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Geologists explain why most basaltic magma chambers are roofless

- Wits Communications

Wits geologists come up with an original interpretation for a long-standing petrological paradox – the common absence of roof rocks in basaltic magma chambers.

Dr Sofya Chistyakova and Professor Rais Latypov from the School of Geosciences of the Wits University in South Africa have come up with an original interpretation for a long-standing petrological paradox – the common absence of roof rocks in basaltic magma chambers. This research was published as a paper in Geology. Link

Chistyakova says: “A remarkable feature of most layered intrusions is a complete lack of any rocks that would have crystallized from the roof downwards. This is puzzling because magma cooling and, therefore, crystallization is expected to take place mostly at the roof of these intrusions. The absence of roof rocks is thus suggestive of some fundamental process that results in no preservation of roof rocks in basaltic magma chambers. 

“The most likely answer to this paradox we have got from our field mapping of the Sudbury Igneous Complex, Canada in which the roof sequence of rocks is notably absent. While mapping, we have discovered a few huge blocks (up to 700 m in size) sitting in the floor sequence of rocks. It turned out that these blocks are fragments of the original roof sequence which was destroyed and collapsed as angular blocks on the chamber floor”, says Latypov.    

“More recently we have found a large pothole-like depression (300 m in depth and 550 m in width) in the chamber floor of the Sudbury Igneous Complex. Our preferred interpretation to this depression is that the fallen roof-derived blocks have resulted in local irregularities in topography of the chamber floor so that crystal deposition onto and between the neighbouring blocks produced such pothole-like depressions”, says Chistyakova 

Wits researchers argue that the phenomenon of physical disruption of roof sequences provides a reasonable answer to the common lack of the rocks that grew from the roof downwards in basaltic magma chambers.  “We predict that future research will reveal many more examples of mafic-ultramafic layered intrusions with roof-derived blocks hosted by the floor rock sequences”, says Latypov.

National Research Foundation rates three Witsies for the first time as world leaders in their fields

- Wits University

The NRF has awarded new A-ratings to three Wits academics in the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Health Sciences respectively.

Wits academics to whom the National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded A-ratings in 2022 for the first time include Professor Victor Houliston in the School of Literature, Language and Media; Professor Hilary Janks in the Wits School of Education, and Professor Frederick ‘Derick’ Raal in the School of Clinical Medicine.

In addition, Professor Jean Lubuma joined Wits in January 2022 as a Distinguished Professor in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, with an NRF A2-rating awarded in 2020.

Peer-reviewed and recognised worldwide

The NRF operates a peer review system that considers the impact that individual researchers have had in their field of research in the last eight years.

An NRF A-rating is awarded to “researchers who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.”

 An A1-rated researcher is a researcher who is recognised by all reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and wide impact (i.e., beyond a narrow field of specialisation) of his/her recent research outputs.

An A2-rated researcher is recognised by the overriding majority of reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and impact (either wide or confined) of his/her recent research outputs.

Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, says, “We acknowledge the commitment and research excellence worldwide of our newly A-rated researchers, which brings to 27 the total number of A-rated scientists at Wits. We are inspired by these world-leaders in their fields – as we are by all NRF-rated academics at Wits – who are conducting research for good, particularly at a time when the University celebrates its centenary and works to advance its research agenda.”

Morris is herself an NRF A1-rated scientist. She is one of two A-rated scientists on Wits’ Senior Executive Team; the other is Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Director of Wits VIDA.

A history of religion in English literature

Emeritus Professor Victor Houliston in English Studies in the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM) received an NRF A1 rating in 2022. He has taught in the English department at Wits since 1988. He was appointed Professor Emeritus at the end of 2019 and continues to be active in research and in directing graduate writing programmes. He has recently enrolled as a student in the MA in Creative Writing at Wits.

 Wits Professor of English Victor Houliston left with Emilio Chuvieco, Professor of Geography at the University of Alcalá, Spain, at the door of the Robert Persons room at Campion Hall, Oxford. Persons wrote several letters from Alcalá de Henares, one of the greatest centres of academic excellence in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

Houliston’s status as a leading researcher in early modern literature and history has been cemented in recent years through the publication of the first volume of his edition of the Correspondence of Robert Persons, a highly controversial figure in Elizabethan England. As the superior of the Jesuit mission to Protestant England, he took great risks. Persons himself escaped to the continent, where he founded seminaries and wrote numerous books attacking the Elizabethan regime. Houliston’s edition has been described as one of the most important editorial projects in Renaissance studies in recent years. The second volume is soon to be published, and a third is in preparation.

Recognition of research in language, literacy and power

The NRF awarded Emeritus Professor Hilary Janks an A2 rating in 2022. Janks has 47 years of experience in English education in a multilingual context – six years as a secondary school English teacher and 41 years as a teacher educator. Her qualifications are in English Literature and Applied Linguistics, the latter after she recognised the importance of educating teachers to work in diverse, integrated, multi-graded classrooms in post-apartheid South Africa.

Professor Hilary Janks from the Wits School of Education

Janks’ research focuses on the relationship between language, literacy and power. Her work in critical literacy in the South African context contributed to People’s English locally and the development of critical literacy internationally. Critical literacy is now taught in teacher education courses in South Africa and is part of the national curriculum for the FET phase of education. Janks remains active as a researcher and as a teacher of postgraduate students at universities in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Scotland, Sweden, and the US.

“I have been a B1 researchers since 2002 and I am thrilled to receive an A-rating with which to end my career”, she says.

Mathematical modelling of infectious diseases

Professor Jean Lubuma joined Wits in January 2022 as a Distinguished Professor in the School of School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. An A2-rated researcher since 2020, Lubuma joins Wits from the University of Pretoria where he was Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (2015-2019), founding holder of the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Bioengineering and Biosciences from (2013-2015) and Head of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics (2004-2013).

Jean Lubuma Distinguished Professor in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics

Lubuma’s research area is ordinary and partial differential equations and integral equations. The emphasis is on the quantitative, qualitative and computational analysis of models that arise in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET). This includes life sciences, where he models natural processes, specifically emerging and re-emerging human infectious diseases such as cholera, Covid-19, Ebola, Hepatitis B, HIV/Aids, malaria, syphilis and tuberculosis.

“I am excited about my appointment at Wits. This is for me an excellent opportunity to create a vibrant research network to provide adequate responses to new diseases and to old forms of new diseases such as Covid-19, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases that pose a massive threat to the development of the African continent,” says Lubuma.

The world’s largest cohort of FH patients

The NRF awarded Professor Derick Raal an A1 rating in 2022. His research interest is lipid disorders, particularly familial or inherited hypercholesterolaemia (FH). The major focus of his research remains the clinical, biochemical, genetic and therapeutic management of this condition.

Professor Derick Raal

Raal is Head of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and Director of the Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism Research Unit in the Department of Internal Medicine in the School of Clinical Medicine. Research in the unit includes the epidemiological, clinical and biochemical aspects of common diseases affecting lipid, and glucose metabolism in the different ethnic groups of Southern Africa. These include FH and other lipid disorders, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus as well as other related metabolic disorders. The unit is nationally and internationally recognised for its work on FH and has one of the largest cohorts of homozygous FH patients in the world. 

In addition to an NRF A1-rating, Raal was one of the Faculty’s most highly cited researchers in 2019 and 2021. Highly cited researchers publish in ISI indexed journals and their highly cited and hot papers are ranked in the top 1% and 0.1% of all articles by number of citations, respectively.

Unleashing the potential of university-based archives

- Gabriele Mohale

Towards the creation of a future Civil Society and Human Rights Archive and Research Hub at Wits.

The recent reintegration of the South African History Archive (SAHA), one of the most important social justice archives in the country, into Wits University once more raises the status and role of archives as well as the crisis many archives face in South Africa. This article does not seek to be repetitive. Rather, Gabriele Mohale, Acting Head and Archivist, Historical Papers Research Archive and Wits Digitisation Centre, The Willem Cullen Library, investigates the importance of archives in universities as active sites of research and custodians of collective memory.

The South African History Archive (SAHA) has been reintegrated into Wits University

What has emerged over several decades now is the fact that universities, particularly public-funded institutions, are increasingly becoming custodians of not only private and prestigious collections, but more so of organisational, corporate, and even government records, for various reasons.

This trend can be observed globally, and again, its cause is manifold. But at the heart of it lies a certain confidence, in that universities would qualify to be worthy keepers. This perception might suit the depositors of such collections, but where does it leave the university, with is core existence and mandate firmly placed in teaching, learning and research?

Related to the latter is a delicate spread of funding and resources at universities, much of which is geared toward their mandate. And yet, looking at the South African landscape, a number of universities are home to extensive and most outstanding independent archives.

What then informs a university’s commitment to archives, given the extent of resources needed for the upkeep of a physical archive, and often its digital repository, and what is the potential that these archives hold for the institution?

Archives for research and learning

The role of publicly funded universities is crucial for heritage holdings, in a country where government institutions are severely under-resourced and neglected. As much as universities too are facing serious financial challenges, they seem to be in a favourable position to uphold that continuity, stability, reliability, and support that many state-owned entities can no longer provide.

Universities also have the intellectual capacity to shape engagement and discourse, be it within the academy or beyond. At the same time, they have a vested interest in assets that can contribute meaningfully to teaching, learning and research.

Universities attract funding from organisations and the corporate world precisely because of their status of being capable partners. It is for these reasons that the holdings which this university keeps on its campuses, be it in archives, museums, libraries and galleries, should yield returns.

Towards an archive and research hub at Wits

The framework which was developed during the conceptualisation of the reintegration of SAHA at Wits University, outlined benefits as well as responsibilities, both for SAHA and for the University, which can be applied to the three main independent archives at Wits University, being the Historical Papers Research Archive, the South African History Archive (SAHA) and the Gay and Lesbian Archive (GALA).

The proposal highlighted the most outstanding aspects around the archives as institutions of heritage but more so as a gauge for the level of democracy in South Africa, or any state for that matter. It also paid specific attention to the potential of the archives for teaching, learning and research, particularly through collaborative projects with academic departments such as the Wits History Workshop, the latter having been a longstanding and guiding partner for the archives.

The proposal culminated in a suggestion for the development of a future ‘Civil Society and Human Rights Archive and Research Hub’ at Wits University, based on the following points:

Teaching and research for the promotion of historical awareness

In the post-1994 South Africa, research and archival institutions had to reposition themselves in the context of the new democratic dispensation. One of the defining moments which characterised that period was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. Throughout its work, followed by its comprehensive report and recommendations, the archives became a focal point for investigating and exposing apartheid crimes.

Nearly 25 years later archives have remained absolutely committed to documenting, supporting and promoting greater awareness of South Africa’s colonial and apartheid history, and past and contemporary struggles for justice.

By creating a Civil Society and Human Rights Archive and Research Hub it would be possible to harness our collective strengths to contribute more systematically to teaching and research programmes at the University.

This could develop in a number of overlapping ways, through augmenting each archive’s role as sites of research; expanding our partnerships with civil society and community groups; promoting the development of archives from below; becoming a site of training for community-based archivists; and to create an opportunity to consider the development of an interdisciplinary postgraduate course on archives and public history.

Archival institutions for deepening our democracy

Going forward, the shaping of the intellectual terrain around archives remains essential for the upholding and deepening of our democracy. Here, archives have been catalysts, advocates and activists, particularly through community engagement, the promotion of access to information, history education, educational publications, workshops and exhibitions, as well as using national and international platforms. All this in order to ensure administrative duties of the state and to serve the citizens in all aspects of administrative as well as transitional justice.

Building capacity in communities to tell their own history

In addition to being at the forefront of archival activism, there has been a sustained focus by the archives on building capacity in communities to collect and tell their own history, not only in South Africa, but also on the African continent, even emphasising wider connections with the global South. The archives, together with the Wits History Workshop, have made their mark in the latter and have provided a platform to pursue archival activism. Bringing them together at the university will create a strong, independent, and unique archival centre of excellence and research hub in South Africa, in the interest of knowledge creation and progressive activism for civil society.

Consolidating archival activism

Having outlined the above, it is imperative to stress that essentially there are only two regional centres of archival activism in South Africa, one being in Johannesburg at Wits University, and the other at the Mayibuye Archive at the University of the Western Cape. These institutions have particularly positioned themselves in respect of archival activism, mainly due to the character of their archival holdings, and to a strong collaboration with academic colleagues in their respective institutions.

Creation of a combined archival digital platform

Another strong point for the formation of an Archive and Research Hub at Wits University is the fact that the archives have excellent reputations for working to archival standards and good practice, allowing them to adopt a strategy for their content to be digitised and made available on a standard based digital platform. This has created excellent possibilities for global access to the collections in our archives.

A digital repository with the combined archival holdings of all archives, together with a number of existing projects such as the ‘Afrapix Consolidation Project’, the ‘MEDU Consolidation Project’ and the ‘Robert Sobukwe Learning Centre and Museum’, is a resource which can presently not be matched by any other academic institution in South Africa. 

This is the Vision (with a capital letter) which was put to the University and has been embraced by this institution with a strong message of commitment by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, which he delivered at the relaunching event of SAHA.

And this is where the circle closes. Let us unleash the potential of the archives at Wits University.

Wits scientists in the team that made the first image of the black hole in the centre of our galaxy

- Wits University

This result provides overwhelming evidence that the object is indeed a black hole and yields valuable clues about the workings of such giants.

At simultaneous press conferences around the world, including at the Wits Planetarium at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, astronomers have unveiled the first image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy. [Download the Wits Media pack here:]

This is the first image of Sagittarius A* (or Sgr A* for short), the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

This result provides overwhelming evidence that the object is indeed a black hole and yields valuable clues about the workings of such giants, which are thought to reside at the centre of most galaxies. The image was produced by a global research team called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes.

The image is a long-anticipated look at the massive object that sits at the very centre of our galaxy. Scientists had previously seen stars orbiting around something invisible, compact, and very massive at the centre of the Milky Way. This strongly suggested that this object — known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*, pronounced "sadge-ay-star") — is a black hole, and today’s image provides the first direct visual evidence of it.

Although we cannot see the black hole itself, because it is completely dark, glowing gas around it reveals a telltale signature: a dark central region (called a “shadow”) surrounded by a bright ring-like structure. The new view captures light bent by the powerful gravity of the black hole, which is four million times more massive than our Sun.

We were stunned by how well the size of the ring agreed with predictions from Einstein’s

Theory of General Relativity,” says EHT Project Scientist Geoffrey Bower from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taipei. “These unprecedented observations have greatly improved our understanding of what happens at the very centre of our galaxy, and offer new insights on how these giant black holes interact with their surroundings.” The EHT team’s results are being published today in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. [link]

Because the black hole is about 27,000 light-years away from Earth, it appears to us to have about the same size in the sky as a doughnut on the Moon. To image it, the team created the powerful EHT, which linked together eight existing radio observatories across the planet to form a single “Earth-sized” virtual telescope [1]. The EHT observed Sgr A* on multiple nights, collecting data for many hours in a row, similar to using a long exposure time on a camera.

The breakthrough follows the EHT collaboration’s 2019 release of the first image of a black hole, called M87*, at the centre of the more distant Messier 87 galaxy.

The two black holes look remarkably similar, even though our galaxy’s black hole is more than a thousand times smaller and less massive than M87* [2]. “We have two completely different types of galaxies and two very different black hole masses, but close to the edge of these black holes they look amazingly similar,” says Sera Markoff, Co-Chair of the EHT Science Council and a professor of theoretical astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. “This tells us that General Relativity governs these objects up close, and any differences we see further away must be due to differences in the material that surrounds the black holes.”

This achievement was considerably more difficult than for M87*, even though Sgr A* is much closer to us. EHT scientist Chi-kwan (‘CK’) Chan, from Steward Observatory and Department of Astronomy and the Data Science Institute of the University of Arizona, US, explains: “The gas in the vicinity of the black holes move at the same speed — nearly as fast as light — around both Sgr A* and M87*. But where gas takes days to weeks to orbit the larger M87*, in the much smaller Sgr A* it completes an orbit in mere minutes. This means the brightness and pattern of the gas around Sgr A* was changing rapidly as the EHT Collaboration was observing it — a bit like trying to take a clear picture of a puppy quickly chasing its tail.”

The researchers had to develop sophisticated new tools that accounted for the gas movement around Sgr A*. While M87* was an easier, steadier target, with nearly all images looking the same, that was not the case for Sgr A*. The image of the Sgr A* black hole is an average of the different images the team extracted, finally revealing the giant lurking at the centre of our galaxy for the first time.

The effort was made possible through the ingenuity of more than 300 researchers from 80 institutes around the world that together make up the EHT Collaboration. In addition to developing complex tools to overcome the challenges of imaging Sgr A*, the team worked rigorously for five years, using supercomputers to combine and analyse their data, all while compiling an unprecedented library of simulated black holes to compare with the observations.

Only two of the more than 300 researchers are based on African soil, Wits postdoctoral fellow, Dr Iniyan Natarajan, and Prof Roger Deane, Director of the Wits Centre for Astrophysics and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria. Their contributions included precision measurements of the black hole ring size using a suite of algorithms, as well as developing the sophisticated software suite used to simulate realistic EHT datasets. These were critical to robustly compare the observations with predictions from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. [WATCH] Profile video of Prof. Roger Deane:

Scientists are particularly excited to finally have images of two black holes of very different sizes, which offers the opportunity to understand how they compare and contrast. They have also begun to use the new data to test theories and models of how gas behaves around supermassive black holes. This process is not yet fully understood but is thought to play a key role in shaping the formation and evolution of galaxies.

“Now we can study the differences between these two supermassive black holes to gain valuable new clues about how this important process works,” says EHT scientist Keiichi Asada from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taipei. “We have images for two black holes — one at the large end and one at the small end of supermassive black holes in the Universe — so we can go a lot further in testing how gravity behaves in these extreme environments than ever before.”

Progress on the EHT continues: a major observation campaign in March 2022 included more telescopes than ever before. The ongoing expansion of the EHT network and significant technological upgrades will allow scientists to share even more impressive images as well as movies of black holes in the near future.

Wits’ Professor Deane notes: “Southern Africa holds a distinct geographic advantage to host new EHT telescopes, especially if we wish to make movies of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, which passes directly above us in the southern sky.”  

Efforts to add these African nodes to the global network are underway with several national and international partners, including Wits and the University of Pretoria. In addition to enabling higher precision tests of General Relativity, the expansion of the EHT into Africa has a strong synergy with the future continental expansion of the Square Kilometre Array mid-frequency array centred in the Northern Cape, with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT telescope serving as its precursor.

SA research leads to new WHO guidelines for improved TB treatment 

- Wits University

Ground-breaking research conducted in SA to find shorter, more effective treatment for drug-resistant TB has informed global policy changes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced key changes to the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB), a significant development which will benefit patients with DR-TB in SA and globally. Treatment time has been slashed from 18 months to six, the number of pills reduced from 23 a day to 23 per week, painful injections eliminated and side-effects reduced. 

The research also revealed that nine out of every ten patients treated with the new regimen will be cured, offering hope to those who have DR-TB. Through an early access programme, some DR-TB patients in SA are already benefiting from the new regimen. 

Under the leadership of Dr Norbert Ndjeka, recently appointed by SA’s National Department of Health as chief director of TB, much of this pivotal research was conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU) as part of clinical trials including the Nix-TB and ZeNix studies conducted by the Global TB Alliance. The trials mostly conducted in SA produced robust data which changed international policy.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis are the bacteria that cause TB

Dr Ndjeka explains, “The new WHO guidelines allow almost all forms of DR-TB to be treated with either BPaLM (a combination of bedaquiline, pretomanid, linezolid and moxifloxacin) or BPaL (bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid). We welcome the WHO announcement which facilitates rapid implementation of the new regimen.” 

Pretomanid first received regulatory approval in August 2019 for the treatment of certain forms of highly drug-resistant TB. BPaL was most recently evaluated in TB Alliance's ZeNix trial. The BPaLM regimen was evaluated in the successful TB-PRACTECAL trial, sponsored by Médecins Sans Frontières, in which CHRU participated under the leadership of Dr Mohammed Rassool. 

Dr Francesca Conradie, an infectious diseases researcher in the School of Clinical Medicine at Wits, executive director of CHRU’s Isango Lethemba TB research unit and principal investigator of the Nix-TB and ZeNix clinical trials, says, “The timing has been lightning speed from the findings of the clinical trials to the adoption by the WHO of the treatments tested. This achievement speaks to South Africa’s TB programme and Dr Ndjeka’s visionary approach to addressing TB, which includes a strong focus on rigorous research. Under his leadership, we have been delivering this treatment to those that need it most under the BPaL clinical access programme since March 2021.” 

Dr Conradie is also the principal investigator of the BPaL clinical access programme in SA which is funded by USAID. 

“The treatment of drug resistant TB has been a rapidly changing field in the last 10 years and new medicines for DR-TB have been rapidly incorporated into the South African national TB programme,” she adds. 

Professor Shabir Mahdi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Vaccinology at Wits, says, “In this centenary year of the University of the Witwatersrand, our researchers continue to produce ground-breaking research of international importance and more so for South Africa and Africa. The findings from this study will inform treatment programmes across the world, make treatment of the deadly scourge of TB more tolerable for patients, improve outcomes for patients and relieve pressure on health systems.”

Conradie explains that the updates announced by the WHO include shorter novel six-month all-oral regimens for the treatment of multidrug and rifampicin-resistant TB (MDR/RR-TB), with or without additional resistance to fluoroquinolones (pre-XDR-TB). The new regimen consists of only three or four medications, namely, bedaquiline, pretomanid, and linezolid, with the addition of moxifloxacin.  

“In addition, based on data from SA’s national TB programme, the WHO has also recommended an alternative 9-month all-oral regimen for the treatment of MDR/RR-TB. In this regimen an older drug, ethionamide has been replaced with a newer drug, linezolid.  Ethionamide has many side effects that often deter patients from completing their treatment.” 

According to the WHO, TB remains a threat to global public health and is one of the leading infectious causes of death globally. In 2020, an estimated ten million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from the disease. Owing to the impact of Covid-19, TB incidence could increase globally in 2022 and 2023. 

“South Africa has once again delivered trailblazing research which will improve outcomes for patients with DR-TB in South Africa and internationally. This accomplishment has inspired us to continue our work in addressing the TB burden through research that produces better and shorter treatments that can cure the disease,” concludes Dr Ndjeka. 

About the Clinical HIV Research Unit

The Clinical HIV Research Unit is a division of the Wits Health Consortium which is wholly owned by the University of the Witwatersrand. South Africa is at the epicentre of the HIV and tuberculosis (TB) epidemics. CHRU runs clinical trials undertaking clinical research to prevent, treat and manage HIV/Aids, TB and associated diseases, as well as Covid-19. Its mission is to deliver excellence and quality in clinical research. 

Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic will enable youth to become the future job creators

- Wits University

“Young entrepreneurs are one of the country's best hopes in solving the jobs crisis” - Dr Robert Venter, Project Leader for the WEC.

The pandemic has created a Covid-19-apocalypse of unemployment. In the first quarter of 2021, Statistics South Africa reported these alarming figures for youth unemployment:

  • Youth account for 60% of total unemployment
  • 3% of youth aged 15-43, and over 63% aged 15-24 are unemployed
  • 40% of graduates aged 15-24, and 15% of graduates aged 25-34 are unemployed
  • 4% of youth aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training

At the same time, the youth population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050, bringing unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.

With this in mind, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Arica, today launched the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic (WEC).

The Clinic, based in the Wits School of Business Science, is one of 24 projects in Africa that successfully bid for funding from the inaugural Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, a new initiative developed by the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships programme that seeks to support the development of Africa-UK partnerships that can build institutional capacity for universities to develop entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in selected African countries.

The University of Edinburgh with whom Wits has a long-standing partnership, is the UK partner in the project, together with ecosystem players – the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the Africa Circular Economy Network.

“Young entrepreneurs are one of the country's best hopes in solving the jobs crisis. However, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, South Africa’s Total Entrepreneurial Activity is behind the average of other economies with a GDP per capita of less than $20,000, and one reason is that entrepreneurship as a career trajectory has historically received little support at university level.

Dr Robert Venter, Project Leader for the new Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic

“The Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic aims to strengthen the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to enable young entrepreneurs to become the future job creators and the drivers of economic development in Africa,” says Dr Robert Venter, Project Leader for the WEC and Senior Lecturer in Management in the Wits School of Business Sciences.

To achieve this, experiential learning and evidence-based management, together with a structured mentorship programme, will help develop senior commerce students to become clinicians who will provide professional and quality business advice to entrepreneurs within the University community and general public. In doing so, the students will develop business acumen and improve their overall employability.

The Clinic will also bring together academic staff, alumni, volunteers, and entrepreneurial business leaders, to develop a culture of and appreciation for entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to employment whilst at the same time provide support to budding entrepreneurs in surrounding communities.

The launch of the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic

Thinking big

WEC also aims to encourage and develop enterprises that are centered on grand challenges. In particular, entrepreneurial opportunities that address challenges related to climate change and the circular economy will be encouraged.

Towards building an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem at Wits

Universities have a pivotal role to play in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship for the good of the world.

“That is why, in celebrating its centenary this year, Wits has identified catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship as one of eight strategic priority areas for the next 100 years,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.

“Wits’ origins are bed-rocked in the entrepreneurial spirit of the mining revolution in South Africa. A hundred years ago it was this spirit flaming the need for higher education and training that led to the establishment of the University in 1922.”

“It is only fitting that in its Centenary, Wits is returning to its roots by creating space, offering knowledge, and commitment to help foster entrepreneurship that is desperately needed for the country to address burgeoning poverty and unemployment levels,” says Vilakazi.

The Clinic is one of the first initiatives aligned with Wits’ recently approved Strategic Plan for Innovation. As part of this strategic plan Wits has set up the Wits Innovation Centre (WIC) that will coordinate all innovation-related activities at the University. A R50 million endowment was also received to establish the Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation. Wits’ Director for Innovation Strategy, Professor Barry Dwolatzky, says “the WIC and WEC  are both part of a key drive to create an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset at Wits as we enter our second century”.

Panel discussion during the launch of the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic

More about Innovation for African Universities

The Innovation for African Universities (IAU) project, part of the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships programme, seeks to foster the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within universities and facilitate the development of skills required to build industries, companies, products and services in Africa. The IAU programme is implemented by the Centre of Excellence (CoE), a partnership between the City, University of London, Nairobi, and ChangeSchool UK. The Programme comprises 24 UK universities, Sub-Saharan African universities, and entrepreneurial ecosystem organizations. The Programme is running in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.