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'Wits remains a beacon of hope in society'

- Wits Communications

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, extends thanks to Witsies for their service and sends wishes of goodwill for the holidays.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

As we think about our institution and how it advances the public good, we recognise that the world is facing multiple challenges including global conflicts, humanitarian crises, and a climate emergency. Closer to home we have to contend with the national challenges associated with deepening inequality, energy and water insecurity and slow economic growth. Our staff and students continue to contribute towards addressing this national and global polycrisis in multiple ways, and as an institution we encourage critical thinking and reflection on how best to achieve solutions to these challenges.

As I reflect on this year and the many achievements of our staff and students, I know that Wits remains a beacon of hope in society, because of the commitment of members of the Wits community, and the diversity of views on the many challenges that we face.

Through harnessing our knowledge, research and expertise, our talented students and staff, and our local and global partnerships, we can work together to make this world a better place for all.

Teaching and Learning

We laud our academics who adapted to blended teaching and learning, who adopted new guidelines relating to artificial intelligence models and new technologies, and who continue to emphasise the importance of academic integrity, ethics and critical thinking.

Our academic programme has been reinvigorated through two key new programmes – the Afretec Digital Transformation Programme and the Wits-Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures Programme – both of which are progressing phenomenally.

In consultation with the Faculties, short courses are also being consolidated under Wits Plus (Pty) Ltd from 1 January 2024.

Research and Innovation

Lead experimentalist on the project, Dr Bereneice Sephton, in the laboratory working on the experiment, which formed part of her PhD studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Our researchers have been productive with approximately 2 500 research units collected for 2022, and our academics continue to publish in quality high-impact journals. Many researchers earned prestigious awards – including Prof. Jill Adler who won the NRF Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr Isaac Nape who was awarded the Meiring Naude Medal, and Prof. Shabir Madhi (CBE) who has been appointed as an Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Three Witsies also won NSTF Awards, namely Professors Nosipho Moloto, Roger Deane and Andrew Thatcher, amongst many others.

There is a new energy in the Postgraduate Office, with additional funding for the centennial postdoctoral programme and postgraduate students, and the introduction of a successful orientation programme.

The innovation strategy is being implemented with the Wits Innovation Centre and the Wits Telkom Industry Solutions Lab having been launched this year.

Building our campuses

Building our campuses

Given the current economic climate, it was no easy feat to fundraise. We raised R3,2 billion for research, infrastructure, teaching and learning, and student support through the Centenary Campaign. We announced the Wits Brian and Dorothy Zylstra Sports Complex this year and the Wits Sibanye-Stillwater Innovation Bridge. We secured R20 million for research in engineering, honoured Ronnie Schloss, and we are on track to open the Wits AngloAmerican Digital Dome in 2024. I was also fortunate to host the Inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Music Concert in the bespoke Wits Chris Seabrooke Music Hall.

We are making progress in respect of the Frankenwald property owned by the University and cleaning up the Braamfontein fringe on the south side of the Braamfontein Campus. There are several new and exciting initiatives being implemented in the health sciences faculty which include renovating buildings for research and academic projects, extending the health sciences precinct, establishing a space for staff and students at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, and opening the Wits McAlpine Burns Unit. The Wits Zola Dental Clinic also opened its doors to the people of Soweto, a project made possible by the Bergman Family Foundation.

An alumnus donated US$10 million to the Wits School of Accountancy in honour of his lecturer, Prof. Margot Steele, and University Corner was renamed after the renowned writer, Wits academic and activist Es'kia Mphahlele. Our new solar farm at the Wits Rural Campus is impressive – we are nearly off the grid - these are just some of the projects that bring us hope every day.

Advancement and Partnerships

Brazilian Rectors at Wits

Our international offices in the US, UK and Australia are ramping up our fundraising and advancement efforts. Successful alumni reunions, boardroom lunches and events were held in these countries, as well as in Durban, Cape Town and Polokwane.

The year 2023 was definitely one of partnerships and collaboration, with Wits hosting delegations from Brazil, Sweden (15 rectors), the UK (Edinburgh, Queens University Belfast, School of Oriental and African Studies, Exeter, Emory University, University College London, Bath Spa), Ireland, Portugal (including the President, the Prime Minister and four of his Ministers), Germany (Constructor University), and the USA (Brown, Ohio State).

The Wits Centre for Deaf Studies celebrated 25 years of excellence, and the Wits Law Clinic celebrated half a century of social justice. Both entities are committed to advancing the public good.

People Development and Culture

The importance of people at Wits is emphasised in our Wits 2033 strategy. This portfolio has made great strides this year making people, development and culture central to a 21st Century research-intensive HEI in South Africa. In addition, the social justice cluster has been consolidated, policies are being systematically reviewed, academic salaries have been aligned to the sector, our BEE score has improved, and we are making headway on visa applications. An updated transformation plan will be presented early next year. Visit the new Wits People website for details.


Solar panels on Wits buildings | Curiosity 15: #Energy ©

The Pro VC: Climate, Sustainability and Inequality has conducted several engagements to tackle climate change, sustainability and inequality, including an interfaculty symposium to identify priority research areas and opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary engagements between different faculties, other universities, and external partners and to support advocacy on both national and international issues. A comprehensive statement on sustainability, including financial sustainability, institutional culture, governance and climate change, was approved by Council this year. A multidisciplinary delegation is at COP28, where our researchers and students have been part of global teams that launched two major reports – The Top 10 Climate Science Insights Unveiled and the Global Tipping Points Report.

Governance and funding

I am proud to say that Wits continues to have one of the best leadership teams on the continent, and that this is a well-governed institution. We have received clean financial audits and remain sustainable. However, we can expect headwinds from 2024, given the cuts to our subsidy, the cap on student accommodation, and changes to National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme policies.

Wits administered R1.4 billion in financial aid, bursaries and scholarships which was disbursed to 26 076 students, of which R646 million was NSFAS funding (distributed to 9 004 students). Council disbursed R169 million for undergraduate and postgraduate merit scholarships, bursaries and student hardship funding. However, the demand for funding is great – you can help to bridge this gap by donating to Wits’ Scholarship and Bursary Fund.

Staff and student achievements

Best of Wits celebrated at the Vice-Chancellor's Awards

The Division of Student Affairs has developed an inspiring strategy that is student-centred, and that champions student success, which will be implemented in the coming years. Wits staff and students bagged hundreds of awards – you can read about them on the website including top student leader awards and staff members who received Vice-Chancellor’s Awards – congratulations!

Happy holidays!

Wits University remains a leading university on the continent, because of you - our staff, students, and friends of Wits. Thank you for all that you do to make Wits great. We wish you well over the holidays and we look forward to welcoming you in 2024.

Warm regards,

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi

Vice-Chancellor and Principal