City of Joburg attempting to fill student housing gap

Johannesburg Social Housing Company’s student housing project aims to bridge the affordability gap but grapples with inner-city infrastructure and service delivery limitations

On the corner of Simmonds and Wolmarans streets, in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD, a cross-border bus station runs over with hundreds of packers and porters shouting offers to carry your luggage and show you the right bus, for the best price.

The chaotic business of trying to earn a living is nothing new to this part of town, but is a definite safety concern for Chris Mazibuko, the housing supervisor of the student accommodation building situated opposite this bus station.

“Some of these… street vendors, they harass my female students. You see those ones who are wrapping baggage, they start touching them. Luckily, we do have BadBoyz Security, they do respond on time, but they won’t see what is happening [all the time],” said Mazibuko.

This is Simmonds Street that runs in front of the entrance to Dakalo Student Court (on the left. The street is a busy hum drum of informal commerce, that students have to wade through to and from their residence. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

Johannesburg Social Housing Company’s (JOSHCOs) Student Accommodation Portfolio Manager, Andile Nkosi, told Wits Vuvuzela that Dakalo Student Court, opened doors in 2021, following a unanimous municipal council decision to contribute local government resources towards the student housing crisis.

Local municipalities in South Africa are governed by municipal councils that are voted in every five years. Councils make all the decisions regarding service delivery, policies and programmes run by the municipality.

JOSHCO took the decision to council, and in 2021 they “got blessing from the council” said Nkosi. JOSHCO is an entity of the City of Johannesburg (COJ) metropolitan municipality, mandated with providing quality, low-cost and centrally located rental housing to households with incomes between R3500 and R15000. Finding quality and affordable housing around business districts can have a positive effect on the economic trajectory of a city.

Similarly, finding reasonably priced and high-quality accommodation within proximity to an institution of higher learning can significantly bolster the academic performance of students who face challenges affording housing expenses.

A Student Housing Landscape report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), revealed that during the #Feesmustfall movement, government funding directed toward the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) surged significantly, skyrocketing from R8.96 billion to R14.6 billion. While this marked a pivotal moment, offering more students an enhanced opportunity for learning, it also brought forth an unforeseen challenge.

The exponential increase in financial aid created a dual effect on the educational landscape. On one hand, it widened the access for students to pursue their education, but on the other, it led to a strain on purpose-built student accommodations (PBSA), both on and off campus. These accommodations found themselves struggling to accommodate the burgeoning number of students seeking residency.

The sharp rise in government funding, while a crucial support mechanism for students, inadvertently increased the pressure on existing infrastructure designed to house them. The accommodation facilities meant for students faced an unexpected surge in demand, rendering them inadequate in capacity to cope with the overwhelming influx of students.

The report underlines a pressing need for innovative strategies to address the escalating housing demand that accompanies amplified access to institutions of higher learning.

JOSHCO enters the market as local governments attempt to address this problem.

Student resident existing JOSHCO’s Dakalo Student Court onto the busy Simmonds Street. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

The report categorises PBSA in three ways: upper end student accommodation market, ranges between R5000 and R8000 (but can go as high as R14 000). They offer ensuite lofts or bachelor that have kitchenettes and space for a washing machine.

The second category is the mid-student market which ranges from R3000 to R4500 and can offer bachelor units or shared units with their own kitchenette, and communal bathrooms and laundry areas.

The third category is the ‘affordable’ student market, which can go as low as R500 a room. These offer a room, sometimes furnished with a desk, a wardrobe and a bed, along with communal bathrooms, a kitchen and a laundry area, that can be shared by several rooms.

Private accommodation developers have displayed a preference for creating student accommodations that cater to the mid-to-upper-end market, with a primary emphasis on proximity to universities. However, there is a consensus as reported by IFC among private and public developers that the greatest demand is within the affordable market. This means that the biggest factor contributing to the student housing crisis is that most students who desperately need accommodation, cannot afford it.

The ‘affordable’ market is made up of students primarily funded by the NSFAS. Unable to meet the high rental rates, many students have had to find cheaper alternatives. Cheaper alternatives in and around the city, come in the form of backyard dwellings, and other unregistered accommodations that do not offer security or safety.

This is where JOSHCO comes in, providing a relevant service to a market that otherwise would not be able to afford the advantage of staying within the Braamfontein education node. According to Nkosi, “99 per cent” of the students they currently house, are on NSFAS.

Nkosi said that “we saw a need, seeing young people, more especially from rural areas, being vulnerable in Johannesburg, not finding places, or getting expensive places which are not up to standard”. 

JOSHCOs student accommodation provides single units for R4100, double-sharing units for R3700 and four-sharing units for R3500 All rooms are furnished with a bed, cupboard, study table, and a fridge, kitchen cupboard, stove, kettle and microwave. The accommodation also provides Wi-Fi, and a shuttle service for students to and from their respective institutions of higher learning. 

“We are accredited by Wits and UJ, so what happens is that for instance if UJ or Wits, there are students who want accommodation, they will refer them to us, as an accredited facility” said Nkosi.

The IFC estimated the housing shortfall around the two major universities and the two TVET Colleges in the COJ area (Wits, UJ, Central Johannesburg College and Southwest Gauteng Tvet College) at 47 687. 

For now, the effective demand is determined by calculating the total enrolment of students in the various institutions and subtracting it from the available PBSA supply, both public and private. Public PBSA refers to student housing on and around campuses offered by the institutions themselves. The figure did not consider smaller institutions that cannot be categorised as universities or TVET colleges but offer higher learning services (Rosebank College and Damelin in Braamfontein are prime examples).

Of course, not all enrolled students need accommodation. Some may stay at home, or with other relatives who reside near the institutions. So, although the figure is not one hundred percent accurate, it can still give us a general idea that the problem is evolving into the tens of thousands every year, while student housing is only growing in a few hundred beds at a time. It may in effect, be considered a housing backlog.

JOSHCO’s student accommodation project does not stand independent and unaffected by the challenges that JOSHCO has faced in providing housing in the Johannesburg inner city.

Their integrated annual report and the section 79 oversight committee report for 2022, show that not only does the entity have a “housing backlog of 396 532 units” as a result of low revenue collection and high operating costs, JOSHCO recorded a budget deficit of R133.7 million. 

Section 79 committees are elected for each government department, by the municipal council, to submit recommendations and reports on the department’s functions and services.

Mpumelelo Phakhathi, a researcher in the section 79 oversight committee for housing, said that the factors recorded in the oversight report, amongst others, may well have a bearing on JOSHCO’s capacity to reach its student housing target.

JOSHCO has committed itself “to develop a student accommodation precinct that offers a safer sound security and technologically enabled environment”, with a target of 10 000 beds in five years.

Information provided about JOSHCO’s projects and development (P&D) office claims that they remain on target. However, the numbers are not on their side. A five-year plan that was piloted in the 2021/2022 financial year, concludes in 2025/2026. Their currently completed student accommodation houses 183 beds, meaning that JOSHCO must provide 9816 beds in the next three years or risk missing its target.

JOSHCOs target by Morongoa Masebe

The entity’s P&D office told Wits Vuvuzela that their pilot student accommodation cost R50.6 million to develop and that they have budgeted R3 billion, in pursuit of the targeted 10 000 beds.

However, the fact that JOSHCO has outsourced the management and maintenance of Dakalo House to Kwatloe Pro Power, a student facilities management company and that most of the building’s rental revenue is paid directly by Nsfas, creates mitigating factors against JOSHCOS student housing projects falling into the same pitfalls as their other projects.

The housing supervisor, Chris Mazibuko, is employed by Kwatloe Pro Power.

Although JOSHCO is yet to provide the safety and quantity that their plan potentials, Lungile Tebogo, who has been a tenant of Dakalo Student Court expressed to Wits Vuvuzela that the building is the cleanest and best maintained he has lived in around Johannesburg.

He moved to JOSHCO’s student accommodation after his room in a previous accommodation was flooded by a burst pipe.

When Wits Vuvuzela visited Dakalo Student Court, the security gate was open, the face recognition system was off, and you could barely see the next person’s face in the foyer in front of the stationery lifts. All due to a power cut.

Frequent unscheduled power cuts over two weeks, on the block where JOSHCO student accommodation sits, tarnish Tebogo’s praises of management. These power cuts, according to Tebogo are not part of the loadshedding schedule and can happen for up to 11 hours at a time.

“This is student housing, if this is what happens, what happens to our academic activities? That means a halt to them. Everything must come to a stop now”.

Mazibuko said that they have had to switch off the generator to save on the cost of diesel. This has affected water pressure and has also led to food wastage.

While bigger infrastructural failures like power cuts and loadshedding are beyond JOSHCOs control, they greatly compromise their idea of a “technologically enabled student precinct” in the Johannesburg CBD. The security and technological connectivity they promise fall apart when the reality of unmaintained inner-city infrastructure hits.

The Johannesburg CBD is considered the academic node with the largest total number of PBSA beds, standing at 31 958. Followed by Pretoria and then by Cape Town. 5279 of these are public and 26 679 are private.

In Gauteng, five corporate developers share the supply of PBSA beds, namely South Point, Respublica, Feenstra Group, CitiQ and Gateway Student Accommodation.

These private suppliers have thus far been catering mainly to the higher-end and mid- student accommodation market.

Students who cannot afford housing, are not only finding alternative accommodation in backyard dwellings and unregistered accommodations which increases the chances of rental abuse and unmaintained, unconducive living conditions, but they also tend to have the added disadvantage of walking or commuting further to and from school.

JOSHCOs student housing objectives, as set out in the City of Johannesburg’s five-year Integrated Development Plan (IDP), on paper, take into consideration the need for student accommodation to provide safety to students.

They provide security guards who constantly monitor the security gate that lets people in and out, and they enjoy the presence of a Badboyz security guard on their street. They also have facial recognition software for registered tenants.

This does not somehow take them away from the bustling of the city around them. Perhaps one day the completed student precinct will create a bubble that keeps students separate from the vibration of a city that harbours the up and down movements of men and women desperate for opportunities.

The area is over-populated with self-employed porters, baggage handlers packers and street vendors who scramble and fight over customers throughout the day. The intersection has become notoriously chaotic. Not itself uncharacteristic of the Johannesburg CBD, but the chaos creates the potential for the safety of students to be compromised. 

When some of the vendors “have lots of money they’ll start drinking around the building, and causing scenes,” said Mazibuko. Not to mention that the buses that move in and out the bus station opposite the building, make it a noisy place to study.

JOSHCO, as a social housing provider extending its services to a student market that cannot afford the current supply, is a story of success. However, the recent spate of burning buildings in the inner city brought much needed attention to the fact that any attempts to regenerate the inner city need to be amplified and scaled up as soon as possible.

Students initiate talks for queer only housing in Braamfontein  

Wits LGBTQ+ students have proposed accommodations exclusively catering to them, to foster inclusion and safety for the queer community 

The Wits University management, consisting of the dean of students, the director of campus housing, and the Board of Residence (BOR) is weighing the feasibility of a queer only residence. This was done following a ‘queer-safe house proposal’ by two transgender students. 

The students, Samora Mbambi and Jordan Lee Green, first approached Tish White, programme coordinator at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Projects after encountering difficulties at their respective accommodations.   

Mbambi, a transgender woman, came to Wits in her first year in 2020, having already fully transitioned, she was assigned to a men’s only residence, to share a room with two male students.  

“Not only did it make me uncomfortable, but it also equally made them uncomfortable, because they would always mabe phuma [when they would leave the room] to go to the kitchen, other boys would laugh at them” explained Mbambi. 

Mbambi and Green were initially told by management that a queer safe house would exclude students based on their sexual orientation.

However, White escalated the matter to the dean of student affairs, Jerome September, who took it up to the director of Campus Housing and Residence Life (CHRL) Basil Mugwena. Last month, the pair, together with the students and the BOR met to deliberate on the viability of the proposal.   

As part of their proposal, the students conducted a survey through Activate – a queer student society at Wits – asking their peers if they would apply to live in a queer only residence.  The survey received a resounding response, with 95.8% of the people surveyed answering yes to the question. 

Survey conducted by Samora Mbambi and Jordan Lee Green through Activate student society. The results show resounding support for the queer residence by queer survey participants.


Anele Zulu* said that the bi-gendered system that Wits uses to assign students to residences should be revisited. “It has been triggering me with dysphoria, as I am forced to share a room and unit with men while I’m a woman and in my transitioning phase.”   

In August 2018, the institution removed gender prefixes from communication to students to promote inclusion of transgender students. In the statement Wits said, “the University recognizes that it is invalidating and distressing for a person who, for an example, was assigned female at birth but identifies as male to be constantly addressed by a non-affirming title in University correspondence and systems.” However, based on these students’ concerns, more can be done.  

Green emphasized: “we know that they strive for inclusion and equality. We would simply like to push this a little further”.  

The queer-safe house team told Wits Vuvuzela that the mixed residence option is “integrated on paper”, but because of people’s attitudes and biases, there is still a long way to go to ensure that some queer students in res feel safe.   

The name with * was changed to protect the student’s identity.

FEATURED IMAGE: Samora Mbambi, one part of the queer safe house proposal team. Photo by Morongoa Masebe.


Wits Vuvuzela, Toxic res culture unpacked at queer dialogue, August 2019.

Wits Vuvuzela, New haven for queer student, August 2021.

Funding the revival of the Wits fine arts tradition

Fourth year fine arts students learn the organisational and financial aspects of being an artist.

The Wits Fine Arts department’s graduating class hosted the New Work Auction at the Point of Order gallery on August 10, to raise funds for the print of their first physical catalogue in four years, since disruptions during the covid-19 pandemic.

Reshma Chhiba, curator at the Point of Order, told Wits Vuvuzela that at the end of the fourth year of the fine arts degree, the class is graded through a New Work exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, and a printed graduation catalogue.

The evening started out with a silent auction (where bids were written on a piece of paper) and was followed by a live auction (where an auctioneer called for bids). The auction exhibition featured artwork by both students and staff.

Student placing a bid in the silent auction. The Wits fine arts department fundraising auction was held at The Point of Order gallery in Braamfontein. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

Simangaliso Sibiya, who is part of the fine arts honours class, said that his colleagues had placed starting bids as low as R50, and the live auction helped get as much out of the auction as possible. By the end of the live auction, the highest bid was R3500.

Sibiya’s auctioned work was a portrait of the late Bhekizizwe Peterson, who was a professor in the Wits African Literature department. A tribute to Peterson for a recommendation that influenced Sibiya’s entry into the fine arts programme. In the portrait, Peterson is surrounded by a circle of dancing children and a border of QR codes, both symbolising that his contributions, will live in the future.

Sibiya said he appreciates the New Works Project because it teaches them one of many ways to make an income from their work.

Chhiba also said that the New Work project facilitates the development of some skills that the students will need when they begin work as professional artists. Because this is a student-led fundraising initiative, they get to learn the organisational and financial aspects of being an artist.

Masindi Mbolekwa, who was part of the organising team, and whose work was also part of the auction, said that it was significant in teaching him “how to navigate these kinds of spaces, how to talk to people, how to engage with people when they are interested in the work.”

The New Work exhibition will be showing at the Wits Art Museum in November of this year.

Simangaliso Sibiya’s portrait of Bhekezizwe Peterson hangs on a wall, surrounded by people viewing and bidding for artwork, at the Wits fine arts department’s New Work auction. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

FEATURED IMAGE: Image of a bid sheet for the silent auction at The Point of Order gallery, where the Wits fine arts department held their fundraising auction. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


Wits Vuvuzela, Wits Fine Art students raise funds with Pungwe, April 2015.

Exhibition: Space Kid waits in limbo, with no place to call home 

Fourth-year Wits fine arts student uses Afro-futurism to engage issues of migration and feelings of displacement in an award-winning mixed media installation 

Rumbo Mercy was named this year’s winner of the Wits Young Artist Awards, for her work titled, platform Omega: awaiting the twilight train — which uses mixed media in an afro-futuristic installation of a space traveler, looking to belong.   

In the exhibition, the space traveler, named Space Kid is suspended in the air, with a green suit and an astronaut’s helmet, floating about with fish moving all around her. It looks like she is floating in a fishbowl. There is a pair of shackles beneath her feet and in front of her, there is an old suitcase with her belongings.  

Part of Rumbo Mercy’s art installation is this old briefcase carrying Space Kid’s belongings. Photo: Moronga Masebe.

The show also used video and narration to tell the story of Space Kid waiting at a train station, on her way to a planet of outcasts, leaving behind Alcyone, a star on which she never really felt at home. 

In the exhibition the narrator explains that Space Kid was born with the inability to be held down by gravity, in a world where belonging is legitimised by being weighted. However, Space Kid had to wear metallic chains around her ankles that added humiliation to the pain of not being weighted – like others.  

On why it looks like she is floating in a fishbowl, Mercy said that because fish live in water, they are probably unaware of the water, like we are not aware of the air we breathe. But if we were to flip that around, fish will start grasping for air which will make them aware of their surroundings. 

The work was inspired by Mercy’s background of being a daughter of Malawian parents, who came to South Africa, for greener pastures, before she was born. “I have always felt disconnected from South African cultures because I don’t know them, but also, I didn’t know my Malawian side because we didn’t live there”, she said.  

She refers to this as being in a state of “liminality,” which is a psychology term that describes the feeling of being in between two states but not quite belonging to either. 

Mercy’s work grapples with ideas and feelings of displacement, migration and belonging in an imaginative way, without the usual political connotations that sometimes muddle the conversation.  

However, Mercy recognises that her choice of topics is not easy to tell in ways that does not trigger xenophobic sentiments; and she is using her art, to express her experiences in a way that lends itself to more objective interpretations. 

Reshma Chhiba, the curator of the exhibition at The Point of Order – an art gallery that is part of the Wits fine art department told Wits Vuvuzela that Mercy’s art installation was picked from a list of 10 finalists at a ceremony held at the gallery. 

“It did come down to Rumbo in a very clear manner,” she said, while explaining that her work plays on a “African futurism that allows for a fictionalization and imagination,” which was exciting to see.    

She said that this year, they had 113 students who submitted their work, and the selector, Same Mdluli, who is the curator and manager of the Standard Bank Gallery, shortlisted the ten finalists, and 3 independent adjudicators named Mercy’s installation as this year’s winner on July 20, 2023.   

Chhiba said that the purpose of the Wits Young Artist Awards is to “recognise artistic excellence within the undergrad cohort…open [only] to third and fourth-year undergraduates of the fine art programme.” 

Space Kid’s story is being exhibited online, via the WYAA website. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Rumbo Mercy, winner of the Wits Young Artist Awards 2023, looking up at her Space Kid sculpture. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


GEO: On how culture shapes gender

The Gender Equity Office’s 2023 annual colloquium critically unpacked how the cultures we subscribe to reproduce harmful gender-based practices.  

The Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO) convened its second annual seminar, titled Gendering Culture, on July 26 and 27, a week before woman’s month, to promote dialogue and empowerment in gender equity. 

The two-day colloquium, through a series of workshops, delved into the theme of “gendering cultures”, which refers to the social expectation to play stereotypical gender roles. It also looks at how culture construct harmful gender roles and behaviours, which are passed from one generation to another.  

The seminars used dialogue, theatre performances and art installations to evoke strong feelings about how issues of safety, leadership, intimacy, power and success, are gendered.   

These conversations were part of the office’s intention to emphise their mandate of being a “thinking space” on issues of gender instead of only being a “police station”, said Thenjiwe Mswane the organisation’s education campaigns officer.  

The office, which was opened in 2013 has seen a significant increase in the last two years of reported cases, which Mswane attributes to the implementation of the advocacy office (that creates awareness of GBV related issues through different campaigns), and the increased visibility that it has created for the GEO. 

The opening session of the colloquium was an interactive Drama for Life performance, made up of six scenes, that demonstrated incidents of gendered experiences within particular social settings.  

Scene three which was titled Men’s Res, shows a fourth-year student during orientation week, instructing a first year to get him the cell phone numbers of two girls, or else there will be consequences. When the first-year student dares to ask why, he is asked “are you a man or are you a boy first year?”.  

Hamish Neill, project director at Drama for Life, explained that the theatrical performances were a good way to help audiences  understand what ‘gendering cultures’ look like “not in a static off the page way, where there is one person speaking of it, but by trying to get as close to it in action, in life, as it would be, in the phenomenon of itself”.   

The keynote speaker, Kholeka Shange, lecturer at the Wits anthropology department, discussed how institutions tend to write older black women out as “unproductive particularly in our labour-centric and profit orientated world”. She challenged that in fact older black women are repositories of a “survival wisdom, that we need to survive in this world that is often inhumane, oppressive and violent [to women].” 

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of people, development and culture, Garth Stevens, said that “there is great work to be done by offices like the GEO” especially in handling the rapid reproduction of harmful cultural practices that entrench gender-based harm.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Theatre producer Lebogang Tswelapele showed Hanging pieces of flesh at the GEO colloquium. The show is about the harmful cultural practice of forced female circumcision. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.


Student politics marred by party differences 

The University of Johannesburg’s student leadership tried to bring campus leaders together to collaboratively build on a shared vision for students, but was divided along party lines 

UJ’s first student parliament after four years of the covid-19 pandemic, collapsed as students refused to continue in the absence of the treasurer general and the academic officer. 

The UJ Central Student Representative Council (SRC) hosted the two-day student parliament at the Auckland Park Kingsway (APK) Campus. The hope was that UJ students from the four campuses could hold their various representatives to account. However, the student parliament did not reach this objective as delegates found it difficult to come to agreements on basic parliamentary rules throughout the sitting. 

The system at UJ is such that each campus has its own SRC, and a ‘UJSRC’ that is comprised of two members from each campus. The APK and the Doornfontein campuses are affiliated with the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) and the SRC members from the Banting (APB) and Soweto campuses, are affiliated with South African Students Congress (SASCO), which is the student chapter of the African National Congress (ANC). 

Missing delegates cause delays  

The first day of the student parliament came to a chaotic end because there were delegates missing, and according to student parliament secretary, Martin Huwa, suspicions were raised by the SASCO affiliated members of the APK SRC that the EFF affiliated members of APK SRC, may have removed names from the list of delegates, but these suspicions could not be proved.  

After the rules, duties and functions of the student parliament were adopted by the house, and the parliament speaker, deputy speaker and secretary were elected. The speaker of the house was Bonga Mshunqisi from the APK campus, deputy speaker was Karabo Kgobokwe from Soweto campus, and the secretary was Martin Huwa also from Soweto campus. 

Regalia relegation and no shows    

On day two political tensions flared when Lehlogonolo Mokwena came to the sitting dressed in EFF regalia. Student parliament rule number (I) states that “no member shall be allowed in the house with regalia of any political party”. Mokwena was asked to move to the gallery for contravening this rule.  

Mokwena refused, and this triggered a lengthy and chaotic back and forth between some members, the chair and deputy of the house. 

When calm was restored, new names for chief whips for each campus were brought forward for election.  

The treasurer general Zethu Mafuyeka and the academic officer Tshegofatso Molapo from the Central SRC were not present due to “academic commitments”. As such, they could not give their respective state of finances and state of academia addresses. 

Amotion was then raised to adjourn proceedings and call an emergency meeting at a later date, when all members of the APK SRC are available.  

The inter-political failures to set party politics aside and agree for the sake of the constituency, is something that has become increasingly problematic in South African politics. One need only think back to Johannesburg’s recent mayoral election, which was riddled with coalition failures and infighting. It is worrying that these political trends seem to be trickling down to student led organisations, sacrificing governance and efficiency to toe party lines.

FEATURED IMAGE: University of Johannesburg. Photo: Supplied


REVIEW: Oratorio of a forgotten youth 

The ensemble put together by producer and trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni took the Great Hall audience through the stages of grieving the failed dream of freedom.  

The Amandla Freedom Ensemble led by the Standard Bank young artist for jazz 2019, Mandla Mlangeni, launched their interdisciplinary album Oratorio of a forgotten youth at the Wits Great Hall on Saturday, May 27. 

Mlangeni told IOL that the album was the culmination of a production that started in 2019, that sought to tell the story of how far South Africa had come in confronting its past.   

The production brought together a collaboration of musical ensembles, with their own distinct sounds, laced with provocative spoken word poetry and a visual artist who used sand to draw intricate images with his hands, live, to the sound of the music. The images changed throughout the production but the most memorable were clenched fists and trees that had African faces instead of leaves. The visual artist, Tawanda MuAfrika also created the album art.  

The empty stage was set up as though for a multi-piece orchestra with what initially seemed like too many moving parts. And when the artists walked onto the stage, it was difficult to know where to focus one’s attention. To the right, poet Lesego Rampolokeng sat at a desk with his anthology in front of him, a string quartet and a nine-piece choir behind him.

Jazz pianist Yonela Mnana set up with afro-jazz group A Brother Moves On and visual artist MuAfrika on either side of him. MuAfrika’s sand art was being projected on a screen at the back of the stage. Right at the front was the Amandla Freedom Ensemble with Mandla Mlangeni poised like a conductor with his back to the audience.  

Producer Mandla Mlangeni leads a large musical production, fusing poetry, jazz, choral and orchestral music. Photo: Morongoa Masebe

The Great Hall was half full with a mix of students and non-students, with the audience appearing as if they were in the creative industry by the colourful ways that they were dressed.  

Katleho Hubi, a third-year bachelor of fine arts student who attended the show, said that she was deeply moved by what felt to her like “a spiritual experience”. She said that the production had inspired her to want to explore the relationship between music and visual art in her own work.   

Mlangeni’s production took the audience from mourning to celebration by blending a bit of afro-jazz, afro-beat, classical, poetry and chorus like a true oratorio, which is a large-scale musical production that blends orchestral, voice and choral music.   

The first piece of the night, the gathering, started with Rampolokeng loudly reciting spoken word poetry that sounded like a lamentation over a broken promise. The slow introduction of the bass and a soft djembe drum began to drown out the poet and brought in the hum of the choir. The saxophonists led the trumpet in, and then everything went quiet, leaving Mlangeni in a trumpet solo. 

The choir was reminiscent of an African indigenous church, with the use of music as a medium for connecting with spirit. They took the lead on ubaba, a song about the search for a missing father. The entire ensemble joined into a melancholic sound of a prayer that for a moment seemed to be a petition that was no longer to an absent earthly father, but to a heavenly father, who seemed to be absent and blind to the pain of African people. 

The arrangement came together beautifully. Led by the protest poetry of Rampolokeng, the production carried the same impassioned energy that can turn a church service into a site of protest.  

The afrobeat sound of inkululeko brought Siyabonga Mthembu of The Brother Moves On onto the stage to lead in the demand for the freedom that democracy had promised. 

The drummer played the consistent sound of a marching band in #movement/soldier’s lament and Rampolokeng came back to remind us that “our hopes are buried alive”, when those who were at the forefront of fighting for freedom, turned to gatekeepers of the wealth that should have been shared amongst all.  

In darkness, all the different pieces of the ensemble seemed to do their own thing, like loud mourning at a wake deep into the night, all crying separately, over the same loss. Rampolokeng also cried in his own way, about the disillusionment of protests that yield nothing in the long term, even after lives had been lost. He juxtaposed the 1976 uprisings with the 2015 #FeesMustFall protests and expressed sorrow over the lack of change. 

Crying turned to celebration when the show closed with woza, which got the audience to its feet to dance and rang in my head long after the show had ended. The high tempo and vibrant piece goes “Woza mama, woza” but the audience recast it as “Woza Mandla, woza” as it sang along all the way out of the Great Hall.  

Vuvu rating: 9/10 

FEATURED IMAGE: Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni leads a multi-disciplinary musical production at the Wits Great Hall. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


Motlatso Godongwana: a young scientist advocating for safe sex  

Acting president of convocation at Wits discusses her career trajectory and her work to change people’s lives through HIV research. 

Doctor Motlatso Godongwana is the youngest member of the Wits convocation executive committee (exco), and as a part of her role there, she is also an Academic Skills Development consultant operating from the Wits Science faculty. Exco members are voted in every three years, by the convocation, which is made up of the entire Wits University alumnus.  

“I put my name forward in 2019 and to my surprise I got votes”, said Godongwana. This year she began serving her second term in the exco, which will come to an end in 2025.    

As part of her duties as an Exco member, between Monday and Wednesday every week, she spends her time walking students through everything from course material to career decisions. All while working full time with the South African medical research council (SAMRC) as a senior scientist, specialising in HIV research.  

Having graduated last year with a PhD in Demography and Population Studies, this year she was on the biggest stage on the Wits campus, conferring qualifications to recent graduates as the acting president of convocation. A task she shared with the president of convocation Stacey-Lee Bolon throughout the graduation season. 

Her PhD research investigated the risks and incidences of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among people living with HIV — the work is important for addressing the challenges pertaining to treatment and management of HIV chronic comorbidities.   

Although Godongwana grew up in Yeoville, her memories of happy childhood visits to her mother’s home, in Moletjie, Limpopo, are what grounds her. Responding to a tweet complimenting her blue convocation gown, she replied that as a “young girl from Limpopo, seeing myself in this picture is a dream come true”. 

She said the best part of her work with students, is getting the opportunity to always learn something new. This is a philosophy she carries with her in every room she walks into.   

“You appreciate the person in the street, you appreciate the person at church because that person is teaching me something about spirituality that I probably do not know about. The person in the street is teaching me something about humility that I probably do not know about. Every person I interact with is going to teach me something,” she said.  

Godongwana started an initiative while she was doing her honours degree, called I Love Condoms that intended to give young women the information and confidence to practice agency in negotiating safe sex. The initiative empowered young women to introduce contraception into their relationship to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and it also provides these young women with alternatives to using relationships as a way out of poverty. She was featured on the Mail and Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list in 2018 for founding the initiative.  

Godongwana is inspired by her grandmother, who raised 7 grandchildren, at some point, on a single salary but still found time to collect her from primary school, and head to theology classes. Evidently, her work ethic, is hereditary. 

Her sister, Moyagabo Rampedi believes that Godongwana’s greatest motivation is “making [their] grandmother proud”. Godongwana herself mentioned her gratitude for her faith and love for God, which were instilled by her grandmother.  

She is also driven by the desire “to uplift [people from her community] and make them believe that whatever they set their minds to, they can achieve and there are examples of people who have done that”.  

Her colleague Nomasonto Radebe said that Godongwana’s attitude towards challenges is: “if it does not challenge me, I am not learning”. Radebe added that she is very intentional and will “stop at nothing until she achieves a goal”. 

By being the face of excellence at an institution of higher learning, Godongwana’s achievements are inspiring for other young black women. Her accomplishments are a testament that it is possible to be a young black girl from anywhere and make it to the greatest academic stage at Wits, if you so desire.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Motlatso Godongwana during her graduation in 2022. She graduated from Wits with a PhD in Demography and Population Studies. Photo: supplied.


BASKETBALL: Wits Bucks win at home over UJ Orange Wave 

Wits men’s basketball team defeat 2022 Gauteng Universities Basketball League champions University of Johannesburg (UJ). 

Wits University men’s basketball team secured a 56 – 51 victory over UJ senior men’s team, qualifying for the next stage of the Gauteng Universities Basketball League (GUBL) tournament.  

Wits Bucks’ Jacques Mahanga dribbling from half-court to the rim. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

The Wits Bucks hosted rivals and defending champions, UJ Orange Wave, on Wits’ west campus in Hall 29, on Sunday May, 21. 

From the first whistle UJ dominated the game, with Peace Famodimu securing two points, only three minutes into the start of the first quarter.  

Wits Bucks responded quickly, equalising the score, but UJ wasted no time in regaining their advantage, with an impressive three-pointer from Nimo Dim. This was the first of the two three-pointers by the same player, that put UJ well in the lead for the rest of the first quarter. 

UJ’s defence seemed impenetrable as the Wits side struggled to keep the ball out of their half of the court. The man-to-man defence of the UJ side helped them apply pressure and maintain possession of the ball. 

The match was tight throughout, although UJ stayed in the lead for most of the first and second quarters, it was always with a one or two-point margin.  

Towards the end of the second quarter, Wits Bucks’ small forward, Panashe Dumbu’s basket brought the score to a tie, after scoring two free throws. Wits quickly gained the lead when shooting guard, Jacques Mahanga dribbled twice past UJ’s tight defence to sink the ball in the hoop, but the lead was short-lived. 

When a Wits player was tackled, the Wits coach shouted profanities at the referee for not calling the foul. The coach’s actions cost the team two technical fouls, resulting in three free throws for the away side. Two of the three free throws hit the mark. 

UJ went into the third quarter without their captain Adrien Belo, who was taken out with an ankle injury at the end of the second quarter.  

The third quarter saw four more points awarded to Wits Bucks, and the gradual end of UJ’s lead.   

Thandiwe Padzuwa, a spectator, told Wits Vuvuzela that “UJ was under pressure, and they started fumbling the ball too much. They started committing a lot of turnovers”. A turnover is a loss of possession, due to fouls or defensive rebounds.  

Wits Bucks strengthened their defence in the last quarter, and had every man tightly marked, making it difficult for UJ to find space to move the ball.  

UJ Player Davison Chivero said his team was expecting to win but they were hesitant. He said Wits Bucks “were winning every chance ball, I think they were a bit more eager to win than we were”.  

Wits Bucks coach Tshiamo Ngakane said that they have beaten UJ before and walked into the game with high expectations, “it’s always a big game, it’s always a tough game, but we have got a good squad.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Bucks’ Panashe Dumbu (13) defending with both hands up. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.


Witsies step up to warm hearts and soles  

Shoe drive aims to collect as many shoes as possible for the needy, ahead of the winter season. 

The Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO) hosted its annual One Day Without Shoes drive, gathering more than 50 pairs of shoes and socks at the Wits library lawns on May 11, 2023. 

A student attempts to walk on the obstacle course of sand, mud and rocks, during the #OneDayWithoutShoes event on May 11. Photo: Morongoa Masebe.

Student participants were invited to take off their shoes and walk through obstacle courses made of rocks, mud and sand designed to “give people a feel of what people without shoes go through on a daily basis,” said Ntokozo Peter, a student volunteer at the WCCO.  

The campaign, which was started by the Toms Shoes company in 2007, it is now observed annually on May 10, around the world. People partake by walking barefoot and through donating shoes to those in need.  

The Voice of Wits (VOW) FM, collaborated with WCCO to bring live entertainment, which was the soundtrack to some of the games played like musical chairs and bean bag throwing. 

Peter told Wits Vuvuzela that the beneficiaries of the shoes and socks are only decided once the shoes are collected, sorted and organised. He added that they “will look at various homes, or sometimes we go to places where there is a focus of a number of homeless people, and we give the shoes away”. 

A student who was passing by and decided to join, Melisa Zitha, said that initiatives like this are always necessary because “you may not know just how important it is to people without shoes”. 

Ntombi Masiza, who is also a student volunteer and organiser of the event, said that she was happy with the turnout, and was expecting more people to donate before the end of the day.  

Aqeelah Hendrickse, a social worker at the WCCO who is heading this year’s iteration of the One Day Without Shoes campaign, says that the day itself is meant to hype up the initiative and invite people to come and donate shoes and socks. However, shoes and clothing donations are welcomed at the WCCO all year around. 

FEATURED IMAGE: An obstacle course made up of sand, mud and stones, to give people an sense of what it feels like to walk without shoes. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


Privilege, freedom and the future

Students weighed in on whether the ANC will remain relevant in a South Africa that is getting increasingly younger, report by Ayanda Mgwenya and Morongoa Masebe.

Twenty-nine years on, young people feel alienated from the ruling party and think it’s time for change. This was the overwhelming sentiment at a dialogue hosted by Wits University’s Amnesty Society.  

The privilege walk 

The event hosted as part of Freedom Month celebrations saw the Wits outdoor ampitheatre transformed into a stage on which student’s varying levels of privilege was put to the test.  

All attendees were instructed to stand in a horizontal line and asked a series of questions pertaining their geographical background, parental presence, financial status, race and more. 

The attendees were asked questions about their experiences with skipping meals, worrying about school fees, and being the first in their family to graduate. Depending on these answers, students had to step forwards or backwards.  

Mthobisi Thwala, Wits student said, “I thought more people would be in the frontline just like me, but this exercise has made me aware of the existence of dynamics around different geographical backgrounds.” 

While performative, the exercise drives home the point about the very real implications of living in one of the most unequal countries in the world.  

Attendees of the community dialogue responding to the ‘privilege walk’ questions asked by the Wits Amnesty Society Chairperson Photo: Morongoa Masebe

The dialogue session 

The second part of the evening opened a dialogue with attendees. Deputy chairperson of Wits Amnesty, Florentine Vangu asked “Twenty- nine years on, should Nelson Mandela’s legacy be celebrated for the democratic and human rights change it brought to South Africa or should it be criticized for focusing too much on peace and reconciliation and not enough on addressing the historical impact of apartheid on the socio- economic status and problems still faced by black, coloured and Indian people today?”

Responses were mixed but most attendees expressed dissatisfaction over what they called the “negotiated settlement” and the lingering legacy of Apartheid in their everyday lives.  

UNICEF chairperson of the Wits branch, Siphesihle Mkhwanazi told Wits Vuvuzela that youth-led conversations like this need to be “broadcast nationally because [citizens of South Africa] have to have uncomfortable conversations in order to have a feasible future”. 

When Vungu asked, “to what extent do you agree or disagree that the ANC is no longer relatable to the everyday black South African”? Most of the students who responded, agreed with the statement. 

Wits SRC Compliance Officer, Karabo Matloga was in awe of the discussion because he admires the gathering of active young people who “shape discussions and the narratives to change the state of the economy [in South Africa]”. The hope is that more engagements like this will take place ahead of the 2024 nation election.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Attendees seated during the community dialogue. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya


From campus protesters to labour organisers

Former #FeesMustFall student activists take on the fight for the ‘total liberation of black workers’. 

Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto came alive on Workers’ Day as a delegation of 300 workers employed in and around Braamfontein gathered to launch the Workers Socialist Union of South Africa (Susaw).  

Susaw, formed by former Wits University student leaders, launched its constitution and announced its national executive committee (NEC) that was elected by an interim structure. Ten additional members were co-opted into the NEC at the launch and are yet to be officially announced.  

Wits 2018 SRC president, Orediretse Masebe*, the second deputy general secretary, told the gathering that “The idea for this union started from the South Point protest of 2018.” This, he told Wits Vuvuzela, was when 86 workers who were being outsourced by the Braamfontein residence were told that they were being retrenched with immediate effect. He was part of a group of student activists who staged a series of protest actions which and eventually won the permanent and secure employment of all 86 workers.  

“We understood that workers issues are our issues as well,” said general secretary of the union, who was the transformation officer in the 2018 Wits SRC, Mmeli Gebashe. “Because of the relationship we formed with workers at Wits and around Braamfontein, they continue to refer to us with their labour related matters.” 

Masebe told the delegation of workers that during the South Point protests, the private security guards that were hired to keep them out, eventually started confiding in them about their own issues with their employer. “This is where our passion for fighting for the labour rights of our parents was born,” he said. 

According to Gebashe, formalising their relationship with workers gives them the capacity to organise representation and education for workers, with the view to protect their right to work in a cut-throat labour economy. He added that Morris Isaacson High School was the perfect location for the birth of an organisation that had its roots in student activism.  

A former chairperson of the Black Consciousness Movement United, Thami Hukwe, set the tone for the day’s proceedings in his address, when he said the establishment of Susaw was “the response to the call for a total liberation of black workers”. 

The delegation was given the opportunity to engage with the union’s interim constitution, give comments, contributions and ask questions. The constitution outlines the operations and reach of the union.  

Newly elected president of Susaw, Phumla Nondoda. Photo: Morongoa Masebe

Susaw president Phumla Nondoda, who works at a South Point residence in Braamfontein, said that the protests of 2018 saved her job and that of many others, and Susaw is committed to making sure that it stays true to the demands of workers. 

Bonginkosi Khanyile, also a former #FeesMustFall activist, attended the launch as a guest speaker, and told the workers that a workers’ union that considers the lived experiences of the worker is long overdue. “If you start sitting at the table with other leaders, and forget the mandate of workers’ rights, we will shun you,” he said and emphasised that the work of representing workers is not about personalities or power politics, because it affects the real lives of workers and their families.

* Related to the reporter

FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of the Susaw constitution. Photo: Morongoa Masebe