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.
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.
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.
ORIGINAL STORY, 25.03.14:
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
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