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VC's Welcome Day Speech

- Adam Habib

Welcome to Wits University, a place to call your own, and your home for the next few years.

Good day, Sanibonani, Dumelang, Goeie more. Siyanamukela eWits (Welcome to Wits).

Welcome to Wits University, a place to call your own, and your home for the next few years.

I know that this is a special moment for all of you and that many of you have made tremendous sacrifices to be here today.

I thank you for choosing Wits, one of the leading universities in the world. Wits is ranked in the top 1% in the world in several academic areas, and is one of the top two universities on the continent.  

Wits is an important University with a tremendous global footprint, but also an institution that impacts locally.

You will find some of the best minds in the world on our campuses. Our exceptional academics create new knowledge, explain novel discoveries, make new policies, change the way we do business, promote human rights and social justice and help us to think critically to find alternative solutions to the pressing challenges of the future.

At every turn on our campuses, you are likely to meet smart people working to change the world for the better. You will run into academics developing AIDS vaccines, professors trying to pack information into light, young explorers searching for clues to the past, geologists telling the story of earth and life, engineers finding solutions to mining problems, doctors warning against sugar intake and sociologists helping us to better understand each other. 

It is this University that produces the political and business elite in our country. Some of the greatest anti-apartheid stalwarts emanated from this University – the great Nelson Mandela walked across these very lawns, as did Gwede Mantashe, Dr Robert Sobukwe and others. We also produced the leaders of several of our opposition parties – Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane and half of the EFF leadership – Floyd, Mbuyiseni and others.

Wits produces the most number of entrepreneurs, when compared to any other University in the country. We are close to industry and business, particularly because of our location in Johannesburg, a key economic hub on the continent.

Our location on the cusp of Johannesburg’s cultural precinct is fortunate and I urge you to explore beyond the walls of our campuses. The regeneration of Braamfontein in the last few years is incredible, and if you haven’t yet done so, explore the fashion districts, the Neighbourgoods market, the craft coffee shops (many established by Wits alumni), eateries and our own silicon valley.

In 2016, Wits, in partnership with the City launched the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, South Africa’s very own tech hub in Braamfontein, in partnership with IBM, Telkom, Microsoft and a number of other tech companies. Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is Johannesburg’s newest high-tech address, where the incubation of start-ups, the commercialisation of research and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youth will take place.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, built on land donated by Wits is located in the Wits Parktown Precinct, opened in December. Wits is the lead academic partner and the hospital will serve as another platform for specialised training and research. Wits academics and students work in all the major hospitals in and around Johannesburg,

I urge you to explore the many museums and places of interest across our campuses. You have access to a world-class Art Museum that holds over 9 000 works of African Art, the Wits Origins Centre which tells the story of modern humans and the Planetarium, which hosts thousands of learners annually.

Wits students are active social citizens and they leave their mark on society. They are problem-posers and problem-solvers. They are creative, smart innovators who make a difference in the world. One such example is the #FeesMustFall campaign which was started by Wits students in protest against high fees, as a direct result of the underfunding of universities by government over the last two decades. In ten days, the students placed student funding on the national agenda – a feat that vice-chancellors were unable to achieve over ten years.

Wits University supports access to quality, higher education that is decolonised for those who cannot afford it and is engaged with multiple stakeholders including the state, the private sector, NSFAS and others to rethink the financing of the sector. We are hopeful that a long-term solution will be reached during the course of the year.

While Wits supports the rights of students to peaceful protest, these protests should not violate the rights of those who wish to work and learn. We believe that the academic programme is sacrosanct and should protests arise, we will do all that is within our power to keep Wits a safe space and to ensure that the academic programme continues. We ask all students to remember that all rights come with responsibilities.

A Wits education is an asset and genuinely ‘gives you the edge’. It is a place where you learn as much beyond the walls of lecture theatres as you do within. You will be immersed into a diverse community where we strive to celebrate our cultures and embrace our differences. I encourage you to extend beyond your circle of influence. Attend the hundreds of events that take place on our campuses every year. Learn. Network. Share. Explore.

Make the most of your time at this great University because it will determine your future role in this country, on this continent and on this beautiful planet. Wear the Wits badge with honour and pride. You are about to embark on an unforgettable journey that will change your life forever. Enjoy it.

Thank you! Ngiyabonga! Kea Leboha! Dankie!