Our Education is not a game

“Our education is not a game, so do not play with it.”

These stern words from the president of the Law Students’ Council (LSC), Yusuf Peer, received loud applause from students gathered outside the Olive Schreiner building this week.

The gathering on Wednesday afternoon followed an e-mail sent on February 17th by the head of the law school, Jonathan Klaaren, requesting all third year students to deregister from the jurisprudence course.

The class was overcrowded and students said it was due to a lack of planning by the school in the implementation of the new curriculum.

In a memorandum handed to the school’s management the law students said they were disappointed in the school for the manner in which the new curriculum was implemented. After negotiations on Monday 20th, when students gathered for the first time and came up with a plan of action, solutions were reached with management.

“In our negotiations [with management] students have a choice to either deregister or not. If they do deregister, they will have to take two electives for the year,” said Peer.

SRC acting president Tebogo Thothela showed their support during the gathering.

“We’ve noted the lack of planning from management. We will be taking this to the highest body of management, which is Senate, so that in the second semester you [students] do not experience the same problem,” said Thothela.

Deputy head of school, Prof Mtewendeka Mhango, was present at both public gatherings. He happily accepted and signed the memorandum in front of all students present and said: “Today is a victory for all of us … What you asked for is what you got.”

“As a school we are here because of you, we definitely want this new curriculum to be implemented successfully and to the satisfaction of everybody.

We will do our best to see that there is a smooth implementation of the curriculum,” said Mhango.

Peer assured students that deadlines for tests and assignment due dates will be reviewed after students make amendments.

Students will also not have to pay any fees for late registration as they have been given special leeway.

A planned protest by the students was averted through discussions and negotiations between LSC and managemnt earlier in the week.

Wind taken out of Witsies’ sails

Wits Yacht Club took part in the largest inland yacht race in the world last weekend but results were “a bit disappointing”.

SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) Round the Island, as the race is officially known, is an annual event hosted by Lake Deneys Yacht Club (LDYC) on the Vaal Dam, and it took place on Sunday, February 5 this year.

Wits’ boat Ciao Bella finished in the 31st position and took about two hours and 40 minutes to cross the line. The club’s “Commodore” (chairperson) Brennan Robinson says the final result was a bit disappointing: “It was not bad but we were hoping for better.”

They entered the race with three boats and 14 members. About five other club members participated independently. Robinson says the weather conditions were less than ideal but a nearby storm brought some wind helping sailors at the back.

Round the Island has held the Guinness World Record in the category “most yachts in an island race” since 2007.

Robinson says they were privileged with a good view of the fleet before the race started. “We looked back and could see hundreds of boats lining the whole dam.”

The event ran throughout the whole weekend.  Besides sailing activities, which included practicing races on Friday (Commodores Cup Race) and Saturday (Sprints and Tune up Race) and the main race on Sunday, visitors were also entertained by parties and air shows.


Robinson says it was a complete weekend, “sort of a festival”. Wits Yacht club members set up tents at the camping site, had a braai on Friday night and enjoyed the “massive parties”. They are now looking forward to a sailing weekend at the Vaal on February 18.

The Vaal Dam is home to many yacht clubs, and the largest one is LDYC. The race is LDYA’s biggest fund raiser, and this year the entrance fee was R50 per person over 16 years old, and open to all sailing classes.

State-sponsored homophobia

“It degrades human dignity, it’s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people [homosexuals] to behave worse than dogs and pigs.”

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, made this shocking declaration a few years ago and said gays and lesbians should be handed over to the police. Even in these times he is not a lonely voice.

Africa is the continent with the least liberal laws regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights. Over 30 countries criminalise homosexuality, and there are many cases of state-sponsored homophobia.

In most countries where homosexuality is illegal the law establishes penalties that range from a fine to years in prison – life imprisonment in Uganda.

In Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, the punishment is the death penalty.

In most African countries there is not even anti-discrimination legislation on sexual orientation or gender identity basis specifically, and South Africa is the exception.

Homosexuality on the African continent has often been blamed on colonialism. The notion that homosexuality is not African is widely spread.

“[That] is just a defence tactic and a prejudice driving tool,” says third year LLB student Motlatsi Motseoile, who is gay. He claims people usually base their “lack of knowledge and understanding on tradition and ‘Africanness’”.

Motseoile adds: “You know certain things are not of African origin by whether there is an African term for it, and there is one in Zulu [for homosexuality].”

He says he has read a lot on the subject, and the readings suggest “same-sex sexual relations have been around on the African continent for ages. They just have not been widely recorded… and perhaps not as spread or understood in its current form”.

Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) archivist Gabriel Khan says: “GALA is the best place to stop on campus if one is interested in both the history and contemporary experience of LGBTI people in South Africa and also Africa.”

The core of the organisation is a unique archive of LGBTI materials. According to Khan, GALA also offers programmes and activities that aim to educate the public, create dialogue and inspire action.

Even though the legal system ensures equality, social acceptance is still a concern in South Africa.

South Africans, say cheese

Statistics South Africa and the government are calling upon the nation to participate in the upcoming census, an effort to count everyone within national borders.

Census 2011 starts on October 10, and data related to 14-million households will be collected over 21 days. With the slogan “You count”, it aims to produce a snapshot of the population, although many people still don’t know what the census is about.

National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said: “Participation in the census, apart from being a statutory obligation, is directly and unashamedly in [South Africans’] own interest.”

According to Stats SA, which conducts the census, the information collected will give government and private sector an accurate picture of South African living conditions. This will tell them what resources people need.

“A census is the only source for community level data on issues such as migration patterns, education, persons with disabilities, employment and unemployment, fertility, mortality and service delivery, all of which are critical for planning,” states the agency website.

Political parties have shown their full support for Census 2011, and public representatives are being urged to help encourage the population to participate.

Even though people are afraid of disclosing personal information, Stats SA guarantees confidentiality. The agency’s employees are legally bound never to reveal individual information they gather though the census.

People will be counted according to where they are on the night of October 9. A census attendant told Vuvuzela that residence officers will hand out questionnaires for students who live on campus.

Institutions such as hospitals and prisons will be counted using administrative records supplied by the person in charge, so everyone will get a chance to be enumerated.

The census is conducted every 10 years and this will be the third time the entire South African population is counted. Results are expected to be available in March 2013.

Fieldworkers will be wearing a yellow bib and carrying a satchel with the Census and Stats SA logos, an ID card and a book with a map of the area.


African beauty wins

AN AFRICAN beauty has finally overthrown the Latin empire.

Miss Angola Leila Lopes was crowned Miss Universe on September 12, becoming the 4th African woman to win the title. The Donald Trump-owned beauty pageant marked its 60th anniversary as 89 women battled for the title in São Paulo, Brazil.

The African victory has not received much publicity in South Africa, even though the president of the Miss Universe organisation, Paula Shugart, compared the beauty contest to worldwide sports events.

“They [World Cup, Olympics and Miss Universe] are all the same thing. You are bringing people from all around the world to celebrate each other and their host country.

“Every woman that competes is the embodiment of national pride,” Shugart said.

In the past decade seven contestants from Latin America have been crowned. But the self-proclaimed “world championship of beauty” has not seen many African or black winners throughout its history.

Only three other countries on the African continent have taken the title: Botswana (1999), Namibia (1992) and South Africa (1978).

The first black African to win Miss Universe was Mpule Kwelagobe from Botswana. This year the 25-year-old business student from Benguela was the only African candidate who made it to the top 16.

Most comments on South African news pages are about African pride. “I’m proud of you girl and you make Africa proud. What a lovely time for Africa,” one reader commented on IOL news.

When asked by the judges which one of her physical characteristics she would like to change, Lopes replied:

“Thank God I’m very well satisfied with the way that God created me and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Shortly after her victory, the new pageant titleholder said that as Miss Angola she has already done a lot for her people working with social causes.

Now her reign will be devoted to fighting HIV and Aids and poverty  – big African concerns.

Two tickets for human rights, please

Amnesty International (AI) Wits will do its part for the “social justice cinema” and support the Tri Continental Film Festival happening next week in Johannesburg.

The South African festival is dedicated to the promotion of human rights. Amnesty International is one of the partners of the event and has provided a selection of films to be screened.

Pearl Pillay, AI Wits president, says: “We as an organisation can talk about human rights issues until we are blue in the face, but until people actually see what is going on, it won’t really make that big of a difference.

“This festival is a chance for people to have a narrative from the people who have actually experienced it [human rights issues], and that in itself is amazingly effective,” she adds.

The festival films – documentary and fiction – will reflect global concerns on human rights, such as HIV and Aids, the International Criminal Court, political affairs, poverty and environmental issues.

Some films will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers and discussions will also be hosted.

Pillay says the discussion at the end of each film is crucial because it will give people the forum to air their views and talk about practical ways to sort out human rights issues.

The selected titles, chosen from over 500 entries, are intended to “promote democratisation” and “afford those marginalized a substantive voice”, according to the festival organisers.

Rehad Desai, the festival director, hopes the event can play “[its] own small part in building a movement to halt the forward march towards the end of humanity as we know it”.

TCFF was founded in 2003, and this year’s event will host over 25 directors from South Africa and the rest of the continent.

The films are being screened in Johannesburg at Rosebank Cinema Nouveau from September 9 to 18. There will be an Amnesty membership recruitment desk at the place.

The films supported by Amnesty International are: Amnesty! When They Are All Free, Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children, Prosecutor and Manenberg.

Wits disables ugly labels

For just two minutes Witsies felt what it was like to be blind.


The Disability Awareness Movement (DAM) held a series of events during the week, which included a blind run, games at the library lawns and discussions around employment for persons with disabilities.


“I think through participation one can gain a lot,” said DAM chairperson Jimmy Ramokgopa. “[The events] place people in a disabled person’s shoes.”


The 2nd year civil engineering student said they tried to convey the message through different channels.
“For people who are active we had games, for people who like discussion we had talks and then we have a film screening on Friday [about silent disabilities].”


One of the activities was a blind run. Students were blindfolded and had to navigate through a course surrounded by ropes.


Ot Goiwakae, a 3rd year drama student, had a particularly hard time finishing the course. “I felt insecure.
“I had someone to assist me and tell me where to go, but imagine if I didn’t.”


The DAM also organised a career day for grade 11 students from Filadelfia Secondary School and Hope School for children with disabilities. Christelle Bester, a teacher at Hope School, felt parts of Wits were “not really wheelchair accessible”.


The movement coordinated the events with other organisations such as the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities (NCPPDSA), Johannesburg Society for the Blind and Association for the Physically Disabled.


Lubabalo Mbeki from the NCPPDSA hopes to encourage people with disabilities to get educated for better employment opportunities.


“One of my targets is looking at placing persons with disabilities in prominent positions and create leaders,” he said.
Ramokgopa said “Our objective was to provide the necessary tools and information to people.


“What they do with that is personal… So in that sense our aim was met.”

Graphic images scare tobacco industry

The global tobacco industry is on alert as US cigarette makers are forced to put disturbing graphic images on their packages.

 From September next year US tobacco companies have to put graphic warning labels on their cigarette packages. The new mandatory warning labels will illustrate the worst possible effects of smoking, such as rotting teeth, blackened lungs and a dead body.

 The decision by the American Food and Drug Administration has angered the tobacco industry, and the debate has now reached South Africa.

 A news24 online poll revealed last week that 63% of voters feel it wouldn’t be unfair to ask tobacco groups to put graphic images on their cartons, because people need to know the facts.

 Cigarette makers argue the decision is unconstitutional because it violates the right of free speech. They say advertisement for tobacco must be protected.

The regulation will force them to disseminate an anti-smoking message, urging potential consumers not to buy a lawful product.

They say the tobacco industry will then be acting on the government’s behalf, and this will give unlimited power to the government, which has already met its public health obligation with text warnings.

 On the other hand, those who defend picture-based warnings say the protection of public health must prevail. The new labels will provide information about smoking risks in a way purchasers can easily understand. They will also be more likely to be noticed than text-only labels.

 Those in favour of the regulation also say a commercial product doesn’t fall under the same category as a person with an unpopular opinion, so freedom of speech is not violated.

 According to the World Health Organization on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2011, 15% of the world population is covered by warning labels as a form of tobacco control policy.

 For now the South African Tobacco Products Control Act of 1993 and its amendments state:

“No person shall sell or import for subsequent sale any prescribed tobacco product, unless… the package in which the tobacco product is sold bears the prescribed warning concerning the health hazards incidental to the smoking of tobacco products.” But legislation might get tougher.


REALITY CHECK: Graphic images will be put on cigarette boxes in the US to show smoking's worst possible effects



‘A dog’s breakfast of toxic gruel’

Opponents of the Protection of Information Bill raised their voices once again and marched from Wits to Constitution Hill on Saturday August 13.

The march was organised by the Right 2 Know Campaign, a nation-wide coalition that opposes the “Secrecy Bill” in its present form. The protesters gathered at Wits Great Hall, and the march followed a presentation by high-profile speakers who addressed a large audience in the morning.

Cosatu president, Sdumo Dlamini said the congress of trade unions rejects the bill in its current form because it represents a “threat to South African democratic society to be fully informed on matters of public interest”. He explained the bill could be used to cover up information on corruption and criminalise whistleblowers, affecting particularly workers and trade unions.

Dlamini also emphasised all kinds of secrecy must be challenged “not just secrecy by government, but by all the institutions entrenched in our lives, including those in the private sector”.

Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize winning writer and political activist, spoke about the statement she delivered with André Brink to President Zuma in July on the Protection of Information Bill. “Not even an acknowledgment was received from the presidential office… Into the trash can,” she added.

Former Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils delivered a heated speech and stirred up the audience. He said the bill is not just a challenge to journalists but every cross-section of society.

Kasrils agreed with Dlamini that there is a need to replace the 1982 Protection of Information [apartheid] Act. He firstly introduced the Protection of Information Bill and put up a task team. But he criticised the current committee members and said: “All they are doing is cutting and pasting… they are making a Frankensteinian monster.”

The bill is turning into “a dog’s breakfast of toxic gruel,” he added.

Other speakers were Dale McKinley, the Gauteng coordinator of the Right 2 Know campaign, Mail & Guardian’s Nic Dawes and Professor Franz Kruger, the head of Wits radio school.

LET THE TRUTH BE TOLD: the Right 2 Know campaign supporters marched to Constituion Hill demanding the 'Secrecy Bill' be changed

The protesters took to the streets of Braamfontein holding placards that read: “Free Press = Free RSA”, “Speak now or forever be gagged”, “No information means no accountability” and “25 years in jail for uncovering corruption”.

Clinical associates pioneers in health care

Clinical associate students feel they are pioneers in a programme that will be the future of healthcare field.

Clinical associates are mid-level healthcare providers who work under the supervision of doctors in a wide range of medical services, primarily at district hospitals. “Clinical associates are the future. I’m not a doctor, not a nurse. I’m somewhere in between,” says first year clinical associate student, Martene Esteves.

The Clinical Associates Programme, which was launched at Wits Medical Campus in 2009, already has over a hundred students. The programme was created as a response to the low doctor-to-population ratio in South Africa.

The course runs for three years and has a strong focus on practical learning. Esteves says the course integrates skill and theory to give students working experience.

Another student, Samantha Ncube explains that nurses and doctors are restricted to the field of their specialisation, which is very limited. However, clinical associates do “something in-between and beyond.”

Chairman of the soon to be formed Clinical Associates Programme Society, Abram Tabane feels people do not understand this new field and often claim they are “half doctors”.

Ncube agrees: “The stereotype of it being an easy course should fall away. People underestimate what we can do.”

All three students described the course as challenging, exciting and intense. “I’m very proud of wearing my scrub,” says Esteves. They say it’s a promising field, and the number of applicants has been growing every year.

The students also feel the profession offers good job opportunities. Ncube says the majority of final year students have job offers. “It’s guaranteed a job.”

The clinical associates’ programmes throughout the country are offered in partnership with the South Africa Military Health Service (SAMHS) and departments of health.

The first class of clinical associates for Wits will graduate end of this year.




Wits Junction opens doors

MEDICAL students are excited at the opening of a new residence close to the Medical Campus in Parktown.

Wits Junction opened its doors on July 1 and already has more than 100 occupants. The residence boasts fully furnished rooms, all with a telephone line, dial -up internet and television port.

 “All a student has to bring are their pens and clothing,” Says accommodations manager Carol de Wit.

Samantha Ncube, a 1st year clinical associate student who moved in a week ago, says she likes the fact that the residence is walking distance from her campus. She describes the complex as peaceful.

 “If I want to party, I go out and enjoy myself. I don’t want to bring the party home with me.”

Abram Tabane, another student at the medical campus who will move in soon, says the area is “quiet and conducive to studying”.

Residents say safety is also a plus. Tsholofelo Mputle, 1st year dramatic arts student, says she “feels very safe” compared to her old residence.

“Born Free at Braamfontein was a nightmare, with huge safety issues,” she says.

According to Mputle, the R3 800 rent is worth the extras one is receiving.

Despite the peaceful atmosphere, some residents still have mixed feelings. Precious Msweli, a 3rd year social work student who has been living at Wits Junction for three weeks, feels the room space is not big enough for four people. She says her old living quarters had more cupboard space. Tabane echoed her sentiment.

Tabane also feels the accommodation fee is too expensive.

 “A student has to be on a bursary to survive in this residence,” he says.  He feels the residence should have been fully constructed before opening. The community centre, a facility where students can play games and eat, is not yet finished.


Pro-Palestinian groups call for boycott of “What is Rael”

PRO-PALESTINIAN organisations are calling on South African youth to boycott a group of Israelis visiting campuses next week.

The 24 Israeli youths, whose slogan is “building bridges not boycotts”, are arriving on August 11 for discussion panels and on-campus talks. The tour is called “What Is Rael” and will take place in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

The Palestinian Student’s Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israeland the Palestinian Youth Against Israeli Apartheid claim What Is Rael members are apartheid agents, camouflaged as impartial students.

Robert Freeman, from the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), says the Israeli group comes with a highly politicised agenda. “In essence this group professedly wants to create a good impression of Israel,” he says.

But the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), which is hosting the group, claims they do not represent the Israeli government or any other political party.

Roi Wolf, spokesperson for What Is Rael, says they did not receive government aid. “All students are paying for their own flights and SAUJS is helping us fund our stay here.”

Wolf says it is important to show what is really going on in Israel. “There have been narratives created by anti-Israel organisations on South African campuses that have made inaccurate comparisons between Israel and the apartheid regime.

“The media often shows only one, skewed side of the story,” he claims.

Daniel Katzew, national SAUJS liaison officer, says the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa is “spurious on a very fundamental level”.

“While there can be no doubt Israel is no perfect society, the societal problems faced by Israel are no worse or better than most other Western democracies.

“Robust dialogue, debate and face-to-face engagement is one of the best ways we here in South Africa can contribute to ending the conflict in the Middle East,” says Katzew.

SAUJS says the tour is in the spirit of free speech and boycott is not an answer.

But the PSC’s Freeman says: “If we engage with institutions aligned with Israel we ‘normalise’ them and thereby give them legitimacy. We want action and not empty words.”

The group is expected to be at Wits on August 17. The South African Students Congress (Sasco) is also calling for the boycott of the Israeli group.