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


The ins and outs of juggling work and studies

A full-time office administrator and mother successfully earns her degree after five long years

After registering for a Bachelor of Arts degree in law in 2018, Ethel Thale did not anticipate that her life will drastically change, making it difficult for her to pursue her studies. 

While studying, Thale became a wife and a mother — thereafter, she had to deal with the realities of juggling parenthood and being a wife while studying part-time.  

However, her new titles did not diminish her hunger to pursue her dream of “fighting for the vulnerable”, which she believes her law degree will allow her to do.  

She said time management was the greatest challenge for her, and also her greatest lesson.  

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela after being conferred, she said: “finally”, after graduating on record time despite all the challenges she faced.  She added that: “As a part time student, it is easy to give up because you are already employed, so to someone else, it would be like what is the point?”  

Ethel Thale (centre) with her mother Nomsa Sebopha and her husband Kagiso Thale outside the Wits University great hall. Ethel graduated BA with a law major, after 5 years as a part-time student. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya.

Thale told Wits Vuvuzela that she constantly had to remind herself to finish what she started and remember what her goal was — which helped her when she was full of self-doubt, and she was beginning to lose momentum.  

She explained that she is proud of herself for not giving up and thanked her husband and mother for being patient and assisting her when she could not do certain things. She also thanked her employer, Nedbank, who funded her studies – and created a working environment that allowed her to study. 

She said now she will focus on ushering in her second baby, then after, she will register for her postgraduate degree in law. Her plan is to work in legal compliance.   

Thale graduated in early April, and she said after completing her first degree, she feels empowered to pursue her second degree because she knows better now, especially when it comes to managing time.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Ethel Thale is awarded her bachelor of arts with law degree at Wits University in April 2023. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya.


450 Witsies in limbo about NSFAS funding appeals 

The financial aid scheme missed its own deadline, March 31, to resolve all appeals.

As many as 450 Wits students remain unclear about the status of their NSfas funding appeals.

This was revealed after an April 17 meeting that the SRC had called to deal with an increasing number of students who are being evicted by private residences because it is not clear if they will be funded, according to treasurer general, Kabelo Phungwayo.

The meeting, which took place in the SRC boardroom at the Wits Matrix, was attended by more than 80 students who spilled into the hallway for lack of space. 

A second-year bachelor of health sciences student, Isikelele Mpoto, told Wits Vuvuzela that she was facing eviction from her accommodation. She said she was funded by NSfas for a year-and-a-half, until she was academically excluded.

This year she had travelled from the Eastern Cape to attend a Wits Readmission Committee hearing on January 17, and could not afford to go back home. Her mother, who is the sole wage earner in the family, and is supporting five children, then took on the burden of paying for her accommodation, hoping that NSfas would take over.

“My mother had to take out loans [for my accommodation]. She cannot always send money, so sometimes I eat once a day, and I still have to cross-night and study,” said Mpoto, who, like many students, does not have a book allowance or stipend to get essentials.  

Phungwayo said that during the fee protests in February, the SRC had met with NSfas and brought up the issue of students who were sleeping in libraries and toilets, because of the financial uncertainty created by the slow pace with which NSFAS was communicating the statuses of their appeals. NSfas had then promised to resolve all appeals by the end of March and established an appeals tribunal to fast-track the processing of the 70 000 appeals they had received nationally, for 2023. This did not happen, according to Phungwayo.  

He added that since 2020, students have had to use a centralised portal to lodge appeals, and the SRC recommends that appeals be relocated to individual universities, to avoid this kind of breakdown in progress.  

Samora Mbomba, the regional coordinator of the South African Students Congress who has been working with the SRC on the matter, says that the problem is that once on the NSfas portal, “students were asked to upload certain documents, but when they go to upload those documents, the portal says no documents required.”

She says she has recently been in contact with the National Assembly chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, a former SRC president, who had requested the names and identity numbers of the affected students. Mbomba says she believes that things will move a bit quicker now. 

The SRC announced on its Twitter page that any students who had missed the April 17 meeting were welcome to come to the office every day between 3pm and 7pm, so they could be added to the list.

Wits Vuvuzela contacted the Wits NSfas office on April 18, and was told to write an email to the office of the Wits CFO. Executive secretary to the CFO, Marelize van Niekerk then forwarded the email to the financial aid and scholarships office manager, Charlene Timmerman, who did not respond. Wits Vuvuzela followed up with further emails to Timmerman on April 20 and 24 but has yet to receive a response.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits students who have yet to receive outcomes of NSfas their funding appeals, met in the SRC boardroom on April 17. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


SLICE: Creating futures of our own imagination

 Imagining a future when South Africans are part of creating global technologies that take on board local contexts. 

In 2017 I took a course called Utopian Studies offered by the department of political studies at Wits University. Utopian Studies allows us to construct a coherent imagined future, and to consider all philosophical, ethical and theoretical possibilities, to determine an ideal towards which we can strive because when we do not have a collectively imagined ideal, it becomes harder to know what we are working towards.

This made me think about what an ideal South African state should be. Should it be one where everyone is happy, or one where everyone has money?  

At the time that I did this course, the university was coming into a self-awareness of the way that institutions have a culture that is historically white, and was seeking ways to transform itself into a space that was accessible to all the people in it.  

So, in this context, the coordinator of my Utopian Studies course, Julian Brown, began to deconstruct the ways in which media genres that offered projections of humanity in the future (mostly sci-fi films and books) were often predicting “a vision of a [white] future where assimilation, not diversity, is the goal”.

It speaks to the extent to which a diversity of voices and ideas exist within the spaces where the media content is produced. 

This provides a lens to understand the need for a diversity of voices where artificial intelligence (AI, the programming of machines to mimic human intelligence) development is concerned, to place a diversity of developers in the spaces where AI is trained. Because we run the risk of recreating much of the socio-political dynamics we have today, in our more technologically advanced future. Unlike with search engines and social media platforms, AI requires us to develop the technologies that make a South African AI possible.  

In November 2022, OpenAI, a US technology research lab, launched ChatGPT, an AI computer programme that can interact in a chat-based conversation with humans. The programme is trained on data from across the internet and is able to mimic human cognitive processes in its conversational responses to a prompt.  

This means that unlike regular search engines such as Google, ChatGPT uses deep learning techniques to build context and give more in-depth answers in a way that a human would. This is an incredible developmental milestone for AI technology considering that until now, most AI programmes could do little more than just following an instruction.  

Now, because AI technology is dependent on being pre-trained by human beings, it makes sense that it possesses, to a certain degree, subjective, biased and sometimes even prejudiced data.  

For this reason, the arrival of AI technology as advanced as ChatGPT creates a serious impetus for South Africa to invest more intentionally in the development of our own AI technology. Not necessarily to compete with Open AI, but because we know that the knowledge and information generated by foreign AI may not be sensitive to our cultural contexts and may continue to perpetuate a false sense of cultural and moral universality that makes us the ‘other’.  

The AI Institute of South Africa (AIISA) launched an AI hub at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria on March 24, 2023, in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg. Reporting on their website, the two institutions promised that through their hubs, they would “generate knowledge and applications that will position South Africa as a competitive player in the global AI space”. 

The hubs provide us with an opportunity to create futures of our own imagination. This has the potential to create global technologies that take into consideration local and contextual issues.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Morongoa Masebe, Wits Vuvuzela student journalist. Photo: File


Wits Vuvuzela, April 2021.

Wits Vuvuzela, May 2021.

Wits Vuvuzela, Oct 2019.