Professor Adam Habib highlighted the achievements of Wits University and the impact of its alumni on the world.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib drew inspiration from the SRC president’s speech in his address to first-year students and their families at Wits University’s Welcome Day.

“[Thuto Gabaphethe] said three things which I think are important and I want to reflect on. I take leadership from my president,” said the VC.

Firstly, that the students accepted were the best candidates from almost 70 000 applications. “Indeed you are the crème de le crème… We just took less than 5 000.”

He told the first-year students that, “You are a special player. You represent hope for the nation. You represent the best of a generation and you will be dedicating yourselves to transforming our country, continent and the world.

“We rank in the top 1% of universities in the world,” said the professor, adding that Wits strives for excellence.

Prof Habib also agreed with the SRC president that at university “we learn and unlearn”. “Those were striking words. [They capture] who we are.”

Thirdly, the VC concurred with Gabaphethe when he said, “You learn as much outside the classroom as you do inside.”

“All three statements reflect the substance of hope that this event represents,” Prof Habib said.

On issues raised by the SRC president such as gender-based harm (GBH), the VC told Wits Vuvuzela that Wits had a unit focusing on GBH, but noted that more still needed to be done. “We need to deal with racism and, frankly, all the examples he used. We have policies against it and we take action against it.”

On historical debt, Prof Habib said, “Talented students shouldn’t struggle.” However, he added that the university could not resolve the issue of historical debt, but “the government can. So I am happy to walk with [Gabaphethe] to the ANC of which he is a member and talk to them”.

“The university can’t resolve fees, free education or the historical debt question. That has to be resolved by the system. Asking the university to do so will bankrupt the university… The people who will lose are the very students,” Prof Habib told Wits Vuvuzela.

“You can’t ask me as the vice-chancellor to resolve it, it doesn’t fall within my ambit. It falls within the ambit of the government. I am happy to walk with him, to see government and make that case but I can’t make that problem go away and you can’t paralyse this institution. We have to get the government to act,” he said.

The VC said that even though the university strives for excellence, transformation was equally important, as Wits had taken steps over the years to address the inequalities from the past. “When we speak of Wits and its transformative ability, it’s not for some political project, it’s to re-imagine a nation.”

Prof Habib told the new students: “We are here to train you to be professionals, researchers… but in addition to that we want you to be reimagined as new citizens, as new warriors for social change that will heal the divides of our world.

“It’s going to be a hell of a ride. Welcome to Wits University!”

FEATURED IMAGE: Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib addresses first-year students on their academic journey ahead.  Photo: Tumelo Modiba