Student journos tell the tales of Chinese Joburg


Students of the Wits Journalism program launched Chinese Joburg, a website that chronicles the many narratives of the Chinese community of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Comprising a 2000-word feature story and a multimedia production each, the class of 17 (also known  as #teamvuvu) spent a month researching this multi-faceted and often guarded community . The stories range from personal family histories spanning several generations to discussions of themes such as gender, birth, death, self-identity and even expat living among this community.

Some of the multimedia elements include a video about dragon-boat racing in Johannesburg, interviews with a feng shui practitioner and a mandarin-speaking street vendor.

The students completed this project in fulfillment of their Honours in Journalism degree at Wits.

Visit the site at:




G4S-run prison in South Africa investigated over abuse claims

Originally published in The Guardian. Reproduced by permission of the author. 

A South African prison run by the British security company G4S is under investigation for allegedly using forced injections and electric shock treatment to subdue inmates. Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. G4S denies any acts of assault or torture.

The revelations come just weeks after the South African government took over operations from G4S after finding that it had “lost effective control over the prison” in the wake of a series of stabbings, riots, strikes and a hostage taking.

The latest allegations come after a year-long investigation by the Wits Justice Project (WJP) – part of the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand – which uncovered damning video evidence apparently showing forced medication. A staff member at the prison hospital, who did not wish to be named, alleged that inmates are injected with Clopixol Depot, Risperdal, Etomine and Modecate. These heavy anti-psychotic drugs can cause memory loss, muscle rigidity, strokes and other serious, potentially life-threatening side effects.

A video shot on 24 May by the prison’s emergency security team (EST), which is legally required to film all its actions, shows inmate Bheki Dlamini being injected involuntarily. “I am not a donkey,” Dlamini protests loudly, yelling: “No, no, no,” while five men grab him, twist his arms behind his back and drag him to a room where they wrestle him on a bed and a nurse is called.

The staff member said Dlamini’s medical files do not indicate he is psychotic or schizophrenic. Egon Oswald, a human rights lawyer representing Dlamini, said: “He told me that he got into an argument with a warder about the prison food and the EST was called.”

Fourteen recently dismissed EST members, who spoke to the WJP on condition of anonymity, said that they would restrain inmates so they could be forcibly medicated up to five times a week.

The EST members said they had no idea what the inmates were injected with. They claimed that inmates with psychiatric problems or who are being difficult or aggressive received the involuntary treatment.

Inmates also alleged that they were subjected to electric shocks by prison officials. Former inmate Thabo Godfrey Botsane was held in a single cell for four months in 2009. He claims the security team visited him one day because a cell in his unit had been set alight. “They stripped me naked, poured water over me, electroshocked and kicked me. They left me naked and bleeding on the floor. A guy from the prison intelligence unit – not a nurse – came back and he injected me in my buttocks.”

Former warders Pule Moholo, Dehlazwa Mdi and Themba Tom worked in a block at the prison with single cells, known as Broadway. All three say they remember the chilling sound of inmates screaming. Tom said: “There was a sound proof room called the ‘dark room’. EST members would bring inmates there, strip them naked, pour water over them and electroshock them. We would try not to hear the crying and screaming. It was awful.” G4S denies the existence of the “dark room.”

A former G4S employee, who did not wish to be named, said electric shields were necessary because he and his colleagues were hopelessly outnumbered by dangerous prisoners. “We use them sometimes because we are understaffed and we are expected to bring out the results and also to install fear on the inmates,” he told the BBC. “We went overboard, so to say: sometimes you go and shock them individually in a segregation unit just to make sure they could be afraid of us.”

“The management was very happy with the results and with some of the incidents if it was during the week then the official was there at the centre and they would respond with us and we do these things with them, in their presence,” he said.

He admitted using an electric shield on inmates to make then talk. “Yeah we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely… Again and again. Up until he tell you what you want to hear, even if he will lie, but if he can tells you what I want to hear. He can tell the truth but if that’s not the truth that I want, I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it’s a lie.”

Asked by the BBC interviewer if using electroshocking to get answers from prisoners constitutes torture, the EST member replied: “Yes in a simple way… Yes it was common practice.”

British law firm Leigh Day – which recently secured compensation for Kenyan victims tortured by British colonial forces – has been instructed to investigate the claims against G4S in the UK.

Mangaung Correctional Centre is the second largest private prison in the world, and 81% of shares are owned by G4S Care and Justice, one G4S’s three operating companies.

Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day, said: “The allegations raised are shocking in the extreme and require urgent and thorough investigation. If proved to be true, prompt restitution, accountability and lessons learned must follow.”

Egon Oswald added: “We have signed affidavits of five inmates who allege that they have been injected and we think more will come forward. My firm is collaborating with Leigh Day to litigate their claims.”

Forced medication is subject to stringent rules in South Africa. The head of a health institution can decide to treat a patient involuntarily if two clinicians have assessed the patient and if a family member, guardian – or if they are unavailable, a health worker – has approved. Involuntary medication is then only permissible if the patient is a danger to himself or others and if he is incapable of making an informed decision.

South Africa’s correction services minister Sibusiso Ndebele said that an investigation would be launched into the allegations, saying that he viewed them “in a very serious light.” “We will leave no stone unturned in this investigation, in order to ensure that those implicated in such inhumane acts face the consequences of their actions,” he said on Friday.

G4S denied any acts of assault or torture, either by means of electroshocking or medical substances, against inmates. “G4S has a zero tolerance policy against the use of undue or excessive force,” it said. “Inmates have unrestricted and confidential access to the DCS controller, employees from the office of the inspecting judge, the director, healthcare personnel and psychologists, with whom they can log complaints and raise concerns. Should any laws have been broken, DCS would have strongly acted against G4S.”

Andy Baker, president of G4S Africa, denied that any abuse had taken place and said inmates were given injections if they required medication “for their own good.”

“It is important to note that the G4S people do make the decision to medicate, the medical staff do not work for G4S, they are a completely independent entity,” he said.

G4S was awarded a 25-year contract in 2000 for the construction, maintenance and running of the jail. The DCS will hand back the prison if and when G4S can prove its ability to run it again.

CRICKET: Witsie helps out the Proteas

by The Wits School of Health Sciences

Dr Kerith Aginsky. Photo: Provided.

Dr Kerith Aginsky. Photo: Provided.

Dr Kerith Aginsky, a professional biokineticist at the Centre for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, conducted research for South Africa’s national cricket side on a throwing technique that helps cricketers get the ball back to the stumps faster.

‘Our research showed that the time taken to release the ball was quicker, which increases the chance of a run out. The accuracy of throwing the ball at the stumps remained consistent,’ says Aginksy.

In 2012 she tested a technique created by the Proteas’ strength and conditioning coach Rob Walter. The national side started using this technique in 2011 and they wanted to see if research upheld his conviction that it made a difference to the game.

‘The aim of this technique is to keep the fielder much lower to the ground so that after he picks up the ball he throws it back from a lower body position. The rationale is that it takes time to stand up and release the ball, and the time difference between the two techniques is what we researched,’ explains Aginsky. She worked on this research with the South African National Cricket Academy’s strength and conditioning coach Greg King who has a Masters in Sports Science from Rhodes University.

The new technique was aimed at inner ring fielders, within 20 to 30 metres from the stumps. They tested it on approximately 20 National Academy players – the up and coming players who attend an annual training academy for fitness and coaching sessions at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.

Three video cameras to film the fielders

They used three video cameras to film the fielders, two shooting at 50 frames per second and one high speed camera at 120 frames per second, positioned at an angle that captured both the fielder and the stumps in each frame.

‘We based our results on the high speed camera to capture the greatest accuracy in terms of subtle changes from pick up to release,’ Aginsky explains. The same fielders were tested before and after the intervention, with a two month period between the ‘before’ and ‘after’, during which time King worked with the fielders on the new throwing technique. The arm movement remains the same from the lower position, and the players picked up the new technique quickly and were comfortable using it.

The fielders were filmed in two different ways: the first was with a static ball which they picked up and threw at the stumps; the second was with a dynamic ball which was hit by the batsman; the fielder then ran to retrieve it, picked it up and threw it at the stumps.

‘We analysed the video footage frame by frame using video analysis software called Dartfish. It’s regularly used as a tool for professional cricket for a number of purposes, including assessing and analysing changes in the game, undertaking two dimensional analyses of bowling techniques and examining harmful bowling techniques,’ explains Aginsky.

More psychological pressure on the opposing batsman

‘We found that the low throw with the static ball was approximately 1.5 frames less from pick up to release than the conventional throw; and with the dynamic ball the low throw was approximately 1.2 frames less,’ says Aginsky.

‘One frame can certainly make a difference to the game, not only in terms of getting the ball back to the stumps faster but also in terms of putting more psychological pressure on the opposing batsman as to whether he should run or not because the ball is coming back faster.

‘Our research confirmed Walter’s finding that there was a definite decrease in the time taken to release the ball, and an increase in the chance of a run out. The accuracy remained fairly consistent, and the national side is now using the technique readily.’

Aginsky is widely recognised for the work she has done on lower back injuries in cricket players. In September 2012 she presented a workshop on lumbar stabilisation and ultrasound at the first ever Biokinetics Conference in South Africa. At the conference, the Biokinetics Association of Southern Africa named her as the Young Researcher of the Year.

She and King are members of the newly developed Cricket South Africa Research Committee formed in October 2012. The Committee comprises researchers from a number of South African universities who have been involved in cricket or have a specific interest in it. The Chair is Dr Janine Gray, a physiotherapist from the University of Cape Town who focuses on cricket injuries and who supervised Aginsky’s PhD on back pain.

Cricket SA will be driving the research undertaken by the Committee, depending on what is required to improve players’ strength, health and performance. ‘A lot of the cricket research to date has been ad hoc and not used. This initiative will help to ensure that it is far more targeted and, where appropriate, implemented,’ concludes Aginksy.


“Joburg as a piece of art”

ARTISTS UNITE: Tseleng Phala (left) and Kudakwashe Johnson (right) in Braamfontein, on their company's prospects.  Photo: Ray Mahlaka

ARTISTS UNITE: Tseleng Phala (left) and Kudakwashe Johnson (right) in Braamfontein,on their company’s prospects. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

Having grown tired of Johannesburg’s “elitist” art circles and the city’s “faceless” nature, a group of urban youth decided to create a space for the kind of art they believed in.

Kudakwashe Johnson (25) and Tseleng Phala (30) are two of the five-member organisation, Building Unity through Arts (BUA).

BUA describe themselves as “a young company comprised of creatives aiming to bring forth a different kind of perception towards local art.”

This perception is of art as a “hobby and not a career.” The young team want to manage artists and make sure “all they have to worry about is producing work.”

Johnson said they wanted to change society’s perception of art as a non-lucrative industry: “We have architects, graphic designers, engineers and a vendor. We want to have an accountant on the team as well, someone who will just deal with the books.”

This is all in an attempt to make the company a “working machine” in the creative industry.

BUA also want to work on re-establishing real relationships between artists and audiences – undoing the craft’s “aloof” image.

“We want to move away from this conscious ideology artists are associated with,” Johnson said.

The self-employed former Information Technology (IT) student said BUA’s aim was to make art more accessible and exciting to “everyday people”.

He remembered how certain performers did not like BUA hosting poetry sessions at a bar: “They didn’t like the idea of being ‘deep’ in a pub.”

It is this idea, of artists being distinct from “ordinary” people that BUA wants to take apart.

Phala is a former Witsie and BUA’s art director. He is responsible for the organisation’s branding.  He also ensures the quality of all the works put out by the company are “original and of international standard”.

Some of this work will be on display at BUA’s event, “A 1000 People Boogy”, in November.

Performances from some of Johannesburg’s most celebrated artists as well as freshly unearthed acts can be expected. Live poetry and sets from house, drum and bass, hip hop and reggae DJs will be central to the Boogy. The event will also showcase the work of visual artists.

This will be one of BUA’s many events to raise awareness of the company and vision. “We just want attention,” Johnson said, speaking on their efforts to draw crowds to their Facebook page.

Phala said they wanted to give a “face” to Johannesburg by occupying spaces most people would not expect: “We want to have people see Joburg as a piece of art.”

A 1000 People Boogy will be held at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill from 12pm on 30 November.

Editorial: And that’s all folks

Emotions are at an all time high, tempers are flaring and stress levels are increasing by the day. It’s crunch time for every student in South Africa, finishing off a year of studies and although some might be happy that it’s coming to an end and December is just around the corner, others are sad to be leaving and to be handing over the conch to the next bunch.

Team Vuvu is made up of 17 students who have become so close to each other that sharing food, fights and bodily gases has become an everyday norm. We have become a family.

Like every family, ours comes with problems, metaphorical divorces, abortions, marriages and births. We’ve been through it all.

This last paper was not compulsory for us but Team Vuvu decided we just couldn’t leave our faithful fans hanging high and dry without one more edition to wet the holiday appetite.

It has been a busy year to say the least. If we were not knee deep in issues of sexual harassment, we were quarrelling with the SRC, the PYA, the legal office and even the Vice Chancellor. But after the tears had dried, the fists had dropped and the ink had settled nicely onto the pages, they all became part of the family too.

Our message, dear reader, is that whatever your experience has been this year, whoever you loved, hated, beat up or built up, we hope those experiences and people are ones that have changed you for the better, expanded your mind and helped you grow.

In closing this chapter in life you are inclined to reflect and wonder if those New Years’ resolutions were actually accomplished. Looking back we would like to think that this years’ Team Vuvu made some kind of mark at Wits and helped improve things on campus.

Well, we did bag a Vice Chancellor’s team award for transformation.

Apart from the award we look back at 2013 as the year Wits students had their say, the year a number of burning issues were exposed and the year we became addicted to coffee.  We bid you farewell, dear reader, and hope that next years’ Team Vuvu will not drop the spirit stick and keep the journalistic passion alive.