Preservation through digitisation: Putting Africa’s rock art online

Hidden away amidst the whirring of large-format digital scanners, a small team continues its work to digitally preserve Africa’s rock art heritage.

The  South African Rock Art Digital Archive (SARADA) is based at the Rock Art Research Institute at Wits University and has been involved in the digital preservation of this ancient art form for the past 12 years.

Led by Azizo Da  Fonseca, the team has managed to develop a database of over 280,000 records spanning 7,000 rock art sites. In effect, it is the largest rock art digital archive in the world. Desp[ite this monumental achievement, Da  Fonseca believes there is a lot of work ahead of the team as South Africa alone has about 15,000 known rock art sites.

His team have so far digitised collections owned by the Rock Art Research Institute, Iziko Museums of Cape Town, Natal Museum, National Museum (Bloemfontein), University of Cape Town (UCT), and the University of South Africa (UNISA) among others.

Database consists of 20 TB of data so far

The original ‘documents’ comes in various formats including 35mm slides, photos, redrawings and tracings. Digital images are also stored on the database to make them accessible to other researchers.

“We store the images as TIFF files which range from 40mb to 1.6GB depending on the size of the art and the format we receive it in,” says Da Fonseca. “We have 20TB of storage and a mirrored replica for redundancy.”

After receiving a R7-million grant from the National Lottery, SARADA is focusing on expanding its collections. The project has an international outlook and is currently negotiating with museums abroad which have African rock art collections.

Da Fonseca believes the collections can be used by researchers as a starting point in their research.“This is an African project for the people of the world,” he says.

The full database is available online at



INFOGRAPHIC: Keeping warm this winter, off the grid

It’s mid-winter and Witsies are feeling the cold and the pinch of staying warm with heaters.

In an effort to keep warm, energy consumption is at its highest between 5pm and 8pm, according to statistics by Power Alert.   This infographic shows effective ways to keep warm, while reducing your electricity consumption.




Guardian editor describes SA media as ‘free and inquiring’


Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, spoke at Wits University earlier today. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

His newspaper is one of the top most-read online publications worldwide and this afternoon Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, described the South African media landscape as robust, diverse and “pretty free and inquiring.”

Rusbridger, who has been at the helm of the British publication for nearly twenty years, was speaking to a gathering of editors, senior journalists, media academics and students at Wits University about the Edward Snowden story. The Guardian broke the story of whistleblower Snowden, who is credited with exposing the extent of international surveillance, in 2013.

Rusbridger told the audience that the decision to publish the Snowden story was “a question of public interest”, even when the British government argued against the publication on the grounds of “national security.”

In facing some of the backlash against the paper’s decision to publish the Snowden story, Rusbridger said the support of the journalism community helped his organisation.  “It is important as a community of journalism to stick together.”

Rusbridger explained that while there is obvious anxiety in South Africa regarding media freedom, especially in light of the secrecy bill (the protection of state information bill), if the media responds by cutting back on the news that sells papers then it is giving consumers an excuse not to buy the paper.

Mondli Makhanya, former editor-in-chief of The Sunday Times, asked Rusbridger about how to react to a government that is mobilising people against the media.

Rusbridger’s response was that “journalism lives in a different place from government … media has a new role to fight [which is] explaining ‘why’ they are publishing a story.” Ultimately that defence should be able to rest on a foundation of the public interest.



Wits announces revised health sciences admissions policy increasing access for previously disadvantaged students

The faculty of health sciences at Wits University has released a statement outlining a revised admissions policy which will take effect from 2015.

It is not clear whether the new policy will affect students who have already submitted their applications to study next year.

The revisions are based on recommendations made by a task team consisting of deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Prof Andrew Crouch and deputy vice-chancellor (research) Prof Zeblon Vilakazi. 

Previously, only 25% of top performing candidates were accepted and this has been increased to 40%. The remaining 60% of places will be allocated to different categories of previously disadvantaged students.

 Key new points from the policy include:

  • 40% of places will be allocated to top performing candidates based on academic merit
  • The remaining 60% will be split as follows:
  • 20% of places will be offered to top performing rural learners
  • 20% of places will be allocated to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools
  • Approximately 20% of places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners


Read the full statement below:

Wits University has revised its admissions policy for all programmes offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences. This follows the recommendations of a task team commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor.

Applicants who are currently applying for entrance in 2015 will not be required to complete a Biographical Questionnaire (BQ). Their matric results will carry a 50% weighting and the results of their National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) will make up the other 50%. This weighting may change for 2016 entry with the introduction of an online BQ.

Selection will be made according to the following broad categories: 40% of the places will be offered to the top performing candidates based on academic merit. The remaining 60% will be offered as follows: approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing rural learners; approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools; and approximately 20% of the places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners.


The new admissions policy is based on recommendations by a Wits University task team, consisting of members of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Student Representative Council, other Faculties and the Senior Executive Team, that was commissioned to review the admissions policy for the MBBCh, or medicine, degree. The activities of the task team included a public meeting that was held in April 2014 to discuss the current and future admissions criteria and policies for entry into the degree. Wits University is committed to being a demographically diverse and cosmopolitan world class institution furthering the Constitutional vision of a democratic and non-racial South Africa. We will continue to research and review admissions policies in line with the realisation of this goal.



Wits Vuvuzela: Medicine admission criteria to change, April 11

Increase in muggings on Wits campus and in Braamfontein

A Wits Vuvuzela journalist was mugged and robbed of her bank card on Sunday in yet another incident of crime affecting Wits students in and around the campus.

This latest incident is one of three muggings known to Wits Vuvuzela in the last two weeks.

Last week a female student who declined to be named, was was held at knife point by two assailants near Flower Hall. The two men threatened to kill her if she screamed and demanded her valuables. She handed over her cell phone and laptop while the men managed to escape on foot.

In a second incident, a third year BA LLB student was mugged while studying in her car in the third year parking lot near the Enoch Sontonga entrance two weeks ago.

She told Wits Vuvuzela that her “window was open” when the incident took place in broad daylight. “I looked up and he was leaning into the car. He put his hand over my mouth and told me not to scream but I did.”

The man, wearing a white hoodie with a beanie, grabbed her cellphone and ran away. The student tried to pursue the thief on foot but was unsuccessful.

“He fled in the direction of East Campus and Central Block. I didn’t want to leave my car unlocked and unattended so I just let him go,” she said.

“I looked up and he was leaning into the car. He put his hand over my mouth and told me not to scream but I did.”

In the latest incident, the Wits Vuvuzela journalist, who asked not to be named, was mugged by two men at an ATM in “Braam Centre” just off Jorissen Street.

“I was returning from church, I had just drawn money when two men approached me from behind,” she said.

The men demanded her valuables. She managed to hide the money she had just drawn from them but they took her bank card and ran out of the building.

Campus Security and Liasions manager, Lucky Khumela said there had been a “spike” in crime in and around the “campus area over the last few months,” but was unable to give any details.

“We are dealing with the situation,” he said.

He said students need to be careful. “If students are leaving campus at night must, they can ask Campus Control to escort them to their vehicle or to their residence”.

Students are encouraged to report any suspicious activity on campus to Campus Control, 011-717-4444/6666



Wits Vuvuzela:  CLAMP-DOWN ON CRIME AT WITS, May 9, 2014  



A history of non-racialism – in conversation with Ahmed Kathrada at Wits


Ahmed Kathrada. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela

Ahmed Kathrada and Achille Mbembe will be in coversation on “A History of Non-Racialism in South Africa.”

This event launches the 2014 Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC). The theme of this year’s JWTC is Archives of the Non-Racial. A mobile workshop, it will travel from Johannesburg to Mbabane in Swaziland, Durban, Ginsberg in the Eastern Cape, and Cape Town. For the full programme, see here.


Date: 29 June 2014

Time: 09:30-12:00

Venue: WiSER Seminar Room, 6th Floor, Richard Ward Building, East Campus, Wits University

Contact to reserve a seat.This will not, however, guarantee a seat. Seating will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

Wits students tackle social inequality in healthcare through new society


Health sciences students launched a new society dedicated to creating awareness about inequalities in healthcare. Photo: Provided.

Wits health science students launched the Student Advocates for Health society (StAH) at the Parktown campus last night. The society reflects the awareness of these students of the  socio-economic factors affecting the quality of healthcare in South Africa.

The idea for the organisation came about when a group of students doing shifts at a local hospital were outraged by a poster indicating that some patients were denied HIV treatment.

“We saw the social inequality and did not know how to do anything about it.  We [health science students] don’t know what’s happening in the world, we don’t know what politics mean.  This organisation is to inform students about the realities of what is happening in hospitals,” said one of the founders, Ndumiso Mathebula, 4th year MBBCh.

The society plans to facilitate opportunities for students to work with organisations like Section27, Doctors Without Borders, the Wits Citizenship Community Outreach, the Wits Transformation Office and the Treatment Action Campaign . Students will learn different skills of advocacy, said Mathebula.

Empowered students

Neo Mkhaba, 4th year MBBCh and StAH media officer, said as advocates, health science students would be empowered to “identify problems and come up with solutions that are comprehensive and sustainable.”

“We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.”

Joseph Tewson, anatomy honours, said: “I get very excited when things happen on campus.  We are a very laid-back generation.  We need more of this on campus.  We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.”

Lesnè Pucjlowski, 3rd year MBBCh was keen on standing up for her patients, “I’m really just interested in standing up for my patients’ human rights.  Our patients are important and their needs are important and I am happy that StAH will give me the opportunity to be proactive.”

Cybil Mulundi, 4th year MBBCh, wants to implement what she learns at StAH in her future career: “I am here to learn how doctors can make patients more aware of their human rights and make sure they are not taken advantage of.”

Monique Losper, 4th year MBBCh, added: “I would like to find out how to create a better relationship between doctors and patients in our careers going forward. I am expecting StAH to help enhance awareness of rights and responsibilities so that patients can receive good healthcare.”

The organisers used the event to commemorate the youth of 1976, who died for what they believed in, said Mkhaba.  The same spirit of activism should be carried by this generation, but it should not be destructive, emphasised Mathebula.  In the past, people had to destroy to get their freedom, he told Wits Vuvuzela.


VIDEO: Brazilian male soloist at Joburg Ballet beats the stereotype

Brazilian male ballet dancer, Jonathan Rodrigues, 23 is a soloist at the Johannesburg Ballet. Through his craft, he is beating widely-held stereotypes of male ballet dancers.

Joburg Ballet CEO Dirk Badenhorst speaks on the significance of male ballet dancing as an artform that is crucial in the world we live in.

This video is a production of the 2014 Wits Journalism short course in television. 


VIDEO: He’s not just a beggar at the stop street, he teaches Zulu to passing motorists

Twenty-three-year old Veli Moses Mackenzie,  is a homeless man who teaches isiZulu to motorists on busy Empire road in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Mackenzie also known as ‘Jovies’ teaches the language to motorists using only a placard that he uses for his ‘word of the day.’ He boasts that he once taught isiZulu to a man from Wits University who used Mackenzie’s word of the day to compile a list that he eventually memorised.

This video is a production of the 2014 Wits Journalism short course in television. 

OPINION: Youth Day – a lost understanding but not a lost opportunity

The length of the pause a South African teenager took on television today was a little more than just awkward. She was asked, in an interview, about the significance of June 16th.

The pause led to nothing but a confession that said she did not know the significance of the day, except to say that “on this day we wear our school uniform and don’t go to school”.

That pause though was more than enough time for me to formulate my dramatic shock at the ignorance of young South Africans who now understand very little of the patriotism and hope for a bright future which was expressed by the youth of 1976.

I guess that’s it, we have reached an era where the sacrifices made by the young people that came before us have become insignificant, merely a small slice of the great history that makes up this young democracy.

This young girl was indeed just one of the millions of young people in South Africa who are celebrating the lives they’re afforded today, non the wiser of the blood which was shed so that we could walk into an elevator used by white people also, share the same public toilet seat as our white fellow citizens and also, but most importantly benefit equally from an education system which was previously reserved for those South Africans who were not black.

I cannot help but wonder about the relevance of these all these celebrations which we’re a part of today in commemoration of the anti-apartheid struggle given the lack of understanding of the occasion particularly among the youth of today.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

I cannot fully exclude myself as I doubt that I, or you as the reader, will ever fully understand the plight of the people that lived during the apartheid regime and the struggles they willingly pursued so that I may be able to write my thoughts to share and that you may be able to read them, freely.

The students who protested in 1976 did so with the prospect of a quality education and essentially a better life; many of them lost their lives and in doing so lost out on the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour.

They did however leave a platform on which we can appreciate their work in the name of freedom as well as advance it by utilising it to the best of our ability the opportunities that have been given to us.

But have we pioneered on to ensure that we can curb our vulnerability to the dirty remnants of discrimination, unemployment and inequality that are ever so difficult to make clean. I would hate to think that the courage expressed by the youth that came before us was in vain.

I figure that if we don’t fully understand the efforts of those that participated in the June 1976 protests we should at least try our level best to grab all the opportunities that have been laid out for us to seize and make the best of.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

Aside from the annual celebrations we are to do the best that we can to make sure that we live, and we live well, for those who made the decision to afford us this opportunity.

We must rise above our circumstances, as the youth of 1976 did, to make the best of our lives in this democracy.