Science programme recieves R44-million

Funds of R44-million have been donated to the Wits Students Equity and Talent Management Unit (SETMU).

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) youth division donated the funds for a five-year term to nurture talented science and mathematics high school pupils.

Talent for Science, Engineering and Technology Careers deputy director, Bersan Lesch, said, “We want to excite people about science and identify and nurture talent which is the aim of this programme. We want to make people follow science because of the shortage in the country of such skills.”

Wits ran a pilot project which attracted the DST. “We selected Wits to run the programme because of the manner they ran the project and the synergy the DST saw within the university’s SETMU,” said Lesch.

GOLDEN HANDSHAKE: Bersan Lesch hands over the partnership agreement to Zena Richards of Setmu Photo: Tshepo Tshabalala

The programme selects 300 top students in the country and it helps them develop science and mathematics skills. It prepares pupils from grades 10 to 12 to study towards university qualifications in science and maths fields.

“Ninety percent of the 300 students should be in the science programme, we don’t want the wrong people to enter the programme. They must already have the interest in science and maths, and the ability. We want to prepare the learners for university,”  Lesch said.

Pupils are chosen from 255 schools nationally selected by the DST that have competed well in the science Olympiads. Eighteen other schools were adopted by the department where they nurture the students they want.

Setmu director Zena Richards said: “Just to reiterate what the vice-chancellor said in 2006 is that investing in talent is a national resource, if we don’t do that, we won’t engage in nation building activities.”

The university hosts three residential camps a year. Pupils will be taught how to design programmes and how to think and develop concepts within the science, maths and language fields. They also spend the week on res to experience campus life and attend workshops.

The camps also cater for pupils who want to study other courses in other faculties.

GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT

Waking up to the news that South Africa’s crime intelligence boss is missing, amidst rumours of murder, should not feel like just another ordinary day in Africa. But gauging by the reactions of the general public on internet news sites, this kind of news comes as neither a shock nor a surprise. It is with a sinking feeling that the nation’s faith in its criminal justice system has reached an all-time low.

 Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, who is widely known as South Africa’s ‘Top Cop’, has been issued a warrant of arrest for a murder he allegedly committed 12 years ago. Corruption is the word of the day. But a subtle reminder to our compatriots that we are neither the judge nor the jury in this case, is certainly in order. When our public figures find themselves in hot water, we tend to almost immediately adopt the attitude of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, unfairly convicting before a fair trial is held.

 Jacob Zuma was labeled a rapist before he had the chance to prove he was innocent. Glen Agliotti was guilty of Brett Kebble’s murder before he even appeared in court. The famous Texas Conviction case in the 1980s when Carlos DeLuna was executed for a murder he may not have committed, should serve as a warning to the South African public, because labelling someone a ‘murderer’ or ‘rapist’ is as hard to retract, as it would be to bring DeLuna back to life.

 No matter how frustrated we become with our justice system, appointing ourselves High Court judges, is not going to solve the problem.

 Without disputing the fact that seemingly guilty people have walked away scot free, some even teeing off on the golf course in KZN, big fishes like Jackie Selebi have found themselves lumped with 15-year sentences behind bars; a reassurance that justice can prevail.

 We can’t call for justice when have made ourselves the judge, jury and executioner, because that way our minds are made up before the system has even had a chance to prove itself capable.

Backstreet abortions are still a popular solution

Backstreet abortion clinics in Braamfontein are used by women because of their 24-hour convenience and lax regulations. Booking a backstreet abortion takes less than five minutes over the phone.

Braamfontein street poles are wrapped with adverts like “Quick and Same day Abortion 100% Guaranteed”. One such advert is by “Dr Williams” who offers  “Safe and pain free” abortions and “free body cleaning and blood detoxification”.

Vuvuzela called “Dr Williams” posing as a young female who was 14 weeks pregnant and wanted an abortion. He said, “Sure, you can come have the abortion, it’s fine even after three months because it’s not a baby yet. You will come here, and I will give you the pills and then you can go home. After three hours the pregnancy will come out in form of a miscarriage. Just meet me at 5pm at Noord taxi rank.”

When asked if there would be pain, he said “No, it will be like period pains”. All of this would cost R500.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act 1996 stipulates that all women in South Africa can choose to terminate a pregnancy within the first 12 weeks and thereafter only under special circumstances upon a medical practitioner’s recommendation.

Tshepo Kgapane, 2nd year BCom law, said: “Guys encourage girls they impregnate to do backstreet abortions because it’s cheap and no paper trail is left, unlike when you use medical aid. It is more confidential and stays between you and the person giving you the illegal abortion.

“But, it’s an unsafe option because who regulates these people? Who makes sure they are using the proper medical tools?”

“I know of two girls who have had illegal abortions and one of them was at university and opted for that option because she had a bursary and was scared to lose it. She was later admitted to hospital because of complications. That’s how we came to find out she had a backstreet abortion,” Kgapane said.

Ipas South Africa is a global organisation that works with youth and community-based organisations to increase knowledge and awareness of sexual and reproductive health rights.

Karen Trueman, the SA manager, said: “Often young women don’t know about the free services they can access at public sector clinics. Sometimes they wait too long to confirm that they are pregnant, ending with them presenting at legitimate public sector clinics beyond 12 weeks. This means they have to be referred to a facility that has a doctor who is prepared to provide second trimester services – sadly these are few and far between. Chris Hani Bara has 4 beds allocated to second trimester services. The lamppost adverts are designed to attract these desperate women.”

Pharmacy students lose out in hospital budget cuts

Wits 4th year pharmacy students now have less spending money and more free time on their hands as Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital has cut down student staff hours.

In the past the hospital’s pharmacy department has hired 4th year students to work and gain experience to alleviate the long queues and wait that patients have to endure. That is about to change because of budget cuts and the hiring of senior pharmacists.

A 4th year pharmacy student who has worked in the pharmacy since last year and did not want to be name , says hospital management are trying to solve the queuing problem by hiring more experienced staff.

“Students work gets double checked and that might reduce displacement time.”

He feels they should hire more students as staff instead of cutting down on student hours and replacing them with “more experienced” pharmacists.

“That way they’d pick up the pace” and students would gain experience in a learning environment.

Students are upset about the cut in hours as it means they won’t get the much-needed practical experience and some rely on the money that they earn.

National Students Pharmacy Council president Hilton Stevens, who worked at the hospital’s pharmacy, says the system has changed and seems to “have gotten worse even though management tries to meet the workload”.

He feels there was a communication breakdown between doctors and pharmacists which added to the pharmacist’s problem of sometimes needing to explain to patients about discontinued medication that had been prescribed.

“Queues are inevitable and displacement of medication takes time as the pharmacist needs to make sure the patient understands how to take the medication,” Stevens says.

The high workload and pressures they work under sometimes results in pharmacists and patients tempers flaring.

Patients like Botha Hermien from Midrand wait outside the pharmacy doors from 4.30am to avoid waiting in queues. Some patients complain about receiving rude service and being shouted at when they ask questions.

The hospital’s chief pharmacist would not comment and the public relations officer could not be reached for comment before Vuvuzela went to print.

Local group aims to make Wikipedia a valid academic research tool

WIKIPEDIA should be seen as a valid resource tool for academic work, according to a local non-profit organisation.

The African Commons Project director, Kerryn Mckay, said the Wikimedia foundation’s chapter committee recently approved a local chapter which aims to improve the website’s reputation among academics. Wikimedia is a non-profit charitable organisation which runs several projects, including Wikipedia.

She said the group would “definitely look at raising awareness [about Wikipedia] this year” on campuses in South Africa.

Mckay said the chapter’s aim of promoting Wikipedia at universities is not about changing the site or how it is moderated, but rather informing tertiary institutions about the “stats and compelling reasons as to why it is a useful resource”.

A document regarding referencing in academic work from the Wits school of education in 2008 says “students are forbidden to use or cite Wikipedia”.

Several other similar documents can be found on the internet from tertiary institutions, such as the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town, which also discourage students from using the reference site in academic essays.

Izak Minnaar, SABC editor of digital news, said “Wikipedia can be an incredibly rich source, if the information you are looking at is a result of the best brains reviewing the topic.”

However, Minnaar said only if South African academics use and review information on the site themselves, will Wikipedia become acceptable at tertiary institutions for essays and research.

“South African academics should wake up to the fact that Wikipedia is the people’s access to information,” said Minnaar.

Mckay said the chapter is bidding to host Wikimania 2012 in Stellenbosch. Wikimania is an annual event run by the Wikimedia foundation in which projects and issues surrounding the foundation are discussed. South Africa is currently the only African country with an official bid.

Mckay said Stellenbosch was the preferred location because there is an interest in Wikipedia from the University of Stellenbosch. This would help build the discussion around academia and Wikipedia.

Long ride to education

ARRIVING safely and on time at their destinations is a daily concern for Wits students who use taxis to get to and from the university due to financial constraints.

“Will I get to my destination?” is a question first year accounting sciences student, Tsholofelo Masilo, says he asks himself constantly.

“When they said Wits gives you the edge, I never thought it would be on the edge of the taxi seat.”

Another commuter, Bonolo Mophosho, describes taking a taxi as “a leap of faith”.

As academic success is the sole purpose of them commuting in the first place, time is also a factor that weighs heavily upon the students.

BETWEEN A DESK AND A HARD PLACE: Thami Zondo on the floor that was his bed for two weeks. Photo: Anelisa Ngewu

“The travelling impacts my studies negatively. I could achieve more marks if I stayed around,” says Bonginkosi Mthombeni, who lives in Vosloorus and spends up to 4 hours a day in queues and on the road.

On a good day, he sleeps for a maximum of four-and-a-half hours.

Female students are especially concerned about safety, claiming they are targets for crime.

“They think we’ve got money,” says Thembisa resident Gugulethu Baloyi, who once narrowly escaped being robbed.

“I don’t feel safe at all. We’re victimised because we’re women,” says Baloyi, referring to a girl who was raped at the Noord taxi rank some time ago.

Thembelihle Tshabalala, who commutes from Meadowlands, says the Mandela Bridge is the worst.

Some students stay at home voluntarily, however.

“It’s more comfortable at home; someone cooks and does the laundry,” says BCom economics and finance student, Mokhele Tsotsotso.

Regarding his motivation for the daily commute, Masilo says it is knowing that though he might be a “slave” now, he will be the “master” later. “I wouldn’t trade it [coming to university] for anything.”

Wits ANCYL branch calls for nationalisation of South Africa’s mines

Nationalisation of the country’s mines would solve all issues of financial exclusion on campus, the ANC Youth League at Wits said this week.

“We believe that nationalisation would benefit students the most. The wealth of this country should be in the hands of everybody, and if it were, we would not have a situation where academically deserving students don’t go to school because they are not funded,” Itumeleng Mafatshe, coordinator of the ANCYL’s working class team at Wits, said.

“We are going to find a way to buy them out, and the sooner we nationalise mines the sooner we will realise free education,” said outgoing ANCYL Wits president Kholofelo Selepe.

Agreeing with the national ANCYL’s stance on nationalisation, Mafatshe said that although it is not a new issue, it’s an important one. “There is a lot to gain here and we need to think tactically and relook at its implementation,” she said.

However, not all students are supportive of this call.

“We shouldn’t nationalise mines, because our government can’t even run state parastatals efficiently, how are they going they run the mines?” asked Themba Khumalo.

“A better solution would be to fix up the current state of the parastatals so that government can prove their capacity to run these,” he said, adding that cadre deployment has failed and the government now needs to find new ways of fixing current problems before taking on new ones.

Refuting the ANCYL’s claim that students will benefit, Khumalo said that “there is no guarantee students will see even one cent of that money”.

“The parastatals such as Eskom and the SABC are being run into the ground. Their profits aren’t being distributed, so how will those of the mines be any different?” he asked.

Mafatshe said the ANCYL’s main objective on campus is to lobby people under the ANC and “conscientise” students.

Our primary concern is the issue of the financial exclusion of deserving students, but, by virtue of us being on campus, we are not excluded from things happening off campus, we fight battles that affect the youth as a whole. We are black and working class, and this doesn’t change because we’re at Wits,” she said, adding that although nationalisation was not their main priority on campus, its remains a priority.

FYI, The Oxford Dictionary and sms slang are now BFFs

OMG, LOL, BFF and “♥ to heart” can now be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The latest set of online updates in the dictionary (OED) was released last week, generating controversy.

The inclusion of texting and internet-inspired initialisms – abbreviations consisting of the initial letters of expressions, such as “oh my God” and “laughing out loud” – has caused mixed reactions.

English professor at Wits school of literature and language studies, Victor Houliston, said: “The underlying question is: ‘what is a dictionary for?’ Is it to prescribe how words should be used, or is it merely a guide to the way words are actually used?”

According to him, most people instinctively tend to be “uneasy about the inclusion of words with dubious legitimacy”. His view was backed by students’ responses.

Lufefe Boss, a 2nd year BA African literature student, said: “I do not think that including such vocabulary in an acclaimed dictionary such as the Oxford will serve the purpose of why people consult dictionaries.”

“What next will we have? Smiley faces and refresh buttons part of the dictionary?” said Nandi Ganda, a 2nd year BA linguistics student who thinks the use of this “cyber slang” is limited to very few environments.

Kelly Harris, Kayleigh Rabie and Daniella Sleigh, 3rd year BEd students and teachers in training, think that the OED’s update might give students the right to use slang in academic writings, making it harder for essays to be taken seriously.

“The Oxford Dictionary is seen as a high academic ‘resource’ and by having OMG, LOL etc. in the dictionary, it takes away the high standard that it carries with it,” they said.

Associate professor of sociolinguistics Tommaso Milani disagrees with his colleague’s point of view that “we should try to stick to plain English and accepted rules of grammar”.

Milani said the update is very positive in a way that it acknowledges the importance of internet language in contemporary society.

“I like the fact that there is diversity in the language and I’m happy that authoritative sources, like dictionaries, mirror that diversity rather than suppressing it,” he said.

The latest update revised more than 1900 entries. The OED publishes four updates each year and the next one is in June.

Psychology department postpones semester test

THIRD year students registered for the Psych 3001 (Abnormal Psychology) course had their semester test called off and some of them say “departmental incompetence is to blame”.

The test was scheduled for Monday, March 28 after lunch and was called off when it was discovered that there were not enough question papers for each student. The test was then rescheduled for Wednesday, March 30 but changed again to “communicate with students as to when a more mutually agreed time would be to write”.

A psychology student who wanted to remain anonymous said: “How can, at an institution such as Wits, there not be enough test question papers printed for every student.

“The psychology department as a whole is incompetent because even when it comes to receiving assessment results and essay marks they do not stick to their own deadlines.

“There is also ineffective communication because even though the class rep [representative] was SMSed to say that the test would not be on Wednesday as initially said, not every student got the notification.”

Another psychology student, Lunga Thabethe, said: “I don’t blame the lecturer because he hands out the amount of papers he receives from the department.

“The department works under pressure, therefore labelling them as incompetent is an unfair reflection. Also it is the first time this has occurred in my three years at Wits.”

Head of the psychology department, Prof Andrew Thatcher, said: “I see and understand students’ concerns so we will have to agree with the students when the test can be written as it is one of two faculty requirement assessments.

“I was told by admin that 195 question papers were copied as we have approximately 193 registered students.

“We have so far communicated with the class rep and sent e-mails to some of the students whose  address we have and we will do our best to deal with students’ concerns”.

In the Wednesday lecture, the course coordinator Prof Karen Milner apologised to students and it was then decided that the test would be re-written on Monday, April 4.

ASAWU wage battle begins

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) is preparing to go into annual wage negotiations with Wits management.

“The relationship between Asawu and Wits management became strained last year when negotiations stopped and management imposed a settlement on us,” said Asawu’s president Prof. David Dickinson, adding that there is a widespread perception among staff that management treats them with disdain and with a petty approach to their issues.

The dispute between the two parties last year was heightened by Asawu’s claims that management was denying them of their legal rights by withholding information, culminating in Asawu successfully taking Wits to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

“Last year was quite a bruising year, and we hope management has learnt from their mistakes. However, as we go into wage negotiations this time, there is at least a commitment that has been reaffirmed by the university to benchmark salaries of academics,” Dickinson said.

Asawu said Wits salaries should be at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector – which means 75% of the average for the sect across all 23 higher learning institutions. “At the moment we’re well below the 75th percentile and this year we will be looking at a substantial, above-inflation increase for academics to help bring us to that 75 percent,” he said, adding that Wits has to pay their academics at a reasonable rate.

 “The reason it should be in the 75th percentile rather than the 50th, is because on average the cost of living in Joburg is higher and, more importantly, because we are one of the best universities in South Africa and we have to pay competitive wages in comparison to the key competitors – UCT, Rhodes and Stellenbosch. We have to compete for talent,” said Dickinson.

In a letter titled “A Change of Gear” that was sent to their members, Asawu called for a relationship of mutual respect between management and academics to be established.

“We don’t want to strike, we’re a professional union, we have more PHDs in our union than probably all the other unions combined in Gauteng, we’re a different breed,” said Dickinson adding that the vast majority of Asawu’s members were reluctant to see the disruption of education.

“But one thing we are very clear on is that if management refuses us information that we have a legal right to, we will go straight back to the CCMA,” he said.

UJ decision gets a mixed response

After months of pressure the University of Johannesburg (UJ) finally decided to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) on March 23.

The call to do this was largely motivated by the belief that their association with BGU was morally wrong because it has collaborations with the Israeli military occupying Palestinian territories.

“This is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in South Africa” was the response of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) after hearing of the decision.

The broader international campaign called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel was initiated in 2005 by Palestinian NGOs who believed it had to stand until Israel complied with the Universal Principles of Human Rights.

“Palestinians themselves go to BGU and they don’t see the reason to boycott it, so I don’t see why we should”, says Devan Mogg, a member of SAUJS.

However, The Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC) feels this is a positive development.

“This is a landmark moment in the fight against what amounts to apartheid…The campaign calls for all people to be given equal rights, to have their basic human rights respected,” says Kate Joseph of the organisation.

Sifiso Nkabinde, an international relations honours student, says this decision might be detrimental for South Africa’s endeavours of bringing in the best technological minds. “What’s going to happen to the water project now?”

Professor Daryl Glaser of the Wits department of political studies and a signatory to the petition says the issue for him is not the boycotting of individual academics or isolating Israelis from global academic debate, but the ending of formalised relationships with Israeli institutions that support a racist and expansionist system.

He says the support of this process by Wits academics is necessary because “it is important that this does not look like the concern of UJ academics alone”.

Mapaseka Sangweni, a 3rd year media studies student, agreed with the decision, saying it was a good thing some Wits academics also supported it. ‘I admire their moral stance on this one…they need to be applauded.”

Memorial match in honour of Witsies

The inaugural Memorial Cup to honour Witsies who died last year was held last Thursday at the Bidvest Stadium.

The sports administration of Wits invited four soccer teams – faculty teams Educators FC and Miners FC and residence teams Earnest Oppenheimer Hall of Residence (EOH) and Men’s Hall of Residence -to participate in a mini-tournament.

“The idea is important to the memory of those who have departed,” said assistant registrar for residences, Naziem Randera. “I think it’s quite fitting that they’ve organised the Cup, it makes you not forget the people who have left.”

Randera added that the students who died were also “keen soccer players- both at EOH and at education campus”.

Vuyolwethu Xulu, a resident at EOH, lost a friend in a car crash last year.

“It’s a very good idea to have a memorial match,” he said. The 3rd year law student was also a participant in the game on Thursday. “It’s a good feeling to know that the school acknowledges when people get hurt and someone dies.”

Xulu believed the teams were playing for much more than the trophy and that the game was a good way of honouring their friends, “instead of just saying they’ve died”.

Boitumelo Seake, the sister of a student who passed away, was invited to the match by members of the EOH house committee. “The match is a nice thing, now I know that my brother is going to be remembered,” she said.

“In a big school environment like this,” said the 4th year civil engineering student, “you don’t think that the deaths of students will be remembered. But my brother was good at soccer and the match is a good way to remember that and his memory.”

Seake said that she was surprised and pleased when she got the call about the match.