Just two weeks ago the newest SRC president was elected at this year’s PYA Branch General Meeting. Nompendulo Mkatshwa (22), affectionately known as Ulo has been chosen to sit on the Wits throne that allows her the power to push student agenda’s and politics.
AT THE HELM: Newly elected SRC president, Nompendulo Mkatshwa, met with Wits Vuvuzela to discuss her responsibilities, feminism and social issues. Photo: Reuven Blignault
As the newest president, are you excited or are you nervous about your new appointment?
It is a huge responsibility and I am humbled. Together with my collectives and the PYA. Remember we have a huge backing, there are four organisations that will back us up in anything that we do and we will deliver as the PYA and the SRC. Our prime being in this institution is to deliver to students, why else would we then have a PYA and SRC? We are the voice of students.
What is your first and most important concern as you enter the role of president of the SRC?
My term will officially begin in November, and I think by then one of the biggest challenges the campus will be faced with will be students writing their exams. To ensure that all students are supported in whatever manner they can, we are readily available to consult any student that needs to consult and [after the exams] when results have come out and students have written their exams, we will ensure that we are here as the PYA and we’ll be here during the holidays to ensure that we represent all students that the institution excludes from itself academically and financially.
In light of the EFF members who were subsequently suspended from the elections, do you think that in any way made PYA an obvious choice for students to vote for?
One may say that a PYA vote is a vote that can be shared with the EFF as well, however speaking as someone who was observing how elections were going, I still think the PYA was going to come out victorious as it did, because at the end of the day students have always had faith in the PYA and we are humbled by that; and it’s not because we are arrogant, it’s because we try our best and we are as authentic as we can be.
As a female president are you going to consciously adopt a feminist approach in pushing women agendas in how you discuss things?
As a gender activist I have my own reasons as to why I don’t want to be called a feminist, because I’ve been called a feminist over and over again and I’m fine with it really but, I refer to myself as a gender activist for various reasons around how there’s a lot of blurred lines around feminist terms, characterization of terminology, and I so want to be part of the revolution that will seek to consolidate all feminists through the best way possible. So, yes I am a gender activist, I believe in the emancipation of all genders in society.
Then what do you advocate for concerning gender related issues?
I advocate for the engagement and deliberations of issues of LGBTQIA; strongly so because we also reduce the discussion of gender to man and women and that’s not where it is, we talking about everyone.
GENDER EQUAL: Director of the Wits Gender Equity Office, Jackie Dugard states that the HeForShe campaign will be an opportunity for raising a profile of issues across key institutions and society. Photo: Provided.
Wits University became one of the IMPACT 10x10x10 champions by joining the UN Women’s HeForShe solidarity movement. This made Wits one of 10 universities around the world that has committed to tangible steps to improve gender equality across the university.
Director of the Wits Gender Equity Office, Jackie Dugard, told Wits Vuvuzela that it is a great honour and a privilege for Wits to be part of the campaign.
“The movement is a platform for learning, exchange and leadership. So, this means that there will be an opportunity for raising the profile of issues across key institutions and society, and learning from each other and offering leadership,” she said.
Wits has pledged to have women occupy 32% of the Heads of Schools roles by 2019 and to increase women in professorship roles to 30%. Campaigners plan to publish annual reports on campus violence and work on non-traditional techniques to spread the message of gender equality, including “ambush lectures”, to reach all students.
Wits plans to develop and implement a curriculum for gender sensitisation aimed at students, faculty and staff, along with programmes that will address gender-based violence.
The university’s commitment to a gender-equal environment includes developing a comprehensive system to report, predict, prevent, and address gender-based harm on campus. Institutions also commit to using non-traditional supporters to mainstream gender equality and to increase the representation of women staff in the context of South Africa’s complex “dual diversity” mandate.
When asked about the nature of gender discrimination at Wits, Dugard said: “We see quite a lot of that among students, we see that there is sexual violence, sexual assault, rape and we also see people calling each other things which are unacceptable.
“At staffing levels, we see issues around failure of particular staff members to acknowledge the position of women as being equal, so we still see staff members who regard women as inferior, so, yes, I think Wits is certainly a microcosm which is a larger sexist society,” she said.
Enhle Khumalo, who holds the SRC Research and Policy portfolio, told Wits Vuvuzela: “Wits is an institutionalised machinery and so it’s a big deal that it’s joined such a movement because this enables the conversations to start happening, because a lot of the time I feel like, especially when it comes to issues of patriarchy, it’s sort of an invisible violence because it’s normalised.”
Khumalo said: “There are behaviours at Wits that need to be unlearned, and if that’s to say there is gender discrimination, yes.
“And even look at some of the structures we have, you see that it’s the women that are deputised, or it’s the women made to be a secretary. Those are particulars of patriarchy.
“We as students need to cultivate a culture of discourse in regards to what it means to be women, and don’t run away from the word ‘feminism’, you don’t have to subscribe to the vanguard for transformation,” she said.
As part of gender activism on campus, Wits students recently showed their support for the RedMyLips campaign by encouraging both men and women to stand in solidarity against sexual violence and to support rape victims.
Wits acted against four lecturers in 2013 for sexual harassment, dismissing three. Earlier this year Wits Vuvuzela reported some students from Wits Men’s Res were singing “I love pussy” at rugby matches.