Light Show

The #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show on Friday 2 September, 19:00 to 21:00, at the Great Hall Piazza, is an interactive multimedia extravaganza to reflect, create, improvise and envisage Wits’ stories, both known and imagined, through images and light projected and tagged ephemerally on the façade of the Great Hall.

Artist and alumnus Marcus Neustetter conceptualised and facilitates this show with the Trinity Session and OMAi, in collaboration with participating artists, B&S Sound, Harmonics, the Wits Department of Theatre and Performance, the Wits Choir, and you!

The #Wits100 Visible Resonance Light Show combines art and performance with tech and science. It’s an artistic, high-tech, interactive, and improvised experience for everyone.

The Free People’s Concert

The Free People's Concert

Click here for concert information

Buy your R100 per person tickets on webtickets

The year was 1948. Apartheid was law in South Africa. But even before then Wits University had defied segregation in the academy and on the streets. Decades later, in 1971, Wits again raised its voice in dissent and hosted the first Free People’s Concert as the iconic Great Hall stood sentinel.

Perhaps you were there, at that Free People’s Concert, when first-year Anthropology student Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu belted out now-legendary tracks as Juluka. It was free, with donations going to the Teach Every African Child NGO.  [In this interview with the Wits Review alumni magazine, Clegg reflected on his times at Wits and the fight for a free South Africa.]

Generation X will remember the 1980s and the teargas, trauma, and State of Emergency that plagued campus and country. But that decade was also the birth of Mango Groove, founded in 1984 by Witsie John Leyden and fronted by Claire Johnston, a Wits alumna. Now, in the 21st Century, the music continues at Wits University.

At the 2022 Free People’s Concert on Saturday 3 September, from 12:00 to late, Wits University presents a tribute to Johnny Clegg by his son Jesse Clegg, with Sipho Mchunu and the Johnny Clegg Band. They feature in a diverse and excellent line-up along with Mango Groove.

Tickets to the Free People’s Concert cost just R100 with all proceeds going to the Wits Food Bank, which supports food-insecure students.

Millennials and Generation Z can revel in the sounds of the award-winning Samthing Soweto; Hip Hop rapper Big Zulu; Khuzani and his maskandi sound; Afro-electro house artist Holly Rey; amapiano music duo MFR Souls; Mzansi Afro-pop sensation Mduduzi Ncube; singer-songwriter Lwah Ndlunkulu; the Wits Mass Choir and student bands.

Art, origins and insects

Wits’ galleries and museums are open and free to the public during Homecoming Weekend from 2-4 September 2022.

Kick back and relax at the arts and crafts market, food stalls and festivities all day Saturday at Hall 29 on West Campus.

Wits Art Museum (WAM) houses the largest collection of African art and celebrates 10 years in 2022. The centenary exhibition is a visual homage to the work and life of activist and social documentary photographer, Gisèle Wulfsohn. WAM is located on the corner of Jorissen and Bertha Streets in Braamfontein and is open from 10:00 to 16:00 on Homecoming Weekend.
The Origins Centre is dedicated to exploring and celebrating the history of modern humankind. It contains evidence of ancient stone tools, artefacts of symbolic and spiritual significance, and examples of the region’s visually striking rock art. Explore your origins at the Origins Centre on West Campus from 09:00 to 17:00 on Homecoming Weekend.

Yebo Gogga Yebo amaBlomo is an interactive science exhibition and this year is aptly themed Coming of Age. If the kids (or you) fancy racing cockroaches, sampling mopane worm pizzas, and experiencing fauna and flora, this exhibition is crawling with biological delights.  Find the creepy-crawlies at the Oppenheimer Life Sciences Building, East Campus, from 08:30 to 16:00 all weekend.

Sporting greats

All roads lead to the Wits Parkrun on Saturday 3 September at 08:00, where alumnus Bruce Fordyce will be clocking his five kilometres. Then it’s a quick jog over to the Wits Legends vs Pirates Legends football match at the Wits Football Stadium at 11:00. For more sport, health and relaxation events, click here.

Wits gives you the Edge. For Good

After the parade on Friday, alumni are invited to a Homecoming Welcome in the Concourse of Solomon Mahlangu House at 18:00, followed by the Visible Resonance Light Show on the Piazza at 19:00.

On Saturday, alumni can witness the unveiling of a Scholarship Board in the foyer of the Great Hall at 16:00.

Finally, you can keep your Wits memories intact with the stunning coffee-table centenary book, Wits University at 100: From excavation to innovation on sale from Wits University Press.

Find all the #Wits100 Homecoming Weekend details at