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Waltzing kudus, cheerleaders, and a choir at alumni centenary event

- Wits University

Wits alumni who returned to campus for Homecoming Weekend on 4 September were treated to canapés and cocktails at an Alumni Welcome in Solomon Mahlangu House.

Approximately 700 alumni and their partners took the opportunity to return to campus, rekindle relationships, and network with fellow Witsies.

An informal but upmarket sundowner soirée, proceedings began with an explosion of high-kicking Wits cheerleaders strutting their stuff to thumping beats, before making way for the equally energetic but less acrobatic Wits Choir. The Wits mascots, Kudos Kudu and his sister Mx Kudu, graciously posed for photographs with alumni in between the occasional waltz around the Concourse.

It was predominantly graduates from the past two decades in attendance. Approximately 80% of alumni at this event were aged mid-40s and younger. However, there were a handful – fewer than 20 – ‘veteran’ alumni at the Alumni Welcome, with many looking forward to the Founders’ Tea on the Sunday of Homecoming Weekend. Founders’ Tea is a flagship event specifically for alumni who graduated 40 or more years ago.

After an uplifting performance, Wits Choir conductor and trainer, Dalene Hoogenhout, addressed alumni, saying, “Wits Choir is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. We started in 1962 and have had five of six events – this one being event number five – and event number six will be an alumni braai for [Wits Choir] alumni on 16 October.” The Wits Choir will also perform at the Old Fort at Constitution Hill on 14 and 15 October.

The Wits Choir, which celebrates its 60th in the University's centenary year, performed at the Alumni Welcome event at Homecoming Weekend

The Director of the Office of Alumni Relations, Peter Maher welcomed alumni before introducing the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi. Maher said, “I’ve been travelling around the world with the VC and, I must tell you, there’s something called rankings, I’m sure you’ve heard about it – like academic rankings. There’s no question in my mind that Wits has the best alumni in the world. Ipso facto, we have the best university in the world – please give a warm welcome to the greatest Vice-Chancellor in the world!”

The Vice-Chancellor said, “This is a great University. It has gone through very difficult periods in its history over the last 100 years. In its formation, in 1922, despite all our money being stolen away from Johannesburg and taken to that other city, we protested and said ‘This city of Johannesburg deserves a university!’ And what happened was, reluctantly, Prime Minister Smuts, after a lot of pressure by citizens of Johannesburg said, ‘Alright, yes, I’ll establish a university’ and passed an act. But that day in March was marred by the fact that there was a miners’ strike. So this Milner Park campus became a site for launching artillery to suppress a miners’ strike”.

Wits VC and Principal Prof Zeblon Vilakazi addresses graduates who returned to campus for the Alumni Welcome event at Homecoming Weekend

This is why Wits University has two birthdays, the VC said, one in March and one in October. “The birth of this University came out representing the fury, strength and resilience of your city … I always believed that if you want to go through an easy-going university, then go elsewhere. You came here to be shaped by the crucible of fire. I always believed that the finest sword is the Japanese samurai sword – it has to be beaten 1000 times – this heart of Johannesburg will beat you a million times and give you the sharpest blade that will take you to conquer anything.”

“There’s no other place like this, it’s not an easy place, and it will continue to be what it is. You watched when the Extension of University Education Act was passed in 1959, some of you witnessed the difficult challenges of the 1980s, when the helicopters were flying about. In 2015, we all had a difficult challenge that forced the state to question how you manage fees through #Feesmustfall.”

Vilakazi told alumni that many of them had gone on to become CEOs of fortune 500 companies and that they had “gone on and conquered the world and conquered the edge because you come from the crucible that shaped the finest of the finest.” This includes three CEOs of the top five mining companies globally – Anglo American, Glencore, and Sibanye.

Furthermore, “Forty percent of the CEOs in this city come from here and 40% of law firms’ senior partners and senior counsel at the Johannesburg bar come from Wits.” The VC reminded alumni that it was this institution that was “right front and centre” in responding to the pandemic.

 “It is this place that for the next 100 years – even the next 1000 years, because institutions endure – we’ll always continue giving you the edge, we’ll always continue being a force for good, we will be Wits, for good, not [just] doing good amongst others, but for good, forever. We’ll always be this great university … Tonight is about celebrating you who represent the best in us.”