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History of the School

Language and Literature Studies has always been a key contributor to the University’s academic activities. Since the University began in 1922 the School has made many important contributions. Today the School is known as the School of Literature Language and Media (SLLM).

Prominent Faculty Members

  • B. Vilakazi, who joined what was then the Department of Bantu Studies in 1935. Vilakazi was the first black academic at Wits Vilakazi collaborated with C Doke on a Zulu-English dictionary.
  • C. Doke was a leading scholar of African languages. One of his most notable works was the Zulu-English Dictionary, one of many seminal works that Doke, as a leading scholar of African languages, produced during his lengthy tenure at Wits.
  • D. Cole was the head of African Languages for 28 years.
  • Guy Butler joined the University as a novice member of staff in the 1940s. Years later, the South African '' man of letters'' would describe the intellectual environment at Wits in the post-war era as an abiding influence on his career.

Literary Studies

At Wits, the discipline of literary studies, or what is usually called ''English'', has been associated with various significant figures in South African literary history.

Prominent literary figures associated with WITS

Herman Charles Bosman was a student at the university in the 1920s; his protege and, later, editor Lionel Abrahams also studied at Wits some twenty years later. (Thus, began a line of continuity linking Wits and ''Jo'burg writers'' that stretches to contemporary urban writers such as Ivan Vladislavic.)

Nadine Gordimer enrolled at Wits as an undergraduate. Although she did not complete her studies, she cultivated a lifelong connection to the University. The Nadine Gordimer Lectures have brought such luminaries as Susan Sontag, Amartya Sen and Carlos Fuentes to the Wits campus.

The Department of African Literature

This was established in 1983 under the leadership of Es'kia Mphahlele.

The Department of Afrikaans

The Department had strong links with distinguished figures in Afrikaans literary studies (in the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, N.P. van Wyk Louw was finishing his academic career at Wits, while Ampie Coetzee was starting his). Other significant Afrikaans writers who taught in the Wits Afrikaans department included Ernst van Heerden, John Myles and Marlene van Niekerk. Unfortunately, the Department was closed in the early 2000s.

Changing Names

In 2001 the School of Literature and Language Studies was founded.

In 2012 the School’s name changed to the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM) to reflect the importance of Media Studies and Journalism.

To compensate for the loss of certain languages in the early 2000s, the African Language, Creative Writing and Translation programmes encourage scholarship and writing in a wider range of languages at Wits.

The Linguistics Department

The department is known for ground-breaking instrumental phonetics work on Khoisan languages.

It has also been a national centre for studying the phonology, morphology, and semantics of:

  • Zulu
  • Venda
  • Other southern African languages
  • South African English

Disciplines added since 2000

In 2002, Media Studies became the latest addition to the School’s disciplines. The addition of media studies aimed to equip students with critical and analytical skills to understand the institutional role of the media, media production and media audiences.

Another recent addition to the School is the Department of South African Sign Language.

The Journalism Programme at Wits, which became part of SLLM in 2008, is an innovative and premier postgraduate teaching and research unit. It is led by Prof Anton Harber, celebrated South African journalist and co-founder of the Weekly Mail (later the Mail & Guardian).