WITS has provided an environment for many students talents to flourish whether in politics or arts, science or sports. The Wits alumni page has more than 100 names familiar to many South Africans. Wits Vuvuzela dips into some of these.
IN 1977 activist Steve Biko died in detention. Two former Witsies were involved in issues surrounding his death.
DA leader Helen Zille was a journalist with the Rand Daily Mail and exposed the truth behind Biko’s death. Police said he died following a prolonged hunger strike while he actually died from head injuries sustained during torture.
The other Witsie involved was lawyer George Bizos who represented Biko’s family following his death. Bizos was also part of the team that defended Nelson Mandela (a Wits alumnus), Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu at the Rivonia trial in 1963 and 1964. Throughout his career Bizos represented many local political leaders and was also instrumental in the acquittal of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on treason charges before the 2002 general elections.
Wits has also encouraged innovation and groundbreaking study. Alumnus, Zulu poet and novelist Benedict Wallet Vilakazi worked in the Wits Bantu studies department in 1936. Vilakazi’s teaching position made him the first black South African to teach white South Africans at university level. Vilakazi is noted for his scholarly work on oral tradition and the Zulu and Xhosa languages which, in 1946, earned him the first PhD awarded to a black South African. Together with fellow Wits scholar C.M Doke he created a Zulu-English dictionary.
Some former Witsies have had success in fields quite different from what they studied at university. Gavin Hood studied law at Wits but went on to do film at the University of California. Hood wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film Tsotsi in 2005. He also directed X-men Origins: Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman.
Another Wits law graduate, Danny Koppel also known as Danny K, was the first South African musician to perform on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
He is quoted on the Wits alumni page as saying: “Wits was an interesting time, because I was torn between academics, song writing and music practice. I would be either at a music studio or at Wits lectures. In any event, I am thrilled I got a degree.”
Johnny Clegg has a social anthropology and political science degree but has excelled in the music industry. In 1988, Michael Jackson had to cancel his show in Lyon, France, as he attracted a smaller audience than Johnny Clegg and Savuka. According to Wikipedia, a newspaper headline in France read: “White man singing black music, outsells black man singing white music.”
A Wits film and drama graduate, Wandile Molebatsi, has been in a number of productions on the small screen and also stars in the movie A Million Colours which is currently showing on the big screen.
Read the inspirational stories of more Wits graduates at http://www.wits.ac.za/alumni/news/3317/achievers.html