Witsies respond to report on quality of maths and science education in South Africa

There have been mixed reactions to a report released this week which suggests that the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education is extremely poor by global standards.

Academics and students at Wits University are split between those that believe there are firm reasons for the poor quality of education and others who reject the report itself, known as the “Global Information Technology Report 2014.”

Released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the report ranked South Africa’s quality of maths and science education last out of 148 countries including Kenya, Chad, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Lesotho.

Reacting to the report Professor Eunice Mphako-Banda, a mathematics lecturer at Wits, believes that a key problem is the introduction of calculators in maths education. “The biggest problem I see is this introduction of calculators in primary school,” says Mphako-Banda. “You don’t learn anything by using calculators.”

Students must “think and use [their] brain,” said Mphako-Banda.

Professor Gillian Drennan, assistant dean of undergraduate affairs in the faculty of sciences at Wits, agrees that students battle to apply what they have learnt, saying that pupils in high school have been taught “how not to think”.

“We [South Africa] need students who know how to think.”

Lagging behind

Dr Gideon Fareo, a computational and applied mathematics (CAM) lecturer, questions the validity and authenticity of the report, claiming that the report is “not a scientific comment … based on scientific deductions.”

Fareo does, however, believe that the results of these findings should not be de-bunked.

“In light of the facilities available in [South Africa], we shouldn’t be having this problem,” stated Fareo. “Why are [countries like] Nigeria and Haiti ahead [of us]?”

Both Mphako-Banda and Fareo believe that the problem lies in the lack of attention paid to primary schools.

“[Government] spends so much money on tertiary education but what about the foundations?” asked Fareo. “[Without basic education], how are [students] supposed to cope in high school and university?”

Mphako-Banda, who hails from Malawi, says she doesn’t “trust this system [of South African education]”, and believes that the “political will,” to improve South Africa’s education is non-existent.

“We are not looking at the standard [of education], [just at] how do we make people pass.”

“This whole system makes me angry,” she says.

Fareo, however, believes that the government “has a good ambition”, but just does not apply its policies well enough.

“I believe we can do better than we are now.”

Inadequately prepared for university

An honours student in CAM, who has asked not to be named, is currently doing her research on matric pass rates for mathematics, dealing with Model C public schools in particular.

Her preliminary results show that pass rates are “quite bad” and believes this is due to “bad teaching facilities and bad teachers”. She also said that she felt under-prepared for her tertiary education.

A PhD student in CAM, who spoke to Wits Vuvuzela on condition of anonymity, believes that maths in high school “has been made a joke”, and students are “inadequately prepared for university”.

He also said that “language is [one of the] main issues” he has to deal with when teaching CAM students, stating that they understand the maths but reading textbooks and notes in English presents a challenge.

Solutions at Wits

Mphako-Banda also believes that students are “very, very unprepared” for tertiary-level education, but adds that Wits has had to offer a two-week pre-university course to registered engineering students, because lecturers “know [the students] are not prepared” to cope with the level of maths and science at the university.

According to Brennan, Wits has received a government grant and specialists will be employed in the faculty of sciences to help students who are struggling with the curriculum.

Brennan believes that the decline in educational standards is “not just a South African problem.”

“The decline in education is a global phenomenon … and at a global level, [we need to] tackle head-on these challenges.”

Petroleum, oil and gas engineering available to third year students at Wits to bridge skills gap

GASSING UP?: The Richard Ward building known for housing chemical and metallurgical engineering students will now be the home for petroleum and gas engineering students. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

GASSING UP?: The Richard Ward building known for housing chemical and metallurgical engineering students will now be the home for petroleum, oil and gas engineering students. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

By Lameez Omarjee and Tracey Ruff

In an effort to help improve and retain the level of specialised skills in the country, Wits University is introducing petroleum, oil and gas engineering as a third-year specialisation option for chemical engineering students from the beginning of next year.

This programme will be the first of its kind in South Africa and is aimed at meeting the needs of a growing demand for expertise in the hydrocarbon (petroleum and gas) industry.

Unfortunately, exorbitant costs of bringing in experts from abroad to work in the local industry, especially in maintenance for ageing refineries.

“The government brings expertise from overseas which (sic) they pay heavily, because we don’t have the skills in the country,” explained Professor Sunny Iyuke, head of school of chemical and metallurgical engineering at Wits.

According to Iyuke, there is a “big gap” in South Africa with “the skills to maintain the refineries” being largely absent.  He believes South Africa has a “smart youth, which can be trained to attain these skills”.

Iyuke explained to Wits Vuvuzela that this is not a new degree as such but rather a specialisation at the third year level.

Reducing the gap

Wits currently offers a Master of Sciences (MSc) degree with a specialisation in petroleum and gas engineering. The new specialisation option though will be made available to third year BSc students.

According to Iyuke, “It is better that [students] have a background knowledge at undergraduate level [and] that is why we [Wits] are introducing this [programme] for our graduates to have that basis and background of petroleum engineering”.

With this initiative, Iyuke believes “our own people will develop others,” instead of losing money by paying overseas experts.

Students responses

Wits students have responded positively to the plans for the undergraduate specialiation.

Neo Khesa, 4th year chemical engineering said, “introducing petroleum and gas engineering is great because naturally it helps the country as it makes it cheaper to source skills from within the country.”

“I want to go into the petroleum industry and I would have opted to do this course from second year if I had the option.  It was the main reason I did chemical engineering in the first place,” added Khesa.

Fortune Mngomezulu, 1st year chemical engineering, is keen on going into this industry because “there’s a lot of money involved”.

However, some students expressed their reservations about the idea, with Mohammed Sayanvala, 4th year chemical engineering  saying, “I would prefer that South African students join the rest of the world in innovating with cleaner technology … We invite big companies from other countries to take advantage of our resources and none of it comes back to Africa.  We need innovative, cleaner, greener and freer technology and courses to be introduced”.

Phutheo Magada, 3rd year chemical engineering, was concerned about whether there would be jobs available in the field.  But  Iyuke reassured him, “It [the petroleum] is a huge industry, if you don’t have a job here, you can always get one somewhere else, like Mozambique.”

Desmond Fiawoyife, doctoral student in metallurgical engineering, believes that introducing the option at undergraduate level is a good idea. “It’s a nice programme, because when you look at Africa, we have a lot of oil that has been discovered, especially in West Africa.  We need to train Africans to solve African problems, because we will better understand them. We have a new dawn now.  The days of getting expertise from abroad are over.”

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WITH INFOGRAPHIC: Health science students in HIV exposure frustrated by ARV treatment protocols

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FOLLOWING PROTOCOL IS IMPORTANT: A Wits student gets her blood tested for HIV at a testing campaign on Wits Education Campus earlier this year. Photo: Tracey Ruff

From lost blood test results to a lack of guidance about antiretroviral treatment (ARVs), the protocol after exposure to a potential HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) threat is both frustrating and time-consuming for some students.

Students at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences are required to follow a strict protocol when accessing ARVs after an exposure to the virus in the course of their practical work.

“[Students] have to come to Campus Health for reporting purposes,”  explained Sister Yvonne Matimba of Campus Health. While students can access an ARV starter pack immediately after an exposure from the hospital in which they are working, further treatment can only be accessed through Campus Health located in the Matrix building on main campus.

The alternative is to pay for the treatment through a private health care provider.

“She didn’t really know what the protocol was and just gave me the pills and told me I had to make the decision”

However, as Krystle Moodley, a Wits dentistry graduate currently completing her community service year in Mpumulanga, said, “It sucks [going to Campus Health] if you’re at med school because you have to go all the way to [main] campus. How does that make sense?”

Moodley has been on ARVs twice. Her first time was in fourth year after she pricked herself with a needle.

Once she had reported the incident to Campus Health, her bloods were taken immediately and she was put on a 28-day ARV treatment regime. She then had to go back for a six-week, and three-month, blood test.

Missing results

After not receiving her results from her three-month blood test, Moodley phoned Campus Health and was informed her results had been lost. She then decided to go to a private doctor and had to pay about R150 to get her bloods done.

“No one [at Campus Health] bothered to tell me or bring me in to retake [my bloods].”

Counselling is also provided by Campus Health to the affected students.  However, according to Moodley, she feels that what she was told was information she had studied and already knew about.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The Wits ARV treatment protocol. Graphic Tracy Ruff.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: What does ARV treatment involve? Graphic: Tracy Ruff.

A sixth-year medical student who did not want to be named, who has been on ARVs twice, has also expressed difficulties with the Campus Health process. “In terms of waiting times, [Campus Health] was good, but the sister (who was a new employee at the time) couldn’t give me advice on whether or not to take the ARVs, she said.

She didn’t really know what the protocol was and just gave me the pills and told me I had to make the decision.”

However, according to Matimba, all staff at Campus Health are adequately trained to deal with the protocol.

A Wits postgraduate student, who also did not want to be identified, said dealing with Campus Health after she received a needle-stick injury was “a  pleasure.”

“The nurses are friendly and extremely professional. They help you every step of the way.”

In need of more guidance

Students who fail to follow the protocol strictly are exempt from making any insurance claims according to the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Student Protection and Insurance booklet.

The booklet directs students to contact any of a number of doctors and staff members if an exposure occurs. There are also two additional emergency numbers provided. Wits Vuvuzela tried to reach an adviser via one of the numbers provided but was told that the staff member in question had left a few years ago.

The sixth-year medical student feels that students need to be given a card with the relevant protocol information that they can carry with them at all times. She also believes students should be informed about the ARV protocol properly at the beginning of their studies.

“They (lectures and doctors) should sit you down and tell you what to do.”

Protocol in the working world also frustrating

A Wits occupational therapy graduate, who asked not to be named, has recently completed her ARV treatment for HIV exposure outside of Wits.

“I had problems with the workman compensation procedures … so I went about paying for everything and thought I could claim back but turned out I couldn’t,” explained the graduate.

Moodley, who is now working for a public hospital, has just completed her 28-day ARV treatment. Describing her experience with the ARV protocol in the hospital she said, “it was kind of haphazard and no one knew what to do.”

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WITH INFOGRAPHIC: Chewing the same flavour of bubble-gum and other tips for getting through exams

EXAM PIKTO

CLICK TO ZOOM IN

Packed libraries, late nights, panic attacks and last-minute cram sessions. Yes, that dreaded time of the year has arrived once again and exams have crept up upon us quicker than a leopard pouncing on its prey.

There are no two ways about it: the stress of the exams are upon us again.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some Witsies about their exam-preparation techniques and what they do to remain calm and get through the work.

Tips and tricks

Njabulo Mkhize, honours in Applied Drama, shared a very handy and unique trick. He reads his notes out aloud while recording himself on his cellphone. This way, he can “listen to himself [and his study notes] anywhere and anytime”.

Don’t cram and give yourself enough time to study,” says Kea Malebye, 3rd year law. Malebye says she tries not to study the night before her exam. She also makes sure she chews the same flavour bubble-gum when studying and in the exam. This helps her to remember her work as she associates the flavours with her notes.

“Keep a positive mentality and do your best.”

Leané Meiring, honours in Drama Therapy, also suggests linking studying and writing the exam with something that will trigger your memory. “Work at a desk so that you’re mimicking the exam sessions ... And get eight hours of sleep!”

Other students in Drama Therapy say that self-care, taking time to reflect and knowing if you are a morning, afternoon or night person are pivotal in helping you cope with the exams.

Mpumi Skhosana, 4th year BA, says she exercises and prefers to watch academic videos than write out notes.

Lots of sleep and jelly-beans, both while studying and in the exam” is what keeps Palesa Mopeli, honours in Fine Arts, calm. Mopeli advises Witsies to “keep a positive mentality and do your best”.

Give it your best shot

Finally, Simone Vasques, BA graduate, says “university life is really what you make of it”.

“This is one of those times in life where you’re in a situation with lecturers who are extremely knowledgeable [and] classmates are super interesting … so ask as many questions as you can”.

And as Mopeli told Wits Vuvuzela, what’s the worst that could happen with exams? Even if you fail, there will always be another chance.

For students wanting to speak to someone professional about coping with exams, the Counselling, Careers and Development Unit (CCDU) can be contacted on 011 717 9136.

Appeal for students to help families of striking Marikana workers

Supporters of the Marikana miners arrive for the lecture. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

Students are encouraged to donate food items to the striking miners of Marikana and their families.  Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

Approximately 70 000 workers from platinum mines in the North West and Limpopo provinces remain on strike in the effort to secure a basic salary of R12 500.

And while the strike enters its 16th week, the families of the miners are looking to welfare organisations and donors from across the country for food they can no longer afford.

In an effort to help those affected, the Marikana Support Committee and the Wits Sociology department have brought the initiative to Wits University to allow staff and students to make a contribution.

Prof Noor Nieftagodien, who is involved in the Marikana Support Committee, says the  situation is becoming “increasingly desperate”, especially in terms of a “worsening humanitarian crisis.”

Student support

Nieftagoden says the response at Wits has been “very slow” but students who are aware of the campaign have been “very enthusiastic.”

At present, Wits has only collected R3000 and two food parcels. Nieftagodien hopes that the Student Representative Council (SRC) and student organisations will begin to mobilise support this week and that students will help raise awareness about the situation.

He says that the main aim of this initiative is “to make a humanitarian intervention” and provide food and other basic necessities. The project was initiated by two Masters students from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Marikana Support Committee. Last week UJ delivered approximately 90 food parcels to the area and is set to make a second delivery this week.

The 70 000 striking workers provide support to approximately 150 000 to 200 000 people. “We cannot allow poor people to go hungry, especially not in the year that we celebrate 20 years of democracy,” said Nieftagodien.

Do donate

Students are encouraged to donate what they can (food, clothes or monetary) and donations can be sent to Ingrid Chunilal or Sedzani Malada in the Wits Sociology department.

Alternatively, the School of Literature, Language and Media Studies has arranged for students to drop off food and/or clothing parcels in Room SH3159 on Friday, May 23, between 8am and 1pm.

OPINION: Why I stopped being a dangerous driver

DRIVE FINAL

DON’T BE A DANGEROUS DRIVER: As a driver, you are not only responsible for your life; but for the lives of those around you too. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Crossing over barrier lines. Not stopping at traffic lights or stop streets. Doing 180 kilometres per hour in a 120 kilometre zone. We all know this driver and he’s (or she’s, for gender equality) the dangerous one.

I’ll be the first to admit it (with much shame): I’m a dangerous driver.

For the first time since I was a scared and nervous first-time-teenage-driver shaking behind the steering wheel, I didn’t try and race the clock to see how quickly I could get home after a late-night at university this last Thursday.

Why? Because I’d had a huge wake-up call earlier that day.

Close call

I was leaving Wits via the Enoch Sontonga gate and saw the traffic light turn amber. I was already in such a panicked state because I was running behind time for a group project. In a desperate attempt to make up for lost time, I thought I was Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari and I put foot to try and get through the traffic light before it was red.

Big mistake. 

“I can be rather reckless at times on the road”

I was so focused on saving time and making the amber traffic light that I didn’t see the car that came flying through the intersection until we missed hitting each other by hair’s breath.

Thankfully, nothing happened to either of us or our cars, but (although it is such a cliché) what a lesson I have learned from this incident.

I was pretty shaken up and when I finally got home later that night, I was extremely grateful for being safe and alive. It could have easily been a serious accident. I was plagued by guilt afterwards. I was in such a hurry, selfishly worrying about my life and meeting deadlines. I could have been the cause of something serious. I don’t know who the driver of that car is. I don’t know the driver’s story or if there was perhaps even a child in the car at the time. Worst is, I will never get to meet that driver and apologise for my mistake.

I can be rather reckless at times on the road. I am perpetually stressed-out, super busy and always on the go, which oftentimes leads me to driving faster (and more dangerously) than I should to make meetings, deadlines and lectures.

As students (young and full of spirit and adventure), I often fear that we make the mistake of feeling invincible. I don’t believe that we take driving that seriously anymore.

We don’t realise just HOW easy it is to have an accident and just HOW drastic the repercussions of an accident may be. Driving home after a “few” drinks, constantly texting and driving to keep up with our demanding social lives, not stopping at that stop sign because there’s seemingly no one coming – we’ve heard it (and done it) all before.

As a born and bred Jo’burg lass, I like to consider myself as a “traffic-avoider connoisseur” of sorts. I weave in and out, speed up and slow down, fight with countless cars, push my luck at traffic lights and send the occasional text when I’m “mindlessly bored” in traffic.

[pullquote]As of this very moment, I am taking a pledge to become a better driver.[/pullquote]

As of this very moment, I am taking a pledge to become a better driver. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of all those on the road around me. Every time we mindlessly step into our vehicles, we become responsible for a life – be it ours or that of another.

There have been plenty times when I’ve crossed “inconvenient” barrier lines and raced to gym to make that 17.30 spinning class. But at what cost?

Rules and responsibility

Those “inconvenient” barrier lines and “annoying red traffic lights” are there to help us, guide us and ultimately protect us. Being on the road is risky business. That’s why there are rules in place. And these rules are actually quite simple when you think about them.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you have the power to decide, consciously, how you’re going to drive. No appointment, no deadline, no lecture and no status update or Instagram is more important than your life.

Drive for your safety and for the safety of others around you.

Be the difference on our scary South African roads.

 

ANC comfortably on top according to votes from stations at Wits

By Ilanit Chernick and Tracey Ruff

According to the latest national poll results from the two voting stations at Wits University, the ANC is sitting comfortably at the top with a 58.0% lead from the Old Mutual Sports Hall station and a 49.47% lead from the Education Campus station.

The provincial vote sees no change in the ranking order, with the ANC obtaining 50.36% from the Old Mutual Sports Hall station (DA at 28.17%) and a lower 42.97% from the Education Campus station with the DA following closely behind at 37.93%.

Nationally and provincially, the EFF has come in third each time, obtaining roughly 11% of the vote from the Wits voting stations. The party’s highest voting percentage of 11.1% came from Old Mutual Sports Hall, which is for the provincial elections.

Jarrod Delport, supporter of the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO), says he’s “overjoyed and elated” with the mark the DA has made both provincially and nationally.

“[The results] show that many South Africans, one in four to be precise, are rejecting corruption and choosing the policies of the DA. The party is the only party that has consistently grown since 1994 and will continue to do so.”

National results from the University of Johannesburg’s Auckland Park Campus in Westdene put the ANC firmly on top with 63.84% of the vote. With 483 valid votes, the DA comes in second with 18.02% and the EFF is third with 9.01%. Agang and Cope have made no impact.

Students have taken to Twitter to express their feelings about the results. Wits student Mothusi Mothopeng tweeted the following: “Just realized that by the time the national election comes along I will be a Wits graduate #ThankYouANC”.

Results from feeder areas around Wits University show a slightly different order of things. Voters at Holy Family College in Parktown put the DA on top nationally with 50.9%. ANC came in second with 31.58% and the EFF third with 7.21%.

National results from the Braamfontein Metropolitan Centre show the ANC leading by a large gap with 62.24%. The EFF is in second position with 16.09%.

A Wits student tweeting from the account of @Tebza808 said that the results from Rosebank Primary School where the DA is leading with 69.21% “seem legit”.

Referring to the ANC’s lead from votes at the Wits Education Campus, Witsie Tebogo Thothela tweeted: “We thank all students at education campus, we came out and voted ANC”.

Zareef Minty, Wits student and member of the Patrotic Alliance (PA), spoke about the top three parties. He believes the ANC has campaigned really well and says “it’s great to see the ANC taking initiative”.

Minty added that the DA has seen an upliftment in its campaign and believes DA’s Mmusi Maimane has done a “great job”.

Commenting on the EFF, Minty says the EFF is definitely a “dark horse” and has done well considering the party only was formed a mere 8 months ago.

Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) president Shafee Verachia says he is “more happy that students voted,” but he declined to comment on the elections results.

Final confirmation of results is expected on Saturday, May 10.

Medical students face threat of HIV

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DIFFICULT TEST: A Wits student gets tested on Wits Education Campus for HIV. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Dedicating their lives to the health and well-being of their patients comes at a great personal and health risk for students in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

With the prevalence of HIV in South Africa, exposure to HIV-positive patients is an everyday occurrence for students in the medical field.

Wits Vuvuzela recently spoke to a number of health sciences students who have had to go on antiretroviral medication (ARVs) after accidents – such as needle stick injuries – have occurred.

Suffering from side-effects

Krystle Moodley, a Wits dentistry graduate who is currently doing her community service year, has been on ARVs twice. Her first time was in fourth year when she got a needle stick injury.

“I was unscrewing the needle from the syringe and the cap fell off and I got pricked,” explained Moodley. She is currently on ARVs for a recent scare she had while cleaning a dry socket – a condition that develops after a patient’s tooth has been extracted.

The side-effects she is presently experiencing from the ARVs include nausea and vomiting. Moodley adds she has heard of people who stop taking the ARVs because of the side-effects, which can include fatigue, migraines, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

“I [would] rather suffer a month than my whole life personally (sic),” says Moodley.

A sixth year MBBCh student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, went on ARVs in 2012. Describing her experience, the student said it was “terrible” and “horrible”.

[pullquote]“You think it’s just taking your ARVs, but it’s an emotional thing … It’s just really a heart-wrenching experience.”[/pullquote]

“You think it’s just taking your ARVs, but it’s an emotional thing … It’s just really a heart-wrenching experience. You feel like you’ll be stigmatised. It was literally the worst three weeks [taking ARVs] of my life”.

Stacey Fourie, 6th year MBBCh, has, like Moodley, been on ARVs twice. Both incidents occurred in the early hours of the morning while she was stitching trauma patients.

Fourie describes the second incident where she was stitching a man who had been stabbed all over with a broken bottle. She stitched him for three hours without a break and due to sheer exhaustion; she tried to re-cap a needle and pricked herself. The man was HIV positive.

While on the ARVs, Fourie experienced severe fatigue and struggled to study because of this.

Fourie said anybody would be “very hard-pressed to find an intern (a doctor-in-training) who hasn’t been on ARVs at some stage”.

Muhammed Makda, another sixth-year MBBCh student, describes his 28-day ARV experience as both depressing and emotional. Makda was accidentally pricked by a doctor performing a lumbar puncture on an HIV-positive patient.

Makda was on one of the “older ARV regiments” and, as a result, he suffered from severe fatigue and lethargy for the entire 28 days. He said his body felt quite weak and he experienced severe nausea which was worse in the mornings when he would occasionally experience vomiting.

He says that although “the risk of contracting HIV through this kind of exposure (needle-stick injuries etc.) is [statistically] minimal, one cannot truly rest at ease knowing that it is still possible and may just happen to you”.

A constant threat

Another sixth-year medical student, who hasn’t been on ARVs, said that as a medical doctor living in South Africa, there is a “very real danger that one morning you might wake up HIV free (sic), go to hospital and come back HIV positive”. He says he finds this “really scary” and with being tired, overworked and hungry, the ability to concentrate and work cautiously becomes difficult.

Makda said students who have had an HIV scare need to make the decision to go on ARVs “fast”, as the sooner one takes them, the less the chance of infection.

When asked if the threat of HIV has made them think twice about their choice of their profession, the students interviewed all echoed the same sentiments. They love what they do and as Moodley said, “I love seeing the smile on my patients’ faces, and that is reward enough”.

A modern day medieval fighter

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MEDIEVAL MAN: Wits Masters student Griff Gigler participates in a sport known as Full Contact Medieval Combat. (No puppies were harmed in the making of this photo). Photo: Provided

A real-life knight in shining armour has arrived on campus.

Okay, so the shining armour might be a slight exaggeration. Welsh exchange student Griff Gigler’s armour isn’t that shiny. And he isn’t exactly a knight. But he does participate in Full Contact Medieval Combat (FCMC), which beats being a knight any day.

Currently completing his Masters in Geology at Wits, 22-year-old Gigler is a force to be reckoned with. Actually, don’t reckon with him – unless you have armour made out of steel and are prepared to battle it out with blunted weapons and pure strength.

Super sport of steel

FCMC – abbreviated because, according to Gigler, the full name is “a bit of a mouthful” – is a full combat sport in which participants suit up in steel armour and proceed to take down the opposition with blunted weaponry and a series of wrestling moves.

Based on medieval history, FCMC is not scripted battle re-enactment, which is common in the United Kingdom. The sport involves real fighting, real steel weapons and is governed by a set of rules and regulations.

FCMC involves “a lot of wrestling” and “whacking people on the head”, says Gigler. The sport makes use of weapons like swords and axes and, although “it’s not actually anywhere in the rules that you can’t kill somebody, [that’s] not the idea” of the sport. Good to know.

Rules state that participants can only aim for “accepted zones” on the body, which exclude open face areas, back part of the neck, feet and back of the knees.

[pullquote]“He tore the ligaments in his knee when his teammate accidentally hit him with a two-handed sword.”[/pullquote]

Participants need to be fully armoured, with a cushioning of sorts underneath. The main manufacturers of the uniforms are in Eastern Europe. However, Gigler says “there are a few guys who make the kit here [South Africa]” but the concept is still “very new here” and so the kits and the sport aren’t yet up to international standard.

 

There are different divisions in FCMC, and there can be solo or group fights.

“In the group categories, it’s just basically the team that’s left on their feet at the end that wins. Once you get knocked down, you’re out, you’re not allowed to get back up.”

Gigler was at one stage the vice-captain of the UK team and has participated in numerous competitions. At a competition in France, he tore the ligaments in his knee when his teammate accidentally hit him with a two-handed sword.

Although there are no requirements for the sport, it’s not for the faint-hearted. If “you’re tough and can fight”, then go for it, says Gigler.

However, don’t be fooled by what seems like a “manly” sport. An increasing number of women have  taken an interest in FCMC and there are now ladies’ divisions. Who says women can’t do the knight in shining armour thing for themselves?

Castles aren’t just for royals

When it comes to locations for tournaments, castles are often “pretty keen” to host these events as the tournaments attract a number of visitors. Speaking “medieval English” isn’t a prerequisite at competitions, but Gigler says you’re welcome to do so if you like.

Gigler only started participating in the sport, which is a relatively recent development itself, at the end of 2012. He met the guy who was putting together the UK team and he (Gigler) took a “why not” approach and decided to go along to a training session.

The rest, you could say, is (medieval) history.

 

 

 

Wits Vuvuzela journalist in attempted hijacking in Auckland Park, robbed at gunpoint

A second Wits Vuvuzela journalist has become a victim of crime in just as many days.

Last night, a journalist was involved in an attempted hijacking and robbed of her wallet and jewellery at gunpoint. The incident happened just twenty four hours after another journalist was mugged on Wits University campus after the Bidvest Wits vs Orlando Pirates match.

The  attempted hijacking took place on Annet Road near the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road Campus around midnight.

The student journalist, who has asked not to be named, stopped at a traffic light and was approached by a man, who came out of nowhere.

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun, demanding for her to get out of her vehicle. Before she got out, she managed to throw her cellphone onto the floor of her vehicle and out of sight.

The journalist says she could not drive off as her vehicle was stuck between two cars at the red traffic light.

[pullquote] The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun, demanding her to get out of her vehicle. [/pullquote]

Once out of her vehicle, the hijacker, acting alone, took her wallet with cash and driver’s licence and a ring of sentimental value.

A man in the vehicle next to her got out and asked what was happening. This scared the aggressor who then fled on foot.

The student was driving home after a late night working on campus.

With an increasing rate of crime in and around the area, students are encouraged to be vigilant at all times. Ensure your vehicle is locked and keep valuables out of sight.

Wits Campus Control can be reached on 011 717 4444 or 011 717 6666 or 011 717 1801.

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