Wits has no control over high food prices at the Matrix


The Matrix is the hub of East Campus activity, catering to thousands of students on a daily basis. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Wits University has no control over the high cost of food at the Matrix as the building is outsourced.

The cost of food in the popular student venue is heavily influenced by the high price of rent shop owners are expected to pay to the management company, from anywhere between R8 000 and R38 000 a month.

The Matrix – which consists only of the ground floor and banks on the second floor (it makes up one part of the Student Union Building) – is outsourced, according to Director of Services, Theresa Main. This means that shop owners and managers in the Matrix end up paying rent to Micromatica, who privately owns the building, and not the university itself. Wits signed a twenty year contract with the property developer (Micromatica) in 2002 in order to invest, develop and manage the Matrix.

Originally created as the Student Union Building, housing the Student Representative Council (SRC), it was meant to bring in revenue for the SRC and although they are making money from it, it is very little in comparison to how much rent shop owners are expected to pay, according to a former SRC member who did want to be named.

[pullquote]It affects the price of their food and shop managers throughout the building are concerned about how expensive it is becoming for students to eat at the Matrix.[/pullquote]

The sweet shop, situated at the entrance of the building, pays the least amount of rent, according to its manager, Carla, who said “You have to pay rent, then more for the cleaners, staff and buy all of your stock … the rent is very high”. In total, it costs her about R20 000 to maintain her small business, that provides students with cheap cold drinks, chocolates, chips and other basics.

Although students only spend a total of about about six months on campus, shops are expected to pay rent for the entire year, with the exception of July and December, when campus shuts down entirely.

Rasta, the manager at Sizzler’s, says “my boss is always complaining about how expensive rent is”. It affects the price of their food and shop managers throughout the building are concerned about how expensive it is becoming for students to eat at the Matrix.

However, the university needs to cover all bases and maintaining such a large area (with so many different types of food options and requirements) costs money. Wits Services has “invested time and effort into building strong relationships with credible suppliers, adding the ingredient of ‘trust’ into the valued relationships we have with our customers throughout campus”. This is why the university chose to partner with a property developer in the first place, so that all of its needs could be fulfilled, according to Professor Beatrys Lacquet, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Information, Knowledge and Infrastructure Management.

When asked about the increasing cost of food in the Matrix, Lacquet said, “Wits Services Department is very aware of the impact of pricing on food security on campus. As such, our Director of Services engaged in a comprehensive study to determine the impact of such on various levels as well as to determine the best business model for retail operations on campus”.

Hiring professionals to do so has continued to be the best solution for the university.

Shop owners and managers remain wary of increasing their prices by too much, with the worry that students will choose to eat off campus instead.

Disabled students roll with the punches


MAKING IT THROUGH: Second year BCom PPE, Brian Sibanda, a paraplegic, makes his way to class. Photo: Luke Matthews

MAKING IT THROUGH: Second-year BCom PPE, Brian Sibanda, a paraplegic, makes his way to class.
Photo: Luke Matthews

Disabled students at Wits still struggle on campus despite plans to make their lives easier.

Several departments at Wits are working to improve the experiences and learning conditions of disabled students but a more widespread approach is needed across the university.

Duncan Yates, psychologist and learning disabilities coordinator at the Wits Disability Unit (WDU) said that there needs to be more changes made to accommodate all disabled students. He added that there have been some improvements.

“In the library we have what is called IPals … these are cameras that take pictures of texts [from books] and recites the text for visually impaired students, so we’ve had to look at alternative formats for disabled students,” he said.

Yates said an organisation called the Disability Interest Group gets together to discuss the struggles of disabled people and look for solutions.

One of the initiatives which will be implemented is Access Maps. Yates explained that these are online maps where disabled students can find different, accessible routes to entrances, parking, and classes on the different campuses.

Responsibility lies with the whole university

“Another challenge at Wits is that the buildings are old and when they were built they didn’t make provisions for disabled students, so it’s hard to make the necessary adjustments,” he said.

Anlia Pretorius, head of the Wits Disability Unit, said: “The DU cannot be everywhere all the time, so the responsibility lies with the whole university.”

[pullquote align=”right”]”The challenge is that when you’re in a wheelchair you always have to take the long way”[/pullquote]

Pretorius said she knew of a blind student who once bumped into a pillar which had been placed in the middle of walk-way.

“She obviously didn’t know that it was put there so she walked into it and broke her tooth … We need to work together to create solutions and create more awareness about the different disabilities,” said Pretorius.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a student, who asked not to be named, who has a learning disability. Learning disabilities are often called the ‘silent disability’ as they cannot be physically seen by others.

“I didn’t understand why I was slow and why I struggled to keep up in class. After my June results I went to look for help, because I was scared I would fail. I received therapy and I was taught different learning styles like learning with shapes and colours like in pre-school,” the student said.

“The DU helped me be patient with myself and not be ashamed of my condition because people don’t understand it and judge you.”

Pretorius said there has been a good response from lecturers and students who want to learn to work with disabled students.

“It’s important for the Wits community to understand because these students don’t want to be labelled,” she said.

Accessibility and Advocacy office at Wits

Brian Sibanda, 2nd year BCom PPE, told Wits Vuvuzela that being in a wheelchair was a “challenge” at Wits.

“The challenge is that when you’re in a wheelchair you always have to take the long way. Another one is that when you’re new you don’t know your way around and most structures don’t accommodate the disabled.”

Yates said disabilities are sidelined and there needs to be universal designing of structures and facilities to accommodate everyone.

The university is in the process of staffing an accessibility and advocacy office. The office will look at what is needed to benefit the disabled throughout the university.



Clothing vendor returns ‘stolen’ phone

UPDATE: Jila, the clothing store vendor, claims that he found the abandoned cellphone on a chair at the Wits Theatre. According to Jila, he held onto the phone for 2 hours waiting for the owner to return but then decided he was going to keep the phone. He erased all the data on the phone so he could keep it for himself.



IN SHOCK: Campbell Meas holding the phone that she almost lost.Photo: Percy Matshoba

A vintage clothing store vendor on Wits campus has defended his theft of a drama student’s cell phone last week, explaining that he “belongs to the marginalised class.”

Third-year Drama student Campbell Meas was having lunch with her friends at the Wits Theatre when Jila—who is well-known around campus for his vintage clothing—approached her table to sell his wares.

Meas was interested in the clothes but did not buy any at the time. She asked Jila, if he had a website or Facebook page where she could see more of his clothing.

Jila lamented to Meas about his “misfortune” because he did not have a smartphone to take online pictures of his clothing. He told Meas he wanted to sell his clothing on social media.

Jila then left the table. Meas and her friends finished lunch and she returned to class. However, she received a shock when she realised that her phone was missing. Meas tried calling the number but the call went straight to voicemail.

“That’s how I knew it was stolen,” she said.

Meas suspected Jila had stolen her phone. A mutual acquaintance confirmed they had seen Jila with a new phone that fit the description of Meas’ blue Samsung S4.

[pullquote]“I do not feel any remorse … she should be more careful” [/pullquote].

Through the mutual acquaintance Meas was able to phone Jila, who readily admitted that he had stolen her phone. After some negotiation, he agreed to return it.

Meas said Jila brought back the phone. However instead of apologising he “gave me a lecture” about being more careful.

When contacted by Wits Vuvuzela, Jila not only admitted to taking the phone but said it was “important” that his actions be reported on because they were an example of “social class issues”.

Jila defended the theft to Wits Vuvuzela and said it was not an act of “gangsterism”. He said that the incident highlighted the differences in social classes on campus since Jila “belongs to the marginalised class”.

Jila said he planned on selling the phone because he needed the money. He said his encounter with Meas showed how different social classes “prioritise”.

“I didn’t think about being a Good Samaritan when I took the phone,” he said. “I saw a solution to my problem.”

Jila told Wits Vuvuzela that he was not sorry for taking Meas phone.

“I do not feel any remorse … she should be more careful,” he said

BLA promises innovative student development


New team, new plans: The newly elected BLA Student Chapter executive council. (Five more members were not available to take the photo)          Photo: Nqobile Dludla

New team, new plans: The newly elected BLA Student Chapter executive council. (Five more members were not available to take the photo)                                                                                       Photo: Nqobile Dludla

The newly elected Black Lawyers Association (BLA) Wits Student Chapter executive council said it was ready to earn the confidence it needs from law students.

This comes just weeks after the rigorous LSC elections produced candidates aimed at accelerating student development and improving services in the Law school. The newly elected BLA executive council was announced last Thursday, March, 19.

Among other things Zareef Minty, chairperson, said the new executive council intends to prioritise innovative student development through mentorship programmes.

“The BLA allows students to develop the opportunity to get involved with meeting advocates, following and seeing how procedure is done practically before getting into fourth year of your degree,” said Minty.

Through a series of educational activities, the BLA intends to create a line of communication between students and the legal profession and promote integration between the two.

Citing the LSC’s Career Week in which big law firms entice potential recruits, Ritondeni Matamela, career liaison officer, said unlike the LSC, their aim is to expose law students to other small firms. “We as the BLA will focus on small firms which are in partnership with our mother body and try to bring them to the students. We want to say to students that you don’t only have to go to the top five law firms; there are many other alternative options available.”


Introducing the 2014 BLA executive council 

Chairperson: Zareef Minty

Deputy Chair: Zuko Khoza

Secretary: Palesa Ntentesa

Deputy Secretary: Khwezi Zulu

Treasurer: Sandile Mncwabe

Entertainment:  Takudza Muromba

Academic: Mapule Setlaleleng

Career liaison officer: Ritondeni Matamela

Media and publicity: Seadimo Tlale

Community outreach: Vuyo Ngubane


Not the power hour


A NIGHT WITHOUT LIGHT: Wits Generation Earth members watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth on Thursday night on the dimly-lit Library Lawns in preparation for Earth Hour on Saturday, March 29. Photo: Tracey Ruff

What do Al Gore, candle-lit lanterns, Wits students and the East Campus Library Lawns have in common?

The answer is simple: environmental awareness.

On Thursday evening, Wits Generation Earth society members hosted a screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth under the canvas of the night skies on the Library Lawns.

Although the event was essentially about getting members of the society to know each other, it was also an act of support for this Saturday’s global earth hour.

Getting involved

Wits’ Property and Infrastructure Management Division (PIMD) made its contribution to Earth Hour by switching off the Library Lawns’ lights for Thursday evening’s movie screening.

According to Courtney Jones, 2nd year LLB and president of Wits Generation Earth, “it would have cost Generation Earth to switch the Library Lawns’ lights off, so PIMD sponsored it for us in celebration of Earth Hour”.

When asked about what Witsies can do to be more environmentally conscious, Jones replied, “In a country like South Africa, you really have to advocate for small changes.” Jones has her own veggie patch and is being increasingly conscious about recycling at home.

Generation Earth secretary Ritondeni Matamela, 3rd year LLB, echoes Jones’ sentiments. “I try my best to do the small stuff” and “I’ll definitely be switching off for Earth Hour”.

Project Planet

One of Matamela’s projects for this year is to revamp and reintroduce the garden that the Generation Earth team has on West Campus. “We really want to make it big and make it well-known around our members and also the Wits students.”

Witsies are encouraged to switch off for Earth Hour this Saturday from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

Texas Ranger starves over Nkandla

Warren Chalklen

Warren Chalklen in his protest against corruption in Nkandla from Texas, USA.
Photo: Provided

Former Witsie Warren Chalklen embarked on a twenty-four hour hunger strike that ended yesterday, in a peaceful protest against corruption by South African leaders.

The former Witsie and many other supporters of the cause were “protesting against the alleged Nkandla corruption and to protect the dignity of all South Africans” according to Chalklen. The strike began on Wednesday in Texas, from 7am to 7am the following morning.

The protest comes a week after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s release of the Nkandla report that accused President Jacob Zuma of unfairly benefitting from security upgrades to his private residence in Nkandla. The President is yet to respond to the report.

[pullquote]“How else can I voice my disgust at this situation than to ally with the poor who will go hungry as a result of this?”[/pullquote]

Zuma now has less than a week to respond to the prosecutors report claiming that he should return a portion of the money used on his Nkandla home.

Chalklen believes that if ordinary citizens can go for a full day without food and have the discipline to voluntarily starve, by the same logic, South African leaders can discipline themselves to reduce spending for personal gain.

Chalklen's final words as he concludes his twenty-four hour protest on Thursday morning. Photo: Provided

Chalklen’s final signage as he concludes his twenty-four hour protest on Thursday morning.                       Photo: Provided

When asked why he chose to do a hunger strike as his form of protest, Chalklen responded: “This is a moral issue that requires a moral response …Through peaceful protest we show them that we will not stand for this impunity.”

Chalklen said his aim with the hunger strike was to stimulate discussion and encourage people to build a better South Africa. “The principle of the matter in my context, how else can I voice my disgust at this situation than to ally with the poor who will go hungry as a result of this?”

Many of his social media peers supported his plight by liking and sharing his posts. However, some criticised Chalken, questioning his rationale in not waiting until after Madonsela’s deadline and then to strike if he did not get answers.

“The aim of the strike is not to gain support, the aim is to use our energies to send a message that each citizen has the power to utilise their democratic freedoms to hold leaders accountable. There is never a good time to act. Corruption happened, powerful people are unaccountable, individuals feel hopeless, and we need, in the short term, something to give people purpose, hope and a sense that they matter. It is likely this will not conquer anything, but that’s not the point nor purpose.”

Chalklen, a South African,  graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a Bachelor of Education where he also received the Jack Hutton Memorial Award. He has since graduated as a Master in Public Service and Administration (MPSA), at a university in Texas, where he currently resides.

Students struggle with Sakai access

The stress of end of term tests was added to by downtime of the Wits e-learning system Sakai this week.

Problems with access to the Wits-e portal have created added stress for the many Witsies who have been writing end-of-block tests and trying to submit assignments.

Students have been struggling to access notes and haven’t been able to submit their assignments timeously due to problems with the e-learning site.

Ntombi Mkhize, 3rd year MBBCh, has been having “internet problems since Friday”.

[pullquote]It’s a bit of a mess because all our announcements are either on Sakai or on Facebook groups. It’s frustrating.”[/pullquote]

“Sakai seems to be working properly but you need to constantly refresh or enter the URL multiple times. It’s a bit of a mess because all our announcements are either on Sakai or on Facebook groups. It’s frustrating.”

Maggie Lephale tweeted Wits e-learning on Tuesday saying, “Sakai down again, been trying to submit my assignment for the past hour”.

Wits Vuvuzela managed to speak to Lephale on Wednesday. “The only problem is that I missed the deadline [for the submission of the assignment]. I hope it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Slow Internet connections

Nkululeko Nkosi, 3rd year LLB, said he “luckily” didn’t have a test this week, but he does have an assignment due and the “internet from res is slow.”

“I’ve resorted to using Com labs. I can’t access Sakai from res. I have to go to main campus to access it. I’ve asked the SRC to look into it though. I [also] can’t access online resources from my laptop at res. I can only access them using a computer on campus. It also takes time for Sakai to load, it’s very slow.”

Wits Vuvuzela spoke with Mitchell Hughes, lecturer in Information Systems in the School of Economic and Business Sciences about lecturer problems with Sakai.

Although Hughes’ experience of Wits-e “has been good”, he has noticed that “there has been … more downtime in 2014 than in previous years.”

“It has been more of an inconvenience than genuinely prohibitive for me personally though.”

Hughes took to reassuring students who have been having troubles with Sakai. “We will accommodate a known and widespread issues wherever possible,” he said.

(e-) Learning not to rely solely on the system 

However, Hughes also suggested that students learn time management and contingency planning.

“The difficult lies in distinguishing a genuine issue from an excuse for simply leaving things too late and then conveniently blaming the platform.”

On March 25, Wits-e put a warning out to facilitators to be “cautious” about using the platform for the moment because there have been problems and complaints with it.


DOING THEIR BEST: A screen-shot from the Twitter account of Wits Elearning informing students of problems and assuring them that the developers are working on rectifying the issues.

In response to this, Hughes replied, “My reading is that it is [advisable] not to rely solely on the platform … This is worrying as we are being encouraged to make as much use of the platform as possible and … we need to be able to trust it. I would certainly be in favour of increased resource support for eLSI”.

Funza fund not fair, claim students

Students from the Wits Education campus have raised their unhappiness about the allocation of the Funza Lushaka bursary. Many education students want to know why they did not receive the Funza Lushaka bursary and how the funds are allocated.

ACADEMIC RESULTS:  A student from the School of Education believed that this high aggregate was enough for the Funza Lushaka bursary to be granted.

ACADEMIC RESULTS: A student from the School of Education believed that this high aggregate was enough for the Funza Lushaka bursary to be granted. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

Some of the education students shared their frustrations on the Wits Education Student Council Facebook group page.

“Only less than 20 second year students got Funza, this is not fair,” Gavin Kay Mothopone said. A fellow student, Zandile Zandi Xaba, agreed saying, “Eish this is so not fair yazi”.

A second-year education student, who did not want to be named, told Wits Vuvuzela that she did not understand how she was not granted the bursary this year since her average mark was 72%, a result she believes should have resulted in a bursary.

Not every student can be awarded the bursary

The administrator of the Funza Lushaka bursary, Mfundo Mbatha, said there was little the university could do about the student’s complaints. “The bursary is not ours, it is a government bursary and so the government determines the policy to improve the supply of teachers,” she said.

Prof Graham Hall of the Education school said the Funza Lushaka bursary was intended to address the shortage of teachers in the country and the bursary conditions change every other year due to the demand and supply of teachers. He said that the bursary now prefers students who will teach “foundation phase”–meaning grade zero to three—in an applied African language, as well as those who will teach technology and pure mathematics.

“There are conditions for the bursary and not every student can be awarded it,” Hall said.

Mbatha stated that a lack of funds were a regular problem, “every year I have to attend to re-applicants first and then attend to the new applicants.”

“But there is really nothing we can do as the university, as we take what we get from government and try to assist the students as much as we can,”  Mbatha added.

Mbatha said that students need to understand that the bursary prioritises a high academic performance.  Students disadvantage themselves when they change their majors from what they applied to teach for Funza, within their education degrees. She said that while Wits staff explains the academic curriculum to the board, the final decision on the distribution of the funds was made by government.

Wits prof researches grants for pregnant students

Unlike Europe where most universities have formal structures to support pregnant students, South African universities are yet to implement such structures. Even then, supervisors at Wits have still found ways in which to assist pregnant students.

Mahnaaz Abdulla, 22, a marketing honours student at Wits was unable to continue as a full-time student after she fell pregnant.

Although she managed to complete all her courses in the first semester last year, she gave birth in June and was unable to sit for her mid-term exams. “My research and exams had to be carried on to this year,” said Abdulla.

However, she says Wits showed tremendous support and “assisted me by letting me switch to part-time.”

Professor Alex van den Heever, Chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits says countries like Sweden have structures in place to support pregnant students so they can finish their education and believes a similar system would work well in South Africa.

[pullquote align=”right”]“It is extremely difficult as a new mother to make that choice and to have an infrastructure that will allow such a return.”[/pullquote]

Alex van den Heever, who has done research on income protection for pregnant women, says there are ways to structurally shape education institutions for pregnant students and mothers such as building crèche facilities on campus.

Van den Heever’s research looks at extending social grants to pregnant women above the age of 18 years. “Students who are pregnant are not supported in education easily,” van den Heever says. He added that increasing the age at which grants are given would stabilise the economy since it would enable pregnant students complete their studies instead of dropping out.

In Abdulla’s case, Basie Jordaan, the honours co-ordinator in her department, helped by sorting the paperwork quickly. “Basie used to email me all the time so that I was in touch with my research,” Abdulla says.

Pregnant students encouraged to finish

The Registrar for Health Sciences, Sandra Benn, encourages students who fall pregnant to come back and complete their degrees. Students often grapple with the difficult decision to either have an abortion or keep the baby, she says.

“It is extremely difficult as a new mother to make that choice and to have an infrastructure that will allow such a return. Either way a student is encouraged to finish,” Benn says.Marike Bosman, Registrar of Management and Law, says it is hard to distinguish when students de-register from their degrees as a result of pregnancy. “They will either say it is a wrong choice of study or for personal reasons. We will not know why they really cancelled.”

Professor Alex van den Heever carries out research in extending social grants to pregnant women above 18 years old. Image: Wits Vuvuzela.

The Student Advisor for the Faculty of Health Sciences, Reverie Kuschke says “a student who is pregnant is referred to the Office of Student Support (OSS) for assistance. Each situation is treated individually and the student is permitted to take a ‘leave of absence’ (LOA) rather than de-register.”

In the case of a shorter LOA, the time period would be negotiated between the assistant Dean of Student Support, the relevant department and the student.

There are various counselling facilities on campus that offer support to students who are struggling with personal issues. Toinette Bradley, head of therapy in the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) says the therapy they give helps to empower the student not instruct them. “We do not give advice, as this is not what therapy is about.”

Bradley says the counselling involves exploring how the student feels, helps them support their decision and allows them to use the therapeutic space.

Fortunately, Abdulla has the support of her husband and family. “In the evening he sits with her [the baby] for about an hour and a half so that I may get homework and studying done,” Abdulla told Wits Vuvuzela.

Although she is married, Abdulla admits that her pregnancy was not planned. She now looks forward to completing her degree and spending time with her family.


INFOGRAPHIC: From Wits to Sandton – what are the options?

Transport can become quite an inconvenience for students who don’t have cars.  Wits Vuvuzela investigated the different options available for students who want to travel from Wits University to Sandton.  Students approached by Wits Vuvuzela prioritised reliability, convenience and affordability when choosing a mode of transport.

The infographic shows the best possible options available to students.