Supporting South Africa’s next generation of scientists and mathematicians

 

A chemistry student conducting an experiment at Wits University’s Science Stadium. The university has programmes to support high school learners who show promise in science and mathematics, as well as talented female science students at tertiary level. Photo: Tanyaradzwa Nyamajiyah

Daniel Masuku grew up in Schoemansdal, a dusty Mpumalanga backwater where most people are subsistence maize farmers. He walked 45 minutes to school as a Grade 1 pupil and attended a high school where students had to share textbooks. Masuku had never heard of Wits University, much less imagined attending the prestigious institution.

But when he finished matric, he won admission to the university’s chemical engineering and mathematical sciences programmes. He chose maths and is currently in his second year.

Masuku’s life changed when his science teacher at Njeyeza Secondary School brought him an application form for the Targeting Talent Programme (TTP), a Wits initiative to identify and support promising maths and science students from marginalized communities.

Zena Richards is the Director of the university’s Student Equity and Talent Managament Unit, which runs TTP and another programme called Going to University to Succeed or GUTS.

Richards says her job is to make disadvantaged students realize that places like Wits are an option for them.

The centrepiece of TTP is a two-week residential experience for participants which take place on the Wits campus in June.

“They live in a residence, use the dining halls, use the libraries and access the lecture rooms. So partly it’s a simulation of what university life will be like … so it demystifies it for them a little bit,” Richards says.

Masuku says his first visit to Wits was “scary”. He was overwhelmed by the size of the university and was afraid of getting lost on campus.

But it made him realize what was possible and encouraged him to dream of enrolling at the university, the first person in his family to do so.Masuku’s father is a cleaner/gardener at a hospital in Mpumalanga and his mother is unemployed. Neither of them went to school but Masuku’s mother insisted that he get an education.  

Richards says many TTP participants are orphans or live in families which survive on a grandparent’s pension and getting 3 meals a day is not guaranteed. Many parents and guardians are illiterate and unable to even complete the forms required by the programme.

“But despite all of that, the passion and commitment and support for the aspirations of these kids from their families just makes me want to pinch myself,” Richards says.

TTP contributes to South Africa’s pipeline of scientists and mathematicians. But above all, it changes lives.

Educators kill creativity and collaboration

 

EXPLORING CREATIVITY: First year student Kyra Pape produces a painting at the Wits School of Arts. Wits scholar O’Toole held a public lecture highlighting the necessity of arts in education.
PHOTO: Tanyaradzwa Nyamajiyah

A renowned Australian academic has drawn on the magic of a famous story, Alice in Wonderland, to call on schools to let students play and dream. Curriculum developer Prof John O’Toole said the arts improve learning and boost numeracy and literacy.O’Toole, a Wits Distinguished Scholar, delivered a public lecture entitled A(li)CE in the Hole – the necessity of arts education in the twenty-first century, at Wits on Monday evening.

He said some teachers stifle creativity and collaboration. Instead of encouraging learning through play, movement and social interaction, they tell learners to “Stop laughing. Stop fidgeting. Stop talking”.

O’Toole also said many curricula prevent exploring and replace trial and error with “right answers and penalties for failure”.

He blamed the marginalisation of arts and culture education (ACE) on the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the need for an efficient and obedient workforce. He also suggested politicians may fear the arts and the power they have to inspire people to question the status quo. O’Toole alluded to the backlash and legal action against artist Brett Murray and cartoonist Zapiro, following their controversial depictions of President Jacob Zuma.

He also highlighted what he called “the alarming proportion of school failures”, saying schools fail to cater for the needs of some children, who eventually “fall out of the game”.

“We still don’t know what to do about them, other than maybe blame the victims or more and more desperately try Band-Aids,” O’Toole said.

He said ACE is often starved of resources, with governments preferring to pour money into literacy and numeracy classes.

O’Toole, who used to teach in working-class inner-city schools in Australia before becoming an academic, said studies have shown that arts education – especially drama – boosts literacy by 25%, while music and visual arts increase numeracy.

He said his arguments could be applied not only to schools but to universities as well.

Fittingly, O’Toole’s lecture was very interactive, with audience members pairing up to analyse artworks and role play classroom situations. It was also full of humour and word plays. The title of the lecture, A(li)CE in the Hole, was a reference to Lewis Carroll’s story Alice in Wonderland.

O’Toole said he still believed it was possible to change the world of education.

“The White Queen [a character in the story] believed six impossible things before breakfast every day!” he said.

The title of the lecture was also a reference to card games and a play on the abbreviation for arts and culture education, ACE.

“The arts are the real trump in education, the real ACE in the hole,” he concluded.

Published in Vuvuzela 17th edition, 27 July 2012

If the shoe fits, share it.

 

A milestone on the journey four Witsies made through Southern Africa as part of the Put Foot Foundation’s charity rally. Photo: Neighbour Hooligans.

(Print edition, July 20, 2012)

Master’s student Robyn van Jaarsveld spent part of her vacation exploring Southern Africa and partying like her life depended on it.

But the VoW FM DJ also delivered shoes and socks to 405 barefoot Zambian children.

 “They were so excited about the shoes but they were told they could only wear them to school and church,” she said.

Van Jaarsveld, fellow Master’s student Sarah Findlay and graduates Debbie Haslau and Karselle Moodley also painted classrooms, laid floors and installed a new water pump at Senkobo Basic School, 20 kilometres outside Livingstone.

They did all of this during a 19-day car rally which took them through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.

The annual event was organised by the Put Foot Foundation, an adventure charity whose aim this year was to raise funds for shoes and for an anti-rhino-poaching programme in Durban.

The Witsies, who named their team the “Neighbour Hooligans”, organised a pub quiz night and asked their family, friends and colleagues for donations. They contributed R16 000 to the R350 000 raised by the 250 rally participants.

The trip was filled with memorable experiences, from swimming in the Okavango River, taking a ferry over Lake Kariba and watching the sun set over the Zambezi.

“Etosha National Park in Namibia was simply exquisite with its dry savannahs, colossal salt pans and hordes of cool wildlife,” Findlay said.

But she thought every place they visited had “something magical to offer”.

The highlight of the trip for Findlay was head-banging and bum-jiving by the side of the road in Namibia to celebrate their first 1000 kilometres. “Completely dorky, but completely epic!” she said.

The four women had many difficult moments too.  

“One that sticks in my mind would be the time our brakes stopped working and another would be the 30-kilometre wrong turn we took in Malawi on the worst dirt road in the world,” Haslau said.

But they learned a lot through the experience. Haslau learned she could drive without brakes, she should be grateful for everything she has and “I have really good friends”.

Moodley said she learned that despite their poverty, people are still living their lives

and “that is something very admirable about the human spirit”. 

Links

Find more infomation and photos on the Neighour Hooligans blog.

Voices from the Wits Mandela Day 2012 celebrations at the Origins Centre

 

A young boy enjoys a cupcake at a Wits University celebration to mark Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. Cupcakes were sold to raise money for the Wits Paediatric Fund. Photo: Lisa Golden and Kirsti Buick

A diverse group of about 200 people gathered at Wits University’s Origins Centre on July 18 to mark Mandela Day. Here are the voices of five people who attended the event:

Nathalie Night

Nathalie Knight is the curator of the Mandela @ 94 exhibition at the Origins Centre. She met Mandela, quite by chance, at the Hyde Park Shopping Centre where she used to have a gallery.

Click here to listen to Knight’s story.

Shelley Elk

Shelley Elk studied art at Wits several years ago. In the late 1990s, she did a series of three paintings based on Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom. Her pieces – Birth of Royalty, The Struggle and New Nation – form part of the Mandela @ 94 exhibition.

An Italian company used these designs for a series of limited edition luxury pens.

Elk didn’t get paid for her work but was told that some of the proceeds from the sale of the pens would benefit one of Mandela’s charities.

“I’ve tried in vain to find out which one it is. There are question marks. And that left me feeling a little sad. Because in my heart I did this as a tribute … I met with Advocate George Bizos, and his team team did an investigation to find out if these projects were linked to the Mandela Foundation. But I generally think in my heart that artists are quite idealistic and sometimes naïve … People feel a lot of love towards Mandela. I mean, I did the pens out of love for him, you know. Not to take advantage of his name or anything. Sometimes you naïvely get caught up in something and you have no idea what’s going on. Maybe that’s just my own failing”.

Jacqueline Goba

Jacqueline Goba is a cleaner at the Origins Centre. She remembers the day Mandela was released from prison in February 1990.

“I was very happy, screaming, overjoyed, ja. We even took meat from the fridge and did a little braai! (She laughs). I love Tata very much!”

Thomas Baloyi

Thomas Baloyi is a garden maintenance worker at Wits. He watched the brief Mandela Day concert which accompanied the art exhibition at the Origins Centre because he is a big fan of the former president. He remembers where he was when Mandela walked out of the prison gates.

“I was at Limpopo, looking at the TV. When he raised his hand, I was very, very excited. I was so happy because it was my first time to see his face on a screen. I used to hear people: ‘There is Mandela. He goes to jail for we people, we blacks, to be free.’ So when I look at the TV, I saw his face, I was very, very happy. I love Tata. He take us out from the Babylon to Israel, you know. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be today.”

Saurav Tiwari

Saurav Tiwari is from New Delhi, India. He started working for Wits University six months ago. He arrived at the Origins Centre as workers were packing up equipment after the Mandela Day celebration. Although Tiwari was disappointed to have missed the festivities, he was happy to share his thoughts on Mandela as an international icon.

“For so many people, not just South Africans, Mandela has been such an inspiration, the way he has fought the apartheid government … And not just the revolution. If you put the whole revolution aside and look at the person, he has been such an inspiration, how simple … how loving … how generous … and how pleasant a person can be. Because I think today we are missing and we need people with a pleasant nature, with pleasantness in their voice, pleasantness in their thoughts. Because we have so much hatred and rage going around, and he could be an inspiration for us”.

 

 

NERVOUS laughter rippled through the lecture hall when Maria Wanyane began her presentation.  The 1st year construction studies students did not expect the Wits sexual harassment officer to mention some of the explicit, derogatory words whose usage can constitute harassing behaviour.

But they appreciated her frankness. “I liked the fact that she was blunt … because we don’t need to sugarcoat it. It’s real”, said Witsie Shanice Pillay.  Some of the students also gasped in disbelief when Wanyane told them that excessive persistence in asking for dates was a form of harassment.  Nkateko Ncube said this was one of the most interesting things she learned from the lecture. “I got to know that there is a difference between flirting and sexual harassment.”

Wanyane also told the students they had a responsibility to ensure that they and their peers create a positive learning environment for everyone by avoiding harassing language and behaviour.  All of the students listened attentively and some took copious notes during the talk, which took place during senior lecturer Angelo Fick’s communication skills class.

A national problem

Fick said that sexual harassment is a problem in South African society and that it also happens at the country’s universities.  “This is the space in which we can guide people’s understanding about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, before they have to learn it the hard way.”  Fick was pleased with his student’s engagement with the topic during the tutorial which followed Wanyane’s lecture.

The students had lively discussions about some of the issues surrounding sexual harassment. These included power relations between lecturers and students, and between students and their classmates who expect reciprocity for favours such as help with assignments.  Almost all of the students Wits Vuvuzela spoke to found the sexual harassment lecture and tutorial interesting and informative.

A waste of time?

One student, however, said the lecture was a waste of time, especially at this point in the term.  “We could have used the time for revising for upcoming exams,” said Mthokozisi Mncwango.  Fick disagreed. “If university education becomes simply about exams, then it’s a failure and a tragedy. It’s a holistic education, about becoming a well-rounded human being.”  He said every student should be exposed to sexual harassment training, whether they were training to be an actuary, a lawyer, a dentist or a drama teacher.

“It’s important to understand that behaviour that you may take to be normal … is, in fact, a violation of somebody else’s human rights.”  Wanyane says she hoped to go into more 1st year classes, so that eventually every Witsie will be aware of sexual harassment.  Her talk comes two weeks after the SRC launched a new poster campaign urging students to speak out about the issue.

The road less travelled

Spiritual high: Ishvara Puri and a diverse group of Witsies enjoying the Evening of Kirtan rhythmic meditation event held recently at the Matrix. Photo: Hazel Meda

 

Ishvara Puri came to Wits as a regular middle class young man intending to get his BSc degree and then pursue a career in medicine. In his third year, however, he gave it all up to become a monk.

 After training at a monastery in a remote village in the Indian state of West Bengal for a few months, he returned to Wits for his graduation ceremony in April 2009. He accepted his degree in macrobiology dressed in the saffron-coloured robes of a Hare Krishna monk.

 “It was interesting to come back and see all my friends and my lecturers in this new look. It was something significant, a monk graduating. There was lots of attention on me.”

 He welcomed the attention, because he wanted to make a point: “Spirituality should be the centre of our lives, especially as students.”

 Changing direction

While he was in India, his Wits professors wrote to him, asking him to pursue an  honours degree because his undergraduate marks were good.

 But Ishvara’s spirituality had started taking precedence over his academic goals since his first year. While he enjoyed the first-year anatomy and physiology classes he needed to get into medical school, he was reluctant to work with dead animals in lab experiments.

“I thought it wasn’t ethical for these creatures to be killed for my studies. I wasn’t comfortable with doing that, mainly for spiritual reasons.”

He also wanted to do something meaningful with his life. “Everyone wants to do something significant,” he said.

Ishvara Puri is satisfied with the path he has chosen and the contribution he has made to the lives of others through his work.

“So many people’s lives are enhanced. So many people become happy.”

Ishvara Puri is helping a diverse group of Witsies to find spiritual enlightenment through the Bhakti Yoga Society, which he coordinates.

Committed to the craft

 

Wits drama student and Young Artists Festival organiser Cornet Mamabolo. Photo: Hazel Meda

Witsie Cornet Mamabolo doesn’t have deep pockets. Neither does his family. He had to drop out after his second year because of financial problems.

Yet the 3rd year drama student has just organised and paid for a six-day Young Artists Festival which was held at the Joburg Theatre last week.

Mamabolo, who had been identified as the drama department’s most promising student in movement and performance in his 2nd  year, did odd jobs in theatre industry last year to earn some money to pay his outstanding fees and to stage the festival.

The shy, unassuming Witsie, who discovered the arts as a teenager in the township of Tembisa, auditioned for a part in the TV drama series Skeem Saam. He landed the part of Tbose, a spoilt middle class grade 10 learner. The job lasted three months and the 13-episode series premiered on SABC1 in October 2011.

He was tempted to abandon his studies and keep working in the industry. “I did get tempted. But some part of me wanted to finish what I had started.”

 Mamabolo and his friend Mosa Modise established the Young Artists Festival to provide a platform for Wits students, alumni and community theatre groups to showcase their work.

“We created the festival out of nothing. We just spent the little that we had. We just wanted to make it happen,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I believe in this craft. I never thought twice about whether I should pop out my own money.”

Mamabolo and Modise convinced the Joburg Theatre to donate the venue. They paid for everything else themselves, including posters and trips to market the event to the community. They even gave transport money to performers who couldn’t afford to get home after rehearsals.

Mamabolo won’t recoup his investment. The proceeds of last week’s festival will be ploughed back into drama.

“We are planning to host a bigger festival later this year. This one was more like a test phase,” he said.

Sthe Khali, a 2010 Wits graduate who acted in the two-man physical theatre piece Ten by Wits alumnus Jerry Mtonga, is looking forward to the next festival.

“This festival was a good idea. But I think there’s more that can be done. It has the potential to be a great festival. ” 

Read Cornet Mamabolo’s  biography on tvsa.co.za

Read Mamabolo’s interview with Juicy Africa.

Read about the Skeem Saam concept.

 

Gadgets and goals

GADGETS like the Kindle ebook reader and the IntelliPen Pro are cool toys for some students but for disabled Witsies they are a lifeline.

Assistive devices provided by the Disability Unit (DU) have helped Yusuf Talia to realise his academic potential. Talia, who uses a wheelchair, obtained his accounting sciences degree in 2009 and is studying towards a second degree, a BSc in physiology and psychology.

 The former SRC vice-president has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition which causes weakness in the limbs, hands and fingers.

“Carrying around textbooks is difficult. And turning pages. The Kindle is more lightweight and you can just scroll down.”

Talia, who is the national student representative on the Higher Education Disability Services Association, has visited other South African universities and says: “This disability unit is one of the best we have in the country. It’s one of the best-resourced.”

IT specialist Andrew Sam showed Wits Vuvuzela assistive devices like the Daisy player which reads Microsoft Word documents to blind or visually impaired students. The students can also make voice notes which the player inserts into the document.

Sophisticated screen reader software also makes the internet accessible by reading aloud the text on web pages. The DU also has four Braille display units – each valued at R60 000 – which convert the text on screen to Braille.

Sam also showed Wits Vuvuzela the IntelliPen Pro, a digital pen which converts handwriting to text. The pen was used extensively by Yumna Laher, a DU client who recently received a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship.

The DU is leading the university in the adoption of modern devices and software. It is currently the only Wits department using the Kindle for academic purposes, says its head, Dr Anlia Pretorius.

She says the unit was the first Wits department to use the ReadOn! software which is now being rolled out to other departments. The School of Commerce, for example, is using the language-skills software to help 1st year accounting students to improve their reading skills, Anlia says.  

The DU has always been ahead of the game. Officially established in 1986, it was South Africa’s first university programme for disabled students.

It was also the first to have a full-time sign language interpreter for deaf students, a full-time maths specialist for blind students doing subjects like accounting and statistics and a full-time learning disabilities specialist.

Begging for sympathy

When American exchange students Chelsea Harrison, Renee Wilson and Nora Garrett arrived in Johannesburg in February, they never imagined they would end up begging on the city’s streets.

The actresses, who are in South Africa as part of Wits University’s drama exchange programme with New York University, had to ask for money near Rosebank Mall. This was part of their preparation for the role of Red in the recent Wits production Red Shoes, directed by lecturer Leila Henriques.

Harrison says Henriques gave them the unusual task to help them to develop empathy for Red. Red starts out as a young beggar but ends up being taken in by wealthy woman. Red is obsessed with a pair of red heels which eventually lead to her downfall.

Renee Wilson as Red, a young beggar. Her costume, designed by Witsie Niicola Hetz, is made of newspaper and paper cups to symbolise poverty. Photo: Sally Gaule

Wilson says it was an important lesson in method acting. “It’s the idea of having experienced something so that you can re-experience it on stage.”

The role of Red was shared by four actresses, each of whom portrays a different stage in Red’s development. Harrison, who plays Red 3, says she found begging at the entrance to the Gautrain station scary, because “anything could have happened.”

She started feeling uneasy about the exercise when a man gave her R50. “You realise that you are a con artist,” she says.

Wilson was saddened by the reactions of passers-by.

“A lot of people pretended that they didn’t see me … [they] would stare at me, and then when they got close enough to make eye contact they’d pretend they weren’t staring”.

Other people looked at her as if it was her fault that she was on the streets.

“I didn’t like being examined … I didn’t like being judged. I could feel people throwing what they thought onto me”.

“I’ve definitely been guilty of that myself before,” Wilson says.

“We tend to treat people who need assistance as if they are not human. I became like that … a creature for people to watch”.

Nora Garrett, one of the four actresses who shared the role of Red. She portrayed Red's transformation after she was taken in by a wealthy woman. Photo: Sally Gaule

Nora Garrett who is white, also became a spectacle. Some of the white people who were shopping looked at her in disgust. The black people working in the shops also called their colleagues to come and see Garrett.

Wilson says: “It wasn’t because she was begging or down on her luck. It was because she was white. I’m guessing it must not happen often here.”

From brutality to beauty

Picture: Jay Caboz

HE was beaten and his nose was broken by a policeman’s baton. He was shot at 17 times. He was jailed and kept in solitary confinement for 560 days.  But that did not stop world-famous photo-journalist Peter Magubane from documenting the atrocities of the apartheid regime.  “My pictures come first, before my life,” Magubane said.

Speaking to Wits journalism students a day after World Press Freedom Day, Magubane described the clever methods he used to get around apartheid-era restrictions on the media. He had the students in stitches when he told them how he hid his small Laica camera in a hollowed-out half loaf of bread and an empty milk carton to take photos of a women’s protest in Zeerust.

“If I have to steal a picture, I will steal a picture,” he said.  Magubane is famous for the photos he took for Drum magazine starting in the 1950s. His iconic pictures of the June 16 uprising helped to alert the international community to the oppression under the Nationalist government.  “The entire world looked upon Drum magazine to know what was happening in South Africa,” he said.

Nelson Mandela’s official photographer

Magubane, who was also Nelson Mandela’s official photographer during the transition to democracy, urged the aspiring journalists to continue to use the media as a force for change.  “The struggle is still on … [Even] with democracy, there is still a lot that is happening that is unacceptable … People are still poor. We still have a lot of imbalances.”  Magubane displayed a remarkable lack of bitterness despite everything he endured under apartheid.

But now he focuses on beauty, not brutality. He said his current projects include capturing Soweto sunsets.  “I am in love with the sun setting in Soweto. It’s like seeing a beautiful woman every day. Watch the sun when it sets … So much peace. No blood. No death …”

Czech them out!

IT’S not easy being black in Brno. That’s what 22 Wits drama students discovered when they visited the small town in the Czech Republic recently.

The cast of Relativity – Township Stories was there for the eight-day Setkání/Encounter Festival for international theatre schools.

Being the only black people in Brno was a “shock”, said cast member Nkululeko Maseko. “We walked into a shop and someone would follow us, because they’re not used to us and they’re not very sure what we’re coming to do,” he said, laughing.

This experience, and the fact that some people refused to speak English, helped him understand how foreigners living in South Africa felt. “It was good for us to shift our minds and to see that you can also be a foreigner, you can also be an outsider.”

Zabalaza Mchunu agreed. He said “the glares in the buses, the glares in the street, the glares walking downtown” made him realise “…we probably are guilty of it to people that are foreign to our land as well. It was an interesting experience to feel like ‘the other’ for the first time”.

Actress Bulelwa Ndaba also had some uncomfortable moments. “It’s just the way people look at you and snigger. You know they’re talking about you.”

She described how some cast members were splashed with an unknown substance while waiting for the tram. “A car came by, flying. Windows came down. They started shouting. Then they splashed them and they got soaking wet.”

Despite these challenges, the trip was a success and the Witsies received positive reviews. Tony Miyambo won the best actor award. He described the win as “a surreal experience” and thanked Wits, director Tshepo Mamatu and his fellow cast members for supporting him.

The cast said audiences seemed to understand the play, despite its being in vernacular languages including Xhosa and Zulu. “They forced us to act, instead of vocally telling the story…The idea of acting is action,” said Mchunu.

For many of the actors, the trip to the Czech Republic was their first outside South Africa. “It was my first time in a plane even. It was incredible,” said Ndaba.

While she enjoyed the trip – “…there were Czech people who were really awesome. They wanted to know more about South Africa …” – she was glad to get back to Jo’burg. “I got homesick,” she said.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 12th edition, 2nd May 2012.

A word from the Workers

They help to run our university, but they are not as well paid or as well known as the members of Wits management. In celebration of Workers Day, Vuvuzela decided to introduce you to some workers employed by Wits contractors. Vuvuzela was unable to get comments from any of the women workers who cited domestic commitments at home or fear of losing their jobs.

Bongani Sibanyoni 

Sibanyoni is a painter with one of the contractors on campus. He has been a painter for one year and three months. He used to be a street performer, juggling sticks in places like Eastgate Mall. He explains why he changed professions.

“Sometimes when I was performing at the malls, security chased me away. I was also short of money to buy food sometimes. I miss the work I was doing, because I wanted to take it to another level. I dreamt of doing big shows and teaching children. What I like about painting is that when the room is dirty, you come and fix it and it looks nice.”

 

Victor Maluleke 

Victor Maluleke passed Grade 10 in 2004 but was unemployed until he found work as a gardener with a landscaping company which is contracted to Wits.

“I was just sitting at home. My younger brother and my younger sister were looking at me. I don’t have a parent now. I started [working for the landscaping company] in 2007, 13 January. I am looking for a better job. There is no money to buy some clothes and we can’t pay lobola. It’s too little. I have a girlfriend and two children and I want to get married. Some people who are older than me, 28, they are married.”

 

Sello Malatsi 

Sello Malatsi works as a landscaper for a Wits contractor. Vuvuzela spoke to him while he was sweeping leaves outside Sunnyside. It is his second year on the job.

“I used to be a packer at Pick’n’Pay, but it was temporary. What I do [now] is simple, easy. I enjoy my work, but I’m not getting paid well. My mother passed away. She left us three – me, my brother, and my sister. And also I’ve got a child, a 6-year-old boy. And my girlfriend also stays with me. She doesn’t work. It’s difficult for me. Eish, it’s very hard. I’m trying my best.”

 

Sabatha Mothupi 

Mothupi works as a general worker for a construction company working on Wits Main Campus. He started work three months ago.

“Before, I worked underground in a big coal mine in Witbank. I left my job in 2009. I was retrenched because we finished the coal underground. In 2010 and 2011, I was at home in Ficksburg. I was going to a golf course. I carried bags for the guys who played golf, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For nine holes I got R50. For 18 holes I got R100. I was feeling sad, because I had a lot of problems. I used to say ‘One day I’ll be like them.’ I’ve got that dream. I’ve got that dream to pick myself up and live just like others. I didn’t feel angry. That’s the way life is. I would say ‘Maybe next time I’ll get what I want.’ ”

“I don’t want to be a general worker forever. I want to be an operator, operating a front loader. That’s what I love. You get a lot of money as an operator. As a general worker, you get small money and I can’t solve all my problems. I’ve got a family and a lot of nephews. My brother, mother and father are not working. If I get money, I’ll go to a school for machine operating. I need R2500 for the operating course. I don’t have a chance to budget that money. My nephew is already going to school, so he needs something.”

 

Zac Tshangela 

Zac Tshangela is a security guard at Men’s Res. He has been in this field for four years.

“Before that, I was working for an insurance company. I did short-term underwriting. The company that I was working for closed down. You knock on all doors; no work, no work. Seeing that I am responsible, looking after my children at school, instead of sitting down I decided to be seen at least to be doing something. I’ve got four children and two are still living at home.”

“My interactions with students are very, very good. I am more than happy with the students. Except here and there. The problems are minor. They’ve got to listen to the rules and regulations. Signing in and out is a problem, especially when they bring visitors. To my dismay, some of them tend ‘not to know’ the rules. They are still children. They pretend not to know. They all say they forget their cards when they go out. They can’t all forget their cards! You’ve got to be firm but considerate.”

 

Wellington Ganya 

Wellington Ganya is an electrician and has been with his current employer, a Wits contractor, since 2008. Vuvuzela talked to him while he was fixing lights in the men’s staff toilet in Umthombo Building.

“What I don’t like about my job is when you are working at construction sites, grinding and chasing the walls to put the conduit which has the electrical wires. It’s bad for our lungs. You get the dust, even if you use a dust mask. The dust is dangerous. I was working with my friend Mdu from Mozambique. We worked at Hyde Park for three years, doing ceiling installation, which had fiberglass. He suffered with lungs. They say he got lung cancer. He probably died. They call it electrical construction.”

“What I like about being an electrician is that it combines guys with different cultures, like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi. You are developing your mind. You create a friendship. You know that even though he is coming from somewhere else, he is your brother.”

Wellington Ganya (right) with colleagues Patrick Matshaba (middle) and Ben Lebese (left).

“Working with electricity, you need to be calm. That’s why you need to make friends at your workplace. Because you are working with a dangerous thing, power. You need to leave your frustrations at home.”

 

Samuel Ngwasheng

Vuvuzela met Ngwasheng and his colleague Nkululeko Mkwanazi as they were fixing a leaking fire hydrant outside the building which houses the South African Institute of International Affairs. They are plumbers for a Wits contractor.

“I have been working as a plumber for three years. I used to be in building and plastering. But sometimes there are no jobs in construction. I wanted a permanent job, to work every day. Now I can pay my children’s school fees and rent. It’s still hard. The money we get is too small.”