Science Stadium to boost maths and science education

WITS has taken a huge leap towards improving the teaching of science and technology. The Wits Science Stadium has been created to foster excellence in learning, research and teaching.

The facility will also accommodate school pupils as well as professional practitioners such as researchers, teachers and scientists.

“This structure will bring together schools, science and mathematics teachers, lecturers, students and scholars, to make use of the skills that will be brought together by this building and its facilities,” says Prof. Andrew Crouch, dean of the faculty of science.

The stadium is situated on West Campus on the grounds of the old Charles Skeen Stadium. It is part of a programme that incorporates a world-class laboratory and teaching and tutoring facilities.

It is also the new home for mathematical sciences – incorporating the schools of mathematics, computational and applied mathematics, computer science, statistics and actuarial science, as well as the National Centre of Mathematical Science. It will also include the renewal and alteration of existing science facilities to accommodate and encourage the growth of post-graduate research.

Vusi Sikwambane, fourth year mathematics student, says, “This sounds like a brilliant place. I am going to be one of the first people to use it. I hope it does not get too crowded though.”

The stadium will increase the university’s capacity for science, engineering and technology graduates and researchers, by accommodating as many as 3400 students.

“The students will find their way easier because they will have a precinct with large lecture halls and we can group and teach them according to their interests and abilities and have smaller groups for better quality teaching,” says Crouch.

“I like the idea of allowing high school kids to come to the stadium. It means I can bring my brother when it is done. I hope I can do some of my lab practices there,” says Felicity Brauckman, a third year science student.

Blackwash Boycott

THE municipal elections have come and gone. One group of students will not be holding their breath in anticipation of a change in the status quo.

Blackwash Wits is a black consciousness movement whose aim is to make black students aware of what they call “the inequalities that still prevail”.

For the past few weeks they have been busy with campaigns on campus aimed at encouraging black students to shun the polls.

They believe the elections will not do anything to change the plight of the black students, and therefore taking part in them would be a waste of time.

Lubabalo Mgwili, a member of the working committee, says “we are challenging the whole concept of voting. No party is capable of effecting any meaningful change for blacks.”.

He says the problem the parties face is that whoever is in power find themselves having to work within the same constitutional and legal framework that limits black advancement.

The framework advances white interests and has always been like that, since 1994 when the country attained freedom, he says .

“We cannot celebrate the right to vote, when it is derived from the same constitution Constitution that protects stolen wealth.”

Hlompho Sephaka, a 4th year engineering student, says the organisation is regressive and their attitude does not help build the country.

“Who still holds views like that? Hello! Its 2011!” she says.

Mutombo Lubombo, a masters student in geography, says he understands where the organisation comes from.

“I am not South African, but I have lived here long enough to notice that this democracy is not benefiting the blacks at all…what have all the other elections done?” he asks.

When Mgwili was asked for his opinion on the statement Julius Malema made, to the effect that whites are criminals because they stole black peoples’ land, his response was:

“Malema practicses double standards, and he is a hypocrite. He belongs to the same party that is taking so long to give blacks back their land, but he thinks he can say something like that in public. This is just electioneering.”

Parktown residence to open doors

A NEW residence opening at Wits will enable students to “graduate into a higher level of campus living”.

This is the tag line in the brochure for the Wits Junction residence in Parktown, next to the Wits Education Campus.

“This is going to be the nuance of the university residences,” says Nazime Randera, acting manager of Wits Junction.

It is part of the university’s strategy to increase the residence stock to 6000 beds, especially increasing the number of postgraduate students registered with the university.

“This will be important in our endeavour to increase our capacity in terms of increasing our research output and enhancing the generation of new knowledge,” says Randera.

Most postgraduates are spread across three residences, namely West Campus Village, International House and Campus Lodge.

The name of the residence was derived from the idea that historically Johannesburg has always been a place where people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures have converged – the ‘Junction’ component of the name symbolises that idea.

Some of the attractions will be a gymnasium, a coffee/snack bar and a retail grocery store. There will also be generators on standby that will kick in during power failures.

Sidwel Saso, a master’s student from Kenya, says the residence sounds interesting. “This sounds like a place I could enjoy living in as a student…one needs all the help they can get you know,” he says.

Wits Junction will house 1209 students. The types of units available will be studio apartments, which are self contained and involve no sharing of any facilities, two bedroom-units sharing certain facilities, and three and four-bedroom units with the sharing of facilities such as showers, kitchens and bathrooms.

Felicia Ndzudzo, a first year PHD student from Zambia, says she would be interested in moving into the new residence. “This is a welcome development for us non-South Africans. The hotels around here can be pricey… This Wits Junction place will be good for us. I hope the services will match the high rents though,” she says.

The first phase of occupation starts on July 2 and 3.

High school top achievers coping with Varsity, or not?

Excelling at high school does not always mean one will automatically excel at university as well.

Vuvuzela caught up with three of the students recently hosted by  Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa, as part of the ‘Top of first year Wits students’, to see how they are coping, three months into their first year at Wits.

Each student has received the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship Award, worth R30 000 towards their first year studies.

Shaista Kalidas, MBBCh, says “The pace is faster here, so a student must make sure they keep up on their subjects, keep up on their tuts, and also do constant work if they want to succeed.”

Maseeha Rahawat, BSc in Actuarial Science, says “Coming to university from school has been a big jump, my marks are not anything as they were in school. Some subjects are easier, but some are more difficult…You have to be more disciplined at university, at school teachers would monitor you, but here no one really monitors you that closely.”

For Waseem Ahmed, BSc Actuarial Science, the decrease in the number of subjects he does in his course has made things easier. “The decrease in the number of subjects you do here allows you to have more time to concentrate on the fewer subjects you have.”

All say they have to deal with distractions that are inherent in a less rigid environment such as a university campus.

At university you have a lot more free time so there is a danger of getting lazy and losing the focus; at school you have classes one after the other, but here you sometimes have long free periods,” says Maseeha.

Waseem says “it is important to choose the right kinds of friends that will not encourage you to lose focus – it is no use sitting on the lawns and just hanging out.”

“I do have a social life. I do take breaks and hang out with my friends – but you must do everything in moderation,” says Shaista.

Wits FNB in foreign fuss

Wits students approached Vuvuzela for help after receiving what they say is bad service aimed at students from mainly African countries.

Hlalele Hlalele, a master’s student from Lesotho, visited the bank last month to change accounts. He was asked for his passport but did not have it with him, so presented his Southern African Development Community (SADC) driver’s licence instead.

He says the bank declined to give him service because the driver’s licence was not issued in South Africa. He explained that although it was issued by the Lesotho government, it was a SADC-recognised document.

He says he found it odd the Matrix branch refused to help him because he was able to open his account with the same document in the Free State.

“I opened my account in October at the Ladybrand branch without the study permit or the work permit, but using just this document…Surely something is fishy here.”

Joyce Legoale, FNB relationship analyst and the person running the branch, says she does not believe Hlalele managed to open the account in Ladybrand. She promised Hlalele she would check with the branch.

“I know I was supposed to follow up, but I did not. I do apologise. He can come back, we will help.”

Vivian Chuchu, a Zimbabwean doing her masters, says she went to the branch in February to open an account with her study permit. She was told it could not be used because it was handwritten, and only typed permits were allowed. She was told a copy would be made and sent to the department of home affairs head office in Pretoria for verification.

“This is such an inconvenience. Nobody at FNB has come back to me after all this time. But I managed to open an account at Absa using the same document.”

Wezi Shaba a sociology master’s student from Malawi, says he visited the branch in February to open an account. He says it was eventually opened but the process was unnecessarily fussy.

He did not have his study permit, but had his passport and visa. The bank asked him to bring a letter from the sociology department proving he is a student. He brought back the letter, which had his student number, passport number and residential address.

The bank did not accept the letter because they said, even though the content was fine, the structure of the letter was not acceptable.

“I think this was a tactic to make me discouraged and give up on opening the account,” he says.

FNB head office was contacted for comment, but did not respond.

UJ decision gets a mixed response

After months of pressure the University of Johannesburg (UJ) finally decided to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) on March 23.

The call to do this was largely motivated by the belief that their association with BGU was morally wrong because it has collaborations with the Israeli military occupying Palestinian territories.

“This is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in South Africa” was the response of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) after hearing of the decision.

The broader international campaign called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel was initiated in 2005 by Palestinian NGOs who believed it had to stand until Israel complied with the Universal Principles of Human Rights.

“Palestinians themselves go to BGU and they don’t see the reason to boycott it, so I don’t see why we should”, says Devan Mogg, a member of SAUJS.

However, The Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC) feels this is a positive development.

“This is a landmark moment in the fight against what amounts to apartheid…The campaign calls for all people to be given equal rights, to have their basic human rights respected,” says Kate Joseph of the organisation.

Sifiso Nkabinde, an international relations honours student, says this decision might be detrimental for South Africa’s endeavours of bringing in the best technological minds. “What’s going to happen to the water project now?”

Professor Daryl Glaser of the Wits department of political studies and a signatory to the petition says the issue for him is not the boycotting of individual academics or isolating Israelis from global academic debate, but the ending of formalised relationships with Israeli institutions that support a racist and expansionist system.

He says the support of this process by Wits academics is necessary because “it is important that this does not look like the concern of UJ academics alone”.

Mapaseka Sangweni, a 3rd year media studies student, agreed with the decision, saying it was a good thing some Wits academics also supported it. ‘I admire their moral stance on this one…they need to be applauded.”

WALE to make a big splash this year

The Wits Arts and Literature Experience (WALE) is going to be a “biggie” this year.

“WALE is going over the edge in 2011 with an expanded programme that’s set to cement its standing as a proudly Joburg festival,” coordinator Joanna Borton says.

“In creating the programme the emphasis has been on collaboration as well as opening the doors of Wits to all Joburgers to come and experience a great festival. It’s about opening up the festival, broadening its offering and tipping it over the edge.”

Witsies On Parade will open the festival on May 11 and go in a procession through the university’s campuses. Students and staff will take part, with faculties showing off their costumes and colours.

“We have always promoted the faculty of arts and humanities, but this year we would like to do other faculties as well so we can include the other students and staff too.”

The Adler Museum and the psychology department are among some of the others involved. A book fair, physical theatre as well as dance performances will be on the menu.

“This year we are really planning on going big. We encourage all students and staff to participate,” Borton says.