I had a sad smile when I saw the Wits Transformation Office competition for students to submit pictures depicting the University’s transformation. It seems to me that Wits is painting a picture of transformation, instead of implementing its ambitious transformation targets.

To tell the truth, I considered entering the competition, since I could be a richer man by painting Wits as a transformed institution – but frankly it’s not.

I could take a picture of the new science stadium at night to show its breath-taking beauty, or the very expensive new Wits Junction residence. Then again, I could just as easily take a picture of the deteriorating conditions at Wits Esselen residence.

Maybe I could take a picture of the first year students in their brand-new cars. But I could also capture the students crammed into over-crowded buses. Can a single picture tell the whole story of transformation at Wits in its 90 years of existence? I doubt it.

Maybe I didn’t understand what was required, because transformation is a different animal for me.

Transformation to me means the inclusion of previously disadvantaged persons into the university: from senior management, lecturers, cleaners, gardeners and students. There should be equal consideration for their rights as an integral part of Wits. And these should translate into the broader society.

Transformation to me does not mean the division of students according to class, by building a residence costing almost R50 000 a year, when conditions at Esselen remain the same. It does not mean the bad treatment of contract workers. In the past, the children of Wits workers could attend the university. Now, contract workers’ children could barely afford its fees, even if their salaries were doubled.

Transformation means nothing to me if there are students who still sleep in Wits libraries, and surely means nothing if workers use different entrances and exits from students. While Wits maintains its second official language is Southern Sotho, all signs on campus are still in English.

Wits fails to recognise that transformation is not a representation but a reflection, and the picture is not looking good.

Published in Vuvuzela Print Edition, 13 April 2012