Wits Vuvuzela pays tribute to four female academics who have made headlines because of their achievements in their respective fields.

Three weeks into the second semester and already members of the Wits female academic staff are making headlines because of their achievements in their respective fields.

Wits Vuvuzela pays tribute to four of these women: Dr Precious Biyela, Prof Himla Soodyall, Prof Shireen Hassim and Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola.

Dr Precious Biyela, a senior lecturer at the school of Civil and Environmental Engineering, aptly played the role of the boulder blocking the march of corruption. She challenged the university’s powers that may be when she wrote an open letter to students in her school during the midterm break expressing concerns over the department’s assessment criteria.

Titled Betting It All! Dr Biyela’s email addressed discontent with the assessment of the Introduction to Environmental Engineering course for the 2016 academic year, specifically the granting of a special examination to 19 students. It was scheduled to be written on June 30, but it was cancelled, thanks to Dr Biyela’s letter.

Biyela explained that these students had previously sat for a supplementary examination on January 6 after they failed last year’s end of year examination.

Deputy vice-chancellor academic, Professor Andrew Crouch, said the reason for providing the special June examination was that “during the investigation undertaken by the dean of the faculty of engineering and the Built Environment and I, we discovered that the [supplementary] examination papers for the course were not externally moderated and examined”.

Biyela rubbished this and argued that “no supplementary examinations in the School of Environmental Engineering were externally assessed in 2016-2017”. She said she did not understand why the introduction to environmental engineering course was singled out for a special examination.

In her open letter, Biyela said that, the special examination “is only special in that it is fundamentally for the benefit of one student”. She said that because the university was bending over backwards for one student other students were complaining.

Wits student representative council’s academic officer Zamayirha Peter said other students had come forward and reported similar incidents within their respective faculties.

Standing tall in male-dominated spaces

Prof Himla Soodyall and Prof Shireen Hassim were inaugurated as council members of the prestigious Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) on July 27 by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor. Prof Soodyall was elected as the academy’s general secretary.

Prof Soodyall is a principal medical scientist at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. While Prof Hassim is professor of politics at Wits.
Their colleague and Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs Prof Vilakazi sang their praises, “Having academics appointed from our institution demonstrates the calibre of academics we have at Wits. These academics are engaged in issues around science advocacy and stand out in a male dominated field.”

Words of power

Last week saw public intellectual and feminist academic Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola launch her latest book Reflecting Rogue, a collection of 20 essays on power, pleasure and South African culture.
The gender activist and award-winning author is also a full professor of African Literature, and has written extensively for both local and international academic journals.

As the author of What is Slavery to Me? (Wits University Press), A Renegade Called Simphiwe (MFBooks Joburg) and Rape: A South African Nightmare (MFBooks Joburg), Gqola has been a shining light in advocating women’s issues.


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