Ride the bus … Jozi’s friendlier than you think

Whether you’re a freshman from another city or a seasoned Joburger, the new double-decker Hop-on Hop-off CitySightseeing tour bus has an open-air seat waiting for you.

A R150 ticket gets you access to an entire day of Jozi scenery, history and entertainment. Get to the Gautrain Station @ Park as early as you can to get a seat up top. For those of you who are sensitive to our sunny skies, remember a hat and some SPF.

Pop in the bright red earphones handed to you by the friendly tour guides and listen to a couple of well-spoken youngsters talk about how the City of Gold got its name.

The great thing about this tour is that you can hop off at any of the 12 stops along the route and simply hop back on the next bus when you’re done. The service runs every 40 minutes and the stops include Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City, Santarama Miniland, Ghandi Square, Newtown and the Wits Origins Centre.

If you don’t recognise some of those, then obviously it’s time to get your ticket online (you’ll also save 30 bucks by going through the website). And even if you’re quite familiar with the list, it’s good to have a reminder of all the wonderful things there are to do in Jozi, as well as its colourful history.

City Sightseeing Buses come to Jozi. Pic: Anina Mumm

City Sightseeing Buses come to Jozi. Pic: Anina Mumm

As the bus weaves its way carefully through the narrow streets and bustling crossings, the tour guide will remind you that Jozi is a lot friendlier than its reputation would have you believe. Many people think it a dangerous, dodgy place with unsavoury characters and rampant crime. While this is true to an extent, almost all cities in the world have some of these elements and one simply needs to be alert and street-smart to avoid being a victim. In other words, don’t be afraid to get off the bus and explore in a group.

As the buzz of colourful fruit and veg markets, clothing jumble sales, sidewalk barbers and car washes whiz past, you realise very quickly that most people are just ordinary South Africans going about their daily lives. What’s so scary about that? In fact, it’s vibrant and inspiring.

From the architecture to the street-market vibe to the history and activities, this is really a great day out. Even if you just go along for the ride, you’ll learn something and you’ll probably meet a few tourists to convince that Jozi is the best city in South Africa, and maybe even the world.


The bus makes its way through the narrow and busy streets. Pic: Anina Mumm

The bus makes its way through the narrow and busy streets. Pic: Anina Mumm

If you think this review is biased, you’re probably right. But that said, I really had no complaints about the trip. The bus was safe and clean and the staff were friendly and helpful. The route, scenery and audio guide were all top notch and even the weather played along perfectly.

In it for health, not money

Wits researchers have found that participants in drug trials may be genuinely concerned about their health, rather than taking part just for the promise of payment.

Until now, researchers have raised concerns that participation in clinical trials related to HIV may be mainly motivated by compensation, or that women in these studies would abuse reimbursements, share drugs with other people or dump the drugs.

But according to a study published by researchers at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute last week, none of these concerns was found to be true after interviewing women who took part in such a trial.

The women were positive for HIV and Herpes Simplex Virus 2, both sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The risk of spreading HIV is three times higher when a person is infected with both viruses. The women had participated in a trial which tested how efficient an anti-herpes drug was at reducing the risk of spreading HIV.

The women were asked how well they kept to the rules of the trial and what motivated them to do so. For a clinical trial to work, participants have to visit the clinic regularly for medication and check-ups. They also have to take the drugs at certain times and change some of their behaviour. For example, they were required to use condoms and avoid vaginal douching.

The women followed these rules about 90% of the time, and they said they were motivated by concerns for their health. Co-author of the paper, Dr Catherine MacPhail, said this was significant because the health system was not perceived as adequate or user-friendly.

“The thing that made me decide to participate in the study was I started to see symptoms that I did not understand, like I had discharge and I was always sick so then I decided to go and find out about my status,” said one participant.

The women also welcomed the free health care that came with the trial, even though they knew some of the drugs were placebos, or sugar pills.

A major factor that encouraged women to visit the clinic regularly was staff support. “I think it [staff attitude] helped me because when I thought about coming to the clinic I knew that I am going to be laughing and talking to people who care about me and I loved to come to the clinic,” said another participant.

Researchers said the study also showed that people in low and middle-income countries, characterised by poverty and social deprivation, could be trusted to take medication as prescribed.

The paper was published in Dove Press, an open access medical journal. It was authored by Dr Catherine MacPhail and Dr Sinead Delany-Moretlwe from Wits, and Prof Philippe Mayaud from the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Naked science taboo

Juliet McClymont is an Evolutionary Biomechanist who studies endurance running in fossil and modern humans. She is one of the “naked scientists” portrayed in Brett Eloff’s Resuscitare, on exhibition at the Resolution gallery until the 5th of September in Johannesburg. Photo: Brett Eloff

A religious group’s poster was found covering a nude photograph of a scientist in the Wits Geology building last week.On Thursday August 16, a poster advertising the services of the Christian Action Fellowship (CAF) was pasted over photographer Brett Eloff’s image of Tamaryn Hodgskiss, a PhD student.Eloff and Hodgskiss had agreed that acting head of Geosciences, Prof Lewis Ashwal, could display the picture in the foyer of the building to promote the photo project, which is on exhibition at the Resolution gallery in Johannesburg.

Ashwal said he did not think displaying the poster would be a problem. “I thought it would be fun to publicly illustrate, in an unusual way, the ‘passion’ our post-graduate students have for their research.”

CAF chairperson Ndivhuwo Nethononda was not aware of the incident and said the group always told its members to put posters “on an empty spot”.

French PhD student and brainchild of the project, Aurore Val, said the photos were originally intended to become a calendar, but some senior academics and members of a funding body had discouraged the project. She said they had associated the idea of a nude calendar with pornography, and felt it would tarnish the reputation of the women in the photos as well as the field of palaeontology.

Hodgskiss said:  “I suppose people thought they’d be tacky, crude images that might do damage to the department’s image, as well as do damage to the reputation of the person in the photo.”

But Hodgskiss and Val said most people who had seen the finished project loved it. Resolution gallery owner Ricardo Fornoni confirmed that a member of one of the funding bodies visited the exhibition and enjoyed the pictures. Fornoni also said there was nothing sexual about the photos.

Eloff raised concerns that scientists who were against the exhibition might be elitist if they did not want the public to be drawn into their work through unique projects like this.

The twelve images on display show various scientists posing with the subjects of their research, including skulls, bone tools and rock art.

The captions to the pictures describe the scientists’ research in their own words. Val said many of the visitors at the show’s opening read the captions and wanted to know more about the science.

Val also said she hoped the pictures would change people’s perceptions of scientists. “They are just young, normal people.”

Law clear on egg donation

According to a recent law programme on VoWfm, whether or not payment for egg donation is legal can be confusing. But the law is very clear.

According to the National Health Act of 2003, it is illegal for a person to “receive any form of financial or other reward” for the donation of eggs and sperm.

However, section 60(4)(a) of the Act makes an exception in the case that the donor had to incur costs in order to make the donation: “…except for the reimbursement of reasonable costs incurred by him or her to provide such donation.”

Wits Vuvuzela carries adverts for egg donation from agencies such a Baby Miracle and DonorLife .

The Baby Miracles advert reads: “Donate your eggs to a childless couple and be well reimbursed.” DonorLife reads: “Wanted … healthy ladies aged 21-33 … Paid R5 500 to R6 000 … Become an egg donor …”

Thulani Nkosi, a candidate attorney at the Wits Law Clinic, said during the VoWfm that compensation for egg donation is “definitely” illegal.

However he also agreed with other panel members that the current reimbursement process is legal.

The confusion arose around the legality of receiving payment for donating any human tissue.

Wits law lecturer Desia Colgan explained in the same programme on VoWfm: “The law says that people may not be paid for donation of their tissue. However, there is an agreed amount that women are given as a donation. [This] is deemed a donation and not a payment, and that’s really for reimbursement for the inconvenience of going to the clinic, for their scans, for taking time off work and for availing themselves for this process.”

She said the reimbursement is a fixed amount and is neither negotiable nor dependant on the donor’s loss of income.

VoWfm reporter Rethabile Makhetha phoned Baby Miracles undercover as “Cindy” to find out more about the process. Contact person Colleen Oates explained the procedure and confirmed that it is both safe and legal. She said donors receive R6 000 on the day their eggs are taken. She also said many students are donating and most do it more than once.

Jenny Currie, from the Baby2mom egg donation agency, said that all such professional agencies are registered with a body in South Africa that governs the ethics of the process.

Listen to the podcast of the VoWfm program here.

Wits and Sci-Bono team up for National Science Week

Wits has partnered with the Sci-Bono Discovery centre in Johannesburg to celebrate National Science Week (NSW), a major event aimed at encouraging young people to study science.

Dr. Ian McKay from the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research will be participating in the week-long programme at Sci-Bono,  and Alvin Moodley from Student Recruitment will have a career guidance exhibition.

NSW is celebrated across all nine provinces during the week of 30 July to 4 August 2012. The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Soweto campus hosted exhibitions of the latest science being done in South Africa at the launch on Saturday. The launch was opened by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor.

Busloads of school children from the area got a glimpse into science as a choice of tertiary study and as a career path. Institutions like the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and some universities showcased their latest research.

According to the South African National Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), the purpose of the week is to contribute to science, engineering and technology among various sections of the population. It is also to expose learners and teachers to science-based careers, especially those from previously disadvantaged schools. SAASTA is a unit of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Although Wits was not present at the launch, which was arranged by the DST and UJ, they are involved in the promotion of science throughout the year.

“Wits is certainly committed to promoting the public understanding of science and aside from our participation in various activities involving National Science Week, we have undertaken numerous public activities this year,” said Wits communication manager Shirona Patel.

Beyond their partnership with Sci-Bono for NSW, she highlighted a few examples of Wits’ participation in the public understanding of science. For instance, Wits was involved in the SKA campaign and hosted important paleosciences lectures, especially in light of the recent Sediba fossil findings. Patel said these were only some examples of their many efforts.

As for Witsies themselves, they will be participating in ‘career speed-dating’ as part of NSW, as well as initiatives that bring art and science together. Witsies will also be presenting and mentoring at several NSW sessions.

Editorial: Bite the hand that doesn’t feed

So it looks like Limpopo might produce a whole generation of Malemas. Education is the key to success but these northern youngsters aren’t exactly experiencing the “better life for all”.

The textbook saga is just another example of the ANC’s failure to curb corruption and mismanagement. But are voters finally going to ask: “What about the kids … what about my kids?”

Voting for the ANC in 1994 was certainly no mistake. Voting for them ever since, out of loyalty, fear, hope or whatever other reason, might’ve been a bad idea. Unemployed youth are angry and from these hopeless masses rise the likes of Julius Malema. Whether he still stands for that crowd or just stands to profit from their desperation is debatable. But he represents where it all went wrong – trying to fix things that may not be broken and further breaking things that need fixing. Case in point: education.

In a radio interview this week president Zuma insisted that education is a top priority as it receives a hefty portion of the budget. But one can’t help question why things are so bad in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo if that were true. Perhaps the wrong aspects within education are being prioritised.

It seems the ANC-led government may be trying to fix the problem from the top down. BEE, possible lower university entrance requirements, alleged inflated matric results … why not make just a slightly better effort at improving primary and high school education? Delivery of textbooks is such a basic process, how could it possibly have gone this wrong? Why not pay teachers, arguably the most important members of our society, a better salary? If you are a teacher in the Eastern Cape you might appreciate being paid at all.

The ANC-led government is giving our children a slap in the face. Yet parents and young adults keep voting for the party. Is that not a slap in the face to everyone who is trying their hardest to get ahead? Minister Angie Motshekga’s defence of her actions, or lack thereof, is offensive to say the least.

The Ethics Institute of SA should be supported for saying this week that officials should take responsibility for this debacle. An emotional observer might go further and say that Minister Motshekga is a disgrace to women who lead and a disgrace to what the ANC once was.

But forget about her. Just think of all the opportunities school children in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape will miss out on. Malema is right about one thing: the gap between rich and poor is widening. But neither he nor the current government has the solution.

The money is there, we just need the corruption and mismanagement to stop. For our children’s sake.

SKA in SA – an international sensation

Local and international media have been buzzing with news after it was announced that the majority of the SKA, the world’s largest radio telescope array, will be built in South Africa.


The President’s Privates

The artwork depicting president Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed has caused quite a stir this past weekend. Here’s a round-up of the controversy.


Predictive test

It is expensive to check whether anti-retroviral drugs are working in an HIV-positive patient, but a new approach could halve the costs.

Doctors monitor the success of anti-HIV drugs using a “CD4 count”. The fewer CD4 cells a patient has, the more HIV has damaged the immune system.

When an HIV positive person starts antiretroviral treatment (ART) against HIV, the number of CD4 cells should increase if the ARTs are working. If the CD4 count is below 200, the person has AIDS, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

But these tests are costly and, in developing countries like South Africa, lab equipment and trained staff are limited. To address this, Wits researcher Prof Ian Sanne and a team of international researchers have suggested a new way to predict which patients are likely to have a low CD4 count.

 Those patients who are predicted to have a low CD4 count can then have the test done to confirm it. Their “Prediction-Based Classification” tool correctly predicted 90% of low CD4 counts.

Their study was published the PLoS Medicine Journal in April 2012. The authors emphasise that their tool should not replace CD4 tests, but could improve the monitoring of treatment by making better use of money, staff and equipment.

“Introducing PBC will diminish the burden on poorly resourced laboratories, releasing funding to reach more patients,” Sanne told Scidev.net, a prominent science news website for developing countries.

The tool, a mathematical algorithm, could also reduce the need to repeat tests that give unexpected results. Their research also provides a basis for future studies to look at the economic and health benefits of the tool.

Sanne is the founder and director of the Clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 18 May 2012

Sex exchange

Men feel entitled to sex and obedience from women if they provide for them financially, according to a Wits researcher.

A recent study revealed how heterosexual men in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal perceived sex with prostitutes, their partners and other women. The study was published by a team led by Wits Public Health professor Rachel Jewkes.

Their research suggests that men, especially lower income, lower-educated coloured and black men, conform to the traditional gender role of the “provider”. Women are expected to offer sex in return for what men provide. This could be cash, items for children, school fees or money for bills, but it could also include food, clothes, cell phones, transportation, accommodation, cosmetics, or handyman work.

“It is very easy to see how these social expectations put pressure on men, especially in the context of unemployment, and may be strongly resented by men who have little or no money,” say the authors of the article.

Although exchanging sex for money and material items seems like a form of prostitution, these men view the “provider role” as very different from paying for sex from a sex-worker. Two-thirds of men engaging in such “transactions” denied having sex with a prostitute.

The authors suggest that women may use the conservative gender role of men to their advantage: “…it is possible for a woman to feel empowered by ‘exploiting men’ whilst the ‘exploited men’ view themselves in a conservative gender role.”

The study also found that men were unlikely to pay sex workers later in life if they had not done so at a young age. Their research confirms findings in the UK that “if a man had not paid for sex by the age of 25, he was less likely to do so in the future”.

Jewkes and her team say their study is important for South Africa because transactional sex and prostitution play a role in HIV infections. It is also significant because the country is in the process of reviewing its laws around sex workers.

Men have not been well research in this context, so understanding how men see themselves can help to reduce transactional sex by changing their perceptions.

Do you think men should provide for women in return for sex? Comment below.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, May 18, 2012

A steep mountain to climb

Wits aims to be ranked within the top 100 universities by 2022 but the university seems to be slipping down the rankings. Only 859 of Wits’ 6340 graduates come from the science faculty. The number of publications from the faculty is increasing but research output measured in publication units is staying about the same. Students are increasing every year but the total number of staff is decreasing.

Science research will play a key role in boosting Wits’ world ranking to within the top 100 by its 100th birthday, but some think it will be a difficult goal to achieve.

Wits has dropped by over 100 positions since 2007 to a rank of 399 according to report compiled for Wits by ranking system “QS”. Another ranking system, Times Higher Education, placed Wits between 251 and 275. In ten years, Wits hopes to be placed in the top 100.

“I think it’s quite an ambitious target … it’s obviously possible because UCT’s going up the rankings, but the reality is that we’re going down the rankings,” said David Dickinson, sociology professor and president of Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu).

According to the Wits 2011/12 Facts & Figures booklet, the total staff in the science faculty dropped from 639 in 2007 to 398 in 2011 and academic staff dropped from 192 to 152. Wits human resources confirmed the drop in overall staff headcount but added that the final figures for 2011 were in fact 438.

Dickinson said if Wits wanted to move higher up in the ranking it must publish and teach more, and produce more postgraduates.

Chemistry professor Helder Marques said he was surprised to hear there was a decrease in staff numbers and that it is a cause for concern. He said staff felt extremely pressurised and had to do a lot more teaching. He also said support staff was not as efficient or well-skilled as they could be.

The Facts & Figures booklet shows that research output has decreased slightly over the last few years. The booklet uses “publication units” (a measure related to how much money is received for each publication) and not the actual number of publications.

Marques, however, said that is not a good measure of research output and called the compilers of that data “damn lazy”. His own analysis showed the actual number of publications had been steadily increasing from 348 in 2007 to 511 last year.

He conceded this measure did not address the quality of the published research. He said a new system of performance management would be introduced into the faculty soon that would set targets for academics which will reflect both the number and quality of publications.

Marques also said that eight schools within the faculty rank within the top 1% of the world when it comes to citations, or how often other people reference their articles.

“We’re pretty good [in terms if impact] for a relatively small university.”

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 18 May 2012