Wits flutist wins international scholarship

By Naledi Mashishi

Wits flutist and music tutor Khanyisile Mthetwa will perform at the 47th Annual National Flute Association Convention in Salt Lake City, USA, as part of winning an international scholarship.

Flutist and Wits music tutor Khanyisile Mthetwa will be participating at an international flute competition in the United States (US) later this year after she won the 2019 Myrna Brown International Scholarship.
Mthetwa was awarded the scholarship on January, 14, and will be performing live at the 47th Annual National Flute Association Convention taking place in Salt Lake City.

Mthetwa will perform a concert at the convention on August 2. Before then she will perform a concert in Chicago and another in San Francisco at the end of July. She will be performing works by South African composers only.

Head of Music at Wits, Prof Malcolm Nay, said that Mthetwa is the first person from the department to get the award through the university.

“Her getting the award is an extremely good reflection on the department. Of course when she plays in the US she is not only playing for herself but for Wits,” he said.

The 33 year old is originally from Soweto and began playing the flute and the recorder when she was 15 at a Saturday music programme held at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital Nursing College. At 16 she began studying at the National School of Arts (NSA) where she was trained in the flute.

“At NSA, one of my teachers told me to train in flute further because she thought I had potential and so I decided to do it,” she said.

Mthetwa currently performs as first flute with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, has performed solo concertos with the Durban Philharmonic Orchestra, and performed alongside famed Italian opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, during the 2010 World Cup. She has been a Wits music tutor for three years.

The musician applied for the Myrna Brown scholarship after a friend in Brazil had told her she fit the criteria.

“I looked at the website and a part of me thought ‘don’t even bother’ because I saw flutists from places like China and India who were so amazing. But another part of me said try and see what it’s like and work towards being on their level,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

“It was a pleasant surprise when I got the email that said ‘Congratulations, you’ve got it’.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Khanyisile Mthetwa is the recipient of the Myrna Brown International Scholarship.
Photo: Provided

SLICE: When the party turns into a hangover

By Naledi Mashishi

IT’S THAT time of the year again when wide-eyed first years, still wearing their matric jerseys, descend on Wits University campuses for the first time.

Entering university is like entering an alternate world: the buildings are bigger, the crowds are larger, and everything is seemingly much more relaxed than parents and teachers have made it sound.
You don’t have to go to school assemblies, or wear uniforms, or cheer at house events. In fact, there’s no one telling you to do anything. There’s no teacher ordering you to go to class, or calling your parents when you don’t do your work, or yelling at you for having the wrong colour hair.

When you enter university, the world is your oyster. In fact, the world is a party. You’re exposed to so many new sights and sounds and people. Societies clamour to convince you to sign up, you can queue on the library lawns to get your name printed on a coke can, and your nights are long evenings filled with dancing and drinking, with no mom back at home to tell you to be back before curfew.

But inevitably it happens. You go from getting As and Bs in high school to praying for a 50%. The “one or two” lectures you miss result in you being weeks behind your work. The late nights turn from parties to last minute 2000-word essays.

And after another unappetising meal of chips and pizza at the dining hall, all you want is to taste mom’s cooking. The excitement you felt from entering varsity turns into feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, far from your support structure, and overall sense of feeling alone. The great party turns into a hangover.

When talking about the transition from high school to university, much emphasis is often placed on the workload. In reality, one of the biggest shifts often experienced is on your mental health.

The pressure of varsity work, the knowledge that family members have sacrificed immensely for you to be able to go to university, and the alienation that comes from being in a new, unfamiliar environment surrounded by unfamiliar faces, can all play a negative role on your mental well-being. In a number of cases, this leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

So how do you cope? There are a number of mechanisms students can use to keep their stress levels down and mental health in check. And drinking alcohol is not one of them. Coming up with a study strategy that allows you to keep up with your readings and school work by working consistently throughout the term, rather than leaving work until the last minute, can help reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with last minute work.

Joining one of the numerous societies on campus can help build solid friendships with new people and provide a great hobby that keeps the stress at bay.

The most important step is to ask for help. Ask your lecturers and tutors for help when you are struggling with your schoolwork. Reach out to your friends and family when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Importantly, there are a number of campus counselling facilities such as the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU). Reach out to them when you feel that you’re battling to cope.
Above all, remember that you’re not alone and that there is help available.

Honestly, you’ll be okay.

Thumbs down for system to register for res at Wits

By Naledi Mashishi and Onke Ngcuka

First years and parents forced to bake in the sun in long lines as a result of new centralised residence registration system.

WITS’s new centralised residence registration system that was supposed to be “more convenient” has had the opposite effect as first-year residence students and their parents were left distraught after queuing for hours in the sun on Saturday, January 26.

The system, implemented on the day, placed services from the Fees, Financial Aid and Information and Communications Technology offices under one roof, at Flower Hall, West Campus.

The centralised system was also meant to ensure the verification process and the residence registration took place in the same building.

Wits University communications officer Buhle Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The new registration system sought to ease the challenges encountered by first year res students when registering. Previously, first year students would have to visit various service units to complete their registration. This was frustrating for students unfamiliar with the university.”

All packed and nowhere to go: The line for registration extended from the Flower Hall towards the Wits Science stadium.
Photo: Onke Ngcuka

A parent, Sithabile Ntombela from Durban, who had waited in line from 12pm until after 4pm told Wits Vuvuzela that she had expected to wait a maximum of an hour.

“If this was [University of] Zululand, Fort Hare or Walter Sisulu University, I would expect this, but not Wits. The other universities are previously disadvantaged. Wits has developed technology, so I wouldn’t expect this from Wits. There was no visibility from the assistants. There are assistants but very few, so you end up in the wrong queue,” Ntombela said.

Zuma said that 28 staff members from Campus Housing and 18 from other service units, as well as 35 assistants were helping with the registration, and Wits Protection Services was also present.

However, there were few visible assistants outside Flower Hall in the morning, and in the afternoon there appeared to be no more than 10 that were ushering parents and students into the different lines.

Medhurst Residence House Committee member, Nobuhle Nkosi, told Wits Vuvuzela that the All Residence Council and Residence House Committees were not consulted in the decision-making process, and that both committees opposed the new centralised system at the Residence Leadership Camp held on January 21-25 where they first heard of it.

“The new system doesn’t take into account the students…It disadvantages the students that come from far by buses and taxis as they usually leave their bags at res but now they have to stand in long lines with their bags,” Nkosi said. “It’s already crowded when people register at their reses, now imagine all those people under one roof.”

Nkosi added that the Medhurst House Committee was expecting to welcome 80 – 90 students on Saturday but only 20 had arrived by 3pm.

“People were hungry when they got here, people were crying and parents were complaining,” Nkosi said.

Hot and bothered: Students and parents bake in the sun as they queue to register.
Photo: Onke Ngcuka

Zuma said that the registration process didn’t close at 4pm as advertised, but had been extended to 6:45pm.

“Our challenge on the day was the number of students who did not apply for residence and those whose application was still pending and thus contributing to long queues,” Zuma said.

At 9.41pm on Saturday, the university tweeted an apology from its official account.

“Wits University and the Dean of Student Affairs apologises to all parents and students for the inconvenience caused by the new res system for first year students. We acknowledge the delays and the long queues and we will review the process going forward,” the tweet said.

According to Zuma, the university is doing a full review of the registration process and will consider suggestions from the Wits community.

FEATURED IMAGE: Students and their parents waited for long hours to be registered for their residence in the new centralised registration system. Photo: Onke Ngcuka

New halaal eatery opens at Wits

By Naledi Mashishi

Halaal food outlet Jimmy’s Varsity has opened for business on Wits West Campus.

A new halaal eatery has opened on campus. Jimmy’s Varsity, a subsidiary of the Jimmy’s Group franchise, opened its doors on West Campus for the first time on Thursday, 24 January.

Jimmy’s is owned by the family of a Wits BCom student, and primarily serves sandwiches, burgers, and grilled chicken. Tasneem Gani said that her family had decided to open Jimmy’s Varsity after she had been unhappy with the halaal food options on campus.

“I noticed the food on campus wasn’t up to standard and used to go off campus to get food often,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

The family approached Wits Student Services after a tender was issued by the university at the end of October 2018 for a new halaal eatery. Gani said that her family worked throughout November and December to open the outlet.

 “We needed good cheap food for students and this is a completely redesigned menu. We’ve lowered our prices and still kept the quality of the food. The average meal here is R42 which is comparable to res meal prices,” she said.

The outlet will also deliver food across Main Campus and is still working on deliveries to the Education and Medical campuses.

Nicholas Matthes, Wits deputy director of retail and catering, said that of the six tender proposals that were submitted to the university, only two adhered to the halaal requirements. Jimmy’s Varsity was the only one which responded to the price point requirements as well.

Matthes said that the university is continuously working to improve the quality of the food on campus. “We undertake surveys and ensure that we continuously improve retail mix offering in line with retail strategy, students and university community population and industry trends,” he said.

Former BCom Accounting student, Bilal Ismail, said that the quality of the food was far higher than that of the previous eateries he had been to on campus.

“The food [at a previous outlet] was stale sometimes, but here, so far so good. The food is good and the chips are fresh and tasty,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Jimmy’s Varsity is a new food outlet which gives the Wits community more halaal options on campus.

Photo: Naledi Mashishi.

One common course for all first-year engineering students

By Naledi Mashishi

First-year engineering students will now complete the Common First Year course which will teach core subjects equally across the board.

STARTING in 2019, all first-year engineering students, regardless of branch of engineering, will begin their studies with the new Common First Year (CFY) course which will teach core subjects such as science and maths equally across all branches.

Although students are still expected to register for a specific branch from first year, the new CFY course means that students who choose to change branches in second year, will now be able to do so without taking an additional year.

The different engineering branches at Wits include: architecture and planning; civil and environmental engineering; chemical and metallurgical engineering; construction economics and management; electrical and information engineering; mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering; and mining.

Executive dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Prof Ian Jandrell, told Wits Vuvuzela that in addition to maths and science, the new course will include communications, problem solving, understanding the engineering profession, and design.

First-years will also be expected to complete a Humanities course. “[This is] speaking to the growing need for engineers to be cognisant of their role in society right from the very start of their university career,” Jandrell said.

The CFY course will be assessed by a team of academics across all the faculty’s schools, under the oversight of the Academic Development Unit. According to Jandrell, there will be continuous assessments, dedicated test weeks after the Autumn and Spring breaks, and the final assessment at the end of the year, will be done through the submission of portfolios.

“Students whose overall result is between 45 and 49% will be invited to an oral exam, but this is the only exam for the course,” he said.

Third-year BSc metallurgic engineering student, Asakundwi Ramurafhi, said that the introduction of the CFY was an improvement on the previous years.

“The differing first year [courses] put people at a disadvantage in second year because of the differing intensities of the courses. I wish we had had a joint first year for the more difficult courses like maths to make second and third year easier,” she said.

Jandrell said that the CFY course aimed to produce a “21st century engineer” who can work across boundaries, is confident in their own abilities, and is willing to learn and serve in society.

FEATURED PHOTO: The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment is introducing a Common First Year course for all first-year engineering student.

Photo: File

SRC launches Hardship Fund for missing middle students

By Naledi Mashishi

Wits SRC and management collaborate to assist ‘missing middle’ students with registration fees, accommodation and historical debt.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and the Wits University management have joined hands to launch the new Hardship Fund to help ‘missing middle’ returning students. Applications for the fund closed on Thursday, January 24.

The fund is designed to help students whose annual household income falls under the R600 000 threshold and whose academic average is at least 50%. It was approved by Senate in November 2018 and formally included in the 2019 budget. The university has contributed R10 million to the fund and an additional R1 million was donated by a private donor.

SRC fundraising officer Solomzi Moleketi says that the fund was created to address systemic barriers to education that students encountered. The fund helps returning students pay their registration fees, secure accommodation, and covers up to 50% of a student’s historical debt. However, in cases where the debt exceeds R80 000, the fund will only cover up to R40 000
in order to allow as many students as possible to be assisted by the fund.

“So far we’ve helped 77 students which has cost just under R3 million,” Moleketi told Wits Vuvuzela. “We are also working out a partnership with South Point to assist with accommodation.”

The Hardship Fund is one of a number of funds that have been launched by SRCs over the years to assist students, including the Wits Humanitarian Fund which was started in 2009 and the Emergency Fund which was launched in 2018. Moleketi argues that the over the years there has been a consistent growth in funding, and the university using its funds to assist students has been an ongoing conversation stretching back to 2011. 

“We are hoping there will be more sustainability with this fund because of its inclusion in the budget. We hope that it will continue next year,” he said.

However, according to Wits chief financial officer Prakash Desai, the R10 million provided by the university was approved by Senate as a once-off item.

“During 2018, savings from other budget line items were redirected towards student hardship. Only a limited number of students are supported on the review of a substantive case made for hardship and on academic merit,” Desai said.

Beneficiaries of the fund are decided by a discretionary committee made up of the SRC, the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic, the Dean of Students, the Registrar, and the Finance Executive. According to Moleketi, there are an additional 400 cases to be reviewed. 

FEATURED PHOTO: The Wits SRC and management are assisting ‘missing middle’ students with a new Hardship Fund.

Photo: File

In plain English, Tuks has dropped Afrikaans

By Naledi Mashishi

The University of Pretoria has scrapped Afrikaans in favour of using English only in official communications and as a medium of instruction.

As of January, 2019, the University of Pretoria (UP) will be using English as the only language of instruction and communication instead of offering Afrikaans alongside English. This was announced by the new vice-chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe, on Monday, January 21.

The decision resulted from recommendations made by the university’s transformation committee, student representatives, and various other stakeholdersin early 2016. According to UP spokesperson Rikus Deport, the move was made as an effort to transform the university. It was also made in response to the decline in the number of Afrikaans home language students at the university which dropped from 85% in 1992 to 30% in 2015. Only 18% of students wished to use the language as a medium of instruction in 2016.

Deport further stated that the new language policy would only affect students who are enrolling in programmes offered by the university for the first time in 2019.

“Students who registered for the first time prior to 2019 will continue to receive lectures, tutorials, study guides and assessment material (question papers, assignments and the like) in Afrikaans for those programmes which were offered in Afrikaans at the time of enrolment, provided that the class size remains practically feasible and it is academically justifiable.

“Where assessment and question papers are set in Afrikaans, currently enrolled students will also be allowed to answer in Afrikaans,” Deport told Wits Vuvuzela.

After the university’s Senate approved the new language policy in June 2016, civil liberty groups Afriforum and Solidarity  appealed the decision in court.

“This amounts to a gross violation of the language rights of Afrikaans students at UP,” said Afriforum in a statement.

The appeal was turned down by the Gauteng High Court in December 2016 after finding that it was no longer practical to offer classes in both English and Afrikaans, given the changing demographics of the university.

Judge Peter Mabuse, wrote in the judgement, “The language policy choice made by the University of Pretoria is not only consistent and in accord with the provisions of the Constitution, it also signals a deep and sincere commitment to place the university at the forefront of being an agent in advancing social cohesion.”

In a May 2017 statement, Afriforum expressed their disappointment with the ruling. “As access to education in Afrikaans remains a priority for AfriForum and Solidarity, they will continue to have discussions with international forums and experts in order to wage the battle on the protection of this right in the international arena as well.”

The university began phasing out Afrikaans in 2017 and in 2018,  informed students that the university would switch to an English medium institution in the new year.

Lecturers who formerly gave lectures in Afrikaans will now be expected to teach only in English.

However, some such as Siseko Kumalo, a UP philosophy masters student and editor of the Journal of Decolonising Disciplines, argue
that the new English-only policy is still exclusionary towards black students as it privileges students whose mother tongue is English.

“A lot of scholarship around language policy is indicating that universities should look at where they are situated and offer those languages as multilingualism achieves better results. Students perform better when they are able to learn in their mother tongues,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

“There’s a lot of excitement about monolingualism now but in five years’ time I foresee us revisiting the question of why African languages are not being used and what knowledge we can produce when we use indigenous languages,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: The historically Afrikaans institution, the University of Pretoria, will now use English as its primary means of instruction and communication. Photo: File.

Students march for affordable accommodation

STUDENTS disrupted academics at Wits and marched to the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) buildings to hand over a memorandum of demands to mayor Herman Mashaba, on Thursday, September 27, calling for affordable student accommodation.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and All Residence Council (ARC) called for an academic shutdown so that interested students could join the march to protest against a rumoured 10% increment in residence fees for 2019.

The protest was a joint action between Wits student political formations such as SASCO, PYA, EFF and PASMA, and students from the University of Johannesburg and the Central Johannesburg College, who all marched under the banner #AccommodationIsLand.

Their demands included: the scrapping of council rates for universities and TVET colleges; council rates for private student accommodation providers such as South Point to be capped in order to stabilise prices; some of the 71 hijacked buildings identified by the CoJ for expropriation to be handed to universities along with money for institutions to develop them into student accommodation; and for a satellite clinic and police station to be opened in Braamfontein.

According to ARC chair Mookameli Moeketsi, the ARC and SRC consolidated the list of demands in March and thereafter emailed it to Mashaba, who didn’t respond. “We want to show them that we are serious about accommodation and we are prepared to fight for it,” he said.

Protesters gathered at the Wits Theatre in the morning and began to march through campus, disrupting lectures by pulling the fire alarms in buildings and singing in lecture halls until students evacuated. A History 102 test was also disrupted by marchers.

“This is about student homelessness. The ‘Harvard of Africa’ can’t be having students sleeping in libraries and toilets,” said a third-year economics student who asked not to be named.

Private security was visible around campus and blocked students from entering Solomon Mahlangu House.

Wits dean of students Jerome September said the university had denied the SRC’s request for lectures to be cancelled after midday because the university is approaching final exams.

“The university’s academic programme will continue as scheduled and students who wish to participate in today’s march do so on a voluntary basis. The necessary security arrangements have been made to ensure that university activities continue without disruption,” he said.

By the time the crowd left campus, it had grown to about 500 students and proceeded to march through the streets of Braamfontein. As the protesters approached, businesses closed their shutters and workers affiliated with the EFF joined the protesters.

Protesters held placards with slogans such as: “accommodation is land”, “free healthcare facilities in Braam”, and “liberate the student, liberate the land”.

Throughout the march, students were addressed by Wits SRC president, Orediretse Masebe. “At the end of the day we are here because we are black and we are landless,” Masebe said.

Mayor Mashaba met the protesters outside the CoJ buildings. They demanded that Mashaba respond to the memorandum within seven days and that he arrange an emergency meeting with Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib, and South Point executive director Ndumiso Davidson, at 9am on Friday, September 28.

Mashaba accepted the memorandum, stating that he would look at the demands and respond timeously. However, he could not commit to calling an emergency meeting. “I don’t want to lie to students. I don’t know what Habib’s diary looks like and I have commitments I cannot get out of,” he said.

Mashaba stated that the CoJ would send a comprehensive report in response to the demands within the next two weeks and that the demands were in line with the urban regeneration plan that the CoJ was currently working on.

“We’ve made it clear that 30% of the hijacked buildings that have been identified must go to student housing and be offered for rent between R800 – R1200 per month. We are engaging with private investors and offering them incentives such as reducing the cost of rates,” Mashaba told Wits Vuvuzela.

September told Wits Vuvuzela that the university was already engaged with the CoJ on matters such as reducing rates and increasing accommodation for students. “The lack of accommodation is an issue that requires a long-term solution. The university is working with student representatives and the public and private sectors at various levels to intensify efforts to seek medium and long-term challenges to resolve the accommodation crisis,” he said.

He also said that no decisions regarding 2019 fees or accommodation increases had been made yet.

The protesters have threatened to escalate the protests if they do not receive a response to their demands within seven days. They also demanded that Wits observe an academic shutdown on Friday, September 28, in solidarity with protesters.

FEATURED IMAGE: Protesters, led by SRC transformation officer Bonga Gebashe, marched through campus and Braamfontein under the banner #AccommodationIsLand.
Photo: Takalani Sioga