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The contribution of SRCs to Wits

- Cebolenkosi Khumalo - Outgoing SRC President

We must be reminded about the evolution of SRCs, about how past SRCs contributed to the struggle against apartheid, brought consciousness and transformation.

As you would know, Wits University was one of the first Anglo institutions that permitted the admission of black students on their campuses in 1939, just nine years after it’s founding, becoming  what was known then as an 'open university'.

Unfortunately, there was an abrupt shift to this mission because of the Nationalist victory in the 1948 election, and their policies enforced apartheid. As a result, the university never evolved into a fully ‘open’ university until our eminent victory against the apartheid system. Its policy of ‘academic non-segregation and social segregation’ was under constant political threat. As expected, these threats harmed the production of afro-centric schools of thought, resulting in further marginalisation of the black community.

History informs us that it’s taken so much for all of us to have the privilege of being students and for me to be the Wits SRC President in the centenary year. Before I indulge in the simple delights or pains, of our history and envision the future and promises of our alma mater, it is important to note that the Wits Centenary SRC has ushered in revolutionary methods of student governance and paved a higher standard for the next 100 years. It is only fair that I use this platform to share with you some of the victories the current SRC enjoyed on campus.

Cebolenkosi Khumalo, 100th SRC President

Following the fees crises experienced every year on university campuses across the country, we teamed up with the private sector to fundraise over R12 million that saw more than 2000 Wits students who were on the verge of financial exclusion be allowed to register, and our campus enjoyed a peaceful registration process for the first time in seven years. We took to the ground through various initiatives, to ensure that all students on these hallowed grounds have a holistic and equitable university experience by providing those of us who are from poor backgrounds with reliable, and stable accommodation, food, and academic support. We made a strong attempt to make student life on campus more vibrant, welcoming, and robust by hosting intellectual conversations focused on freedom, equity, and empowerment throughout the year.

SRCs transformed the University

It is no coincidence that I stand here, armed with the power and grace of my parents and forefathers who named me Cebolenkosi – which loosely translates to “God’s plan”, and I believe this is the reason why I am the President today. We must be reminded about the evolution of SRCs, about how past SRCs made it possible for black students to be recognised, how they contributed to the struggle against apartheid, how past SRCs brought about consciousness in the early 1960s and 70s, how past SRCs forced the institution to build residences for students, how the past SRCs forced the institution to build more libraries and 24-hour libraries and computer labs for students, how the past SRCs forced the institution to build unisex toilets, how they forced the conversation of inclusivity intersectionality and transformation to be of paramount importance within the institution, how the past SRCs forced the university to insource the workers who are our parents, to be recognised as staff and  have the staff benefits like any other staff member that exist within the institution, how we fought  for free education And clean governance in the country. Today, I honor you all.

It is only befitting that as the 100th SRC President, I give a dignified preamble to the next century and how we can all work together to make Wits the best, for good. Many of you will know that Wits University is the microcosm of our society, the intellectual hub of the African continent that has produced high-caliber change makers, business leaders, politicians, and a dependable civic society — however that is a privilege only enjoyed by the few of us who were lucky enough to toil upwards in society using education as a key. We must not forget about our brothers and sisters, parents, and relatives who didn’t enjoy the same fortunes that we have and take it upon ourselves to further strengthen the ideals that were adopted in our constitution at the founding of this Republic, strengthen our experiment in self-government and ensure that all people can share in the economic fruits of this here land that many sacrificed their  lives for.

We can no longer look the other way, and keep a stiff upper lip when our country is a ticking time bomb and the poor are ready to eat the rich. We ought to be bold, as those who were in power when they made Wits University an open University after its founding. Now, as a nation, we don’t promise equal outcomes, but we were founded on the idea everybody should have an equal opportunity to succeed. No matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, you can make it. That's an essential promise of democracy. Where you start should not determine where you end up.

We cannot in good conscience, look away when our people live through the worst energy crisis ever experienced, when we have the joint capacity to provide solutions. We cannot ignore the high unemployment rates when the people  have the means of capital to assist our graduates in starting their small businesses. We cannot sit idly and watch as our people lose hope in the promise of democracy and abstain from the only power they have — voting. The systems of governance in our country have continually failed the majority of our people, we have an immense ability to change that for them, and I implore you to.

To paraphrase President Barack Obama, “We, the People, recognise that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy.” Yes, we all come from different backgrounds, but we’re bound by the blue and gold of this mighty institution that flows through our veins. We can no longer afford to produce conveyor-belt graduates who are only trained to perform a particular role, but rather those who are multidimensional by offering interdisciplinary degrees based on the evolving needs of the economic markets. Our graduates must be prepared to take center stage in strategic roles and be ready to make a consequential impact on society. Africa is our home, and we have to drive her growth.

Further, I ask that you give back to our community by investing in the #PavingTheNext100 fund and the technology innovation fund that is currently in the pipeline and will see Wits University become the Silicon Valley of the Continent. I ask that you promote and strengthen the Wits brand, speak positively about our institution, that you tell people we’re leading intersectionality and inclusivity dialogues on campus and in the country. That women are empowered in our university and so is the queer community. Tell them that if there’s to be any change and reform in our country it will most certainly come from Wits.

We must always remember, It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. This year’s SRC began the work of making sure that the world we leave the next generation is a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.

Cebolenkosi Khumalo is the 2021/2022 SRC President. He is pursuing a Masters degree in Governance and Policy. He also holds a Bachelor of Laws degree and Bachelor of Art degree  from Wits.