A hijacker speaks from a cell

“The couple was traumatised, we could see. We took the car and drove off. After three blocks my partner and I realised there was a baby in the back seat. I told my partner to take the car and I took the baby and drove [in the backup car] to the police station to leave it there.”

Vuvuzela spoke to a hijacker who is serving his sixth year of a 25-year sentence in a Johannesburg prison. He says he was dubbed by the media as the “Mastermind” and prefers not to be named. The Mastermind spoke to us about the hijacking business in South Africa and what it’s like holding a gun to a driver’s head.

He grew up in a township where his family owned a scrap yard and sold spare car parts. By 16 he started stealing cars and says he knows more about cars than anything else.  After a while he ventured into stealing bigger cars and made a name for himself. He was good at starting any car – without its key. Later he got into hijacking because it was quick cash.

 “There is a difference between hijacking and stealing,” he says, “When you steal a car you aren’t afraid of the car you[‘ve] stolen. When you jack a car, you take it when the owners are at hand. You are in power; there is this adrenaline that controls you.”

Hijacking has become a profession with people occupying specific positions.  Finger men spot cars that are on order and after days of watching their target and taking in their routine, the operation is then carried out. Most hijackings are carried out by two to three people – who play specific roles of intimidator, driver, tracker system detector, watcher and drop off driver.

The Mastermind – who has lost count of how many people he has hijacked – says syndicates do not want Japanese-made cars. German luxury cars such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen Golf 4, 5 and 6 and Polo Vivos are mostly on order. The bigger the car, the bigger it’s fetching price which can go up to R80 000 a car.

Once a car is taken, the hijacker “drives like a mad person to a particular spot” to find the tracker and throws it away. Cars are then sometimes dismantled and their parts go back to car dealers and then to its manufacturers where it is repolished for use in new cars. They are sold locally or taken across the border to be sold.

The Mastermind says women are not mostly targeted. He advises motorists to keep a distance from other cars, not to speak to strangers through your window, not to park in deserted areas and if in a hijacking situation not to make sudden moves.

Lifts defying gravity

The lifts in the University Corner building go up but don’t always come back down, leaving users to make a hike of up to 18 floors up the stairs.

The three lifts in the 40-year-old building suffer from a range of problems. They often get stuck on one of the top floors, they do not stop at selected floors, the doors refuse to close, and their speeds vary  between high and super slow in one flight.

One of the building’s security guards, who did not want to be named, says he often has to run up to the 10th floor to “fetch” a lift for people waiting on basement level.

“People complain every day. From the basement, people are climbing 10 floors or walking down because they waited too long for a lift.”

He says the lifts are serviced every morning but as soon as the maintenance company leaves the problems start up.
“The company says it’s the [dust from the]  construction that is causing the problems.”

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg centre for software engineering on the 12th floor, says:  “My feeling is that the lifts are very old, in fact too old and beyond their useful life. It makes working in the building difficult. All the construction has caused tremendous wear and tear on the lifts.
“There’s talk about changing them. The guys who maintain the lifts do a sterling job in keeping them going, they’re old,” says Dwolatzky.
Construction work on the Wits Arts Museum (WAM) on the ground floor of  University Corner is nearing completion and will be the biggest university gallery in South Africa. WAM takes up three levels and will have “its own goods lift for the delivery and movement of the art collection to and between the various levels of the museum,” says Emmanuel Prinsloo, Wits director of campus development and planning (CDP).

“The lifts located in the foyer of University Corner will be replaced as an independent contract in the next financial year. CDP has been instructed to facilitate the issuing of a tender to the market in October 2011. Regrettably the importation of lifts is a long-lead item, with delivery periods between 14 and 18 weeks from date of order,”  Prinsloo says.

Former Witsie and architect Tseko Mashifane says: “Lifts are expensive and owners are usually reluctant to fix them hence the exhaustive repairs. If it is a public building, the state can issue summons against the owners only if it can be proven that it is danger to the public. There are a lot of grey areas in this matter.”

It’s all in your jeans

JEANS are to the body what reading is to the mind. And even though leggings are the latest fashion trend and seem to be the first choice for most Witsies, it doesn’t beat “the old blue jeans”.

Jessie James bends, swings and twangs in her blue jeans, they are the first thing Keith Urban pulls on in the morning to “feel all right” and Witsies say they rock their jeans because they are comfortable and sexy at the same time.
First year accounting student Tladi Moholo says: “Jeans have heritage, they’ve got this rebellious look and the older they get the better they fit.”

Bee Chihambakwe, 2nd year BA student says: “I love jeans. I have lots of pairs.
“With my body type jeans fit me well so I don’t have a problem shopping for jeans.” Chihambakwe is one of the lucky ones, most styles fit her well.

But for many women buying a good pair of jeans can be a painful experience that we blame on bad lighting and ugly mirrors. The truth is not all styles look good on all body types.
Fashion stylists Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine from the hit BBC show What Not to Wear say the first thing to look for when buying  jeans is a relaxed fit that is not too baggy. And a bit of stretch for better comfort and fit can go a long way.

The boot-cut and flared jeans give a long lean look that is flattering to most but are best for pear-shaped women. If you are blessed with a really lean look then the slender cut at the calves of skinny jeans make the hips look wider and adds curves to a flat behind.

Back pockets are the butt deal-breaker. Their placement and size affect how your rear will look. Avoid tiny pockets, embellishments and faded finishes as well as pockets that are too far apart, they will make your butt look oversized. Pockets that are situated lower on the jeans make your bottom look higher.

Cuffs will make your legs look shorter, a boot-cut can help to balance out a heavy tummy area and a straight leg, which falls down from the hips, can create a longer-looking leg line for bigger hips.

Jeans date back to 1853 and are considered the cornerstone of fashion by designers such as Calvin Klein, transcending gender, size and age. They were worn by workers because of their strong, durable denim and were easy on the pocket.
Levi Strauss marketed them as waist overalls and it was only in the 1930s that jeans became popular through cowboy movies. By the 1950s the younger generation kick-started a trend that never died – now affectionately known as “jeans”.

Wits dancers won’t be broken

WITS breakdancers attempts to become a recognised member of the Wits Sports Council (WSC)  were frozen after they were told “it could never be a sport”.

Tyrel van der Merwe, who started the Roxolid Crew with fellow Wits b-boys (breakdancers) in 2007, says he had tried registering breakdancing as a formal club with the WSC in 2008 and 2009 but was personally turned away by the Wits sports director, John Baxter.

He says members practising “breaking” trained in the Old Mutual Sports Hall in 2009 and were allowed to do so because they joined the gymnastics club in that facility.

When the music they trained to was played during the day when the hall was not used by any Wits clubs, they were then told to use the hall only during gymnastics training hours.

They say they co-operated with this but there was no space to practise when they trained at those times. The members then drew up a proposal for a breakdancing sports club.

The proposal included a training and competing schedule, names, student numbers and signatures of more than 100 students willing to sign up to the club.

Gymnastics club members and b-boys attended a meeting set up with Baxter.

“The meeting was very short because he referred us to the SRC saying that breakdancing could never be a sport at Wits, it’s more of a social thing.

He didn’t really consider or acknowledge the interest,” says Van der Merwe.

But Baxter says he does not recall any application being made for “breakdance to be practised in our sporting facilities”.

He says: “As far as I am concerned nobody has formally applied to the WSC to establish a breakdance club. In addition, breakdance to my knowledge is not recognised as a sport by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).”

Umar Bradlow, one of Roxolid’s founding b-boys says, “We were not allowed to dance in the sports halls so we would train wherever we could. It got so hard that we had no choice but to move to places outside of Wits.”

B-boys practise for two to three hours a day about three times a week and some do strength training to condition themselves for intense technical moves.

Marius Henn, Wits sport senior administration manager, did not respond by the time Vuvuzela went to print.

Brendan von Essen, WSC chairperson, says, “In order to use sports venues students need to submit a request, as they are in high demand and are thus tightly scheduled.

“I am unaware of any such application by a Wits breakdancing club.

“Furthermore no one from a Wits breakdancing society has at any time approached myself or any other member of the WSC to intercede on their behalf.”

Roxolid competes in battles around Johannesburg and say they aim to challenge the negative stereotype of b-boy culture.

“If given the respect it deserves, [we and] our families will benefit in many valuable ways,” says Van der Merwe.

Cool Kid on Campus

This week’s Cool Kid is Scott Yarham.This international relations honours student is many things. He’s an amateur boxer, owns a mobile bar business called Spirited Enchantment and trains bartenders in flaring and mixology.

Tune in to DJ Fixx’s show, The Drive By, VoW 90.5 FM on Monday 5:15pm for the follow-up interview

Q: How did you get into bartending?

A: At 18 I went to London and got taken in as a trainee at a bar. I had to learn how to make 272 cocktails off by heart. Flaring is the last step – the last thing you learn about bartending.

Q: What’s it like to flare?

A: Flaring is exciting but does make you feel under pressure because you don’t want to drop something or, worse, break something. But it’s great fun and definitely pumps the crowd up and gets a good vibe going.

Q: Why do you love bartending?

A: You meet so many different characters – from the very rich to the very poor, from the famous to the not-so famous, from the very smart to the very stupid, from the not-so drunk to the very drunk. And it’s always a good laugh, always fun and games.

Q: How did you open up your own mobile bar?

A: My studies are very demanding. So I thought mobile, small hours, good money. The more experience you have the higher the pay.

Q: Have you served any international celebrities?

A: Bryan Adams – he’s quiet; I served him a vodka, Grey Goose. Bartenders always remember what people drink, especially if they’re famous.

Wits parking office keeps questions at bay

IF you thought finding parking on campus was tough, getting the parking office to answer a question is tougher: Is the university charging for parking bays it doesn’t have?


Full-time students pay R642 for a parking bay they can’t always find, resulting in many parking outside of campus or in no-parking zones.


Vuvuzela is not the first to try and get an answer to this question. “Don’t bother trying to take the parking issue up. We’ve been trying to fight that battle for a while now and that’s not happening,” said a member of the Wits medical school council.


And a battle it has been. University bureaucracy seems to hold firm when it comes to answering questions and giving information that is in the interest of those who pay.


Vuvuzela’s “battle” began on August 8 when an e-mail request for an interview with the Wits parking office manager, Vijanthi Purmasir, did not receive a response.



This reporter sent questions and had to re-send them because Purmasir – and later Emannuel Prinsloo, Wits director of campus development and planning –  failed to answer specific questions.


In response to an initial enquiry of how many Witsies are registered for parking, we were
told the total number fluctuated throughout the year. Purmasir said they did “not have the figures yet” when asked for the figures as they stood in February and now.


And as to whether the number of students registered for parking exceeded the number of parking bays provided, Purmasir repeated a response she gave to Vuvuzela in March, saying there is enough parking for students registered.

When Purmasir was pushed about why the parking office did not have numbers “yet” in August but was still able to say “the numbers fluctuate” and “there is enough parking”, she did not respond.


Further questions were then handled by Prinsloo who said he was waiting for the total number of permits sold.
Vuvuzela asked if there is a cut-off for the number of students and received this reply on August 17 from Purmasir: “Presently there is no cut-off system for the amount [sic] of students who may apply for parking.”



However,  a week later Prinsloo indicated this could change:  “In terms of the proposed new parking policy, the intention would be to limit the number of parking permits sold annually whilst keeping a percentage for sale later in the year”.
According to the National Building Regulations (NBR), proposed new buildings need to accommodate for parking according to the type of building and institution.


“The construction of the Science Stadium, similar to the FNB Building renovations and extension, had not resulted in the increase of parking facilities required on campus as the overall student number is not envisaged to expand as a result of these facilities being constructed,” said Prinsloo’s e-mail response.


Town and regional planner, Kevin Wilkins, agrees with this but says, “Council probably would however insist on parking being provided if the new building was to be physically situated on an existing parking lot and there was a direct loss of parking”.
Liberty is given to big institutions when it comes to building plan approvals, says Wits alumnus and architect Tseko Mashifane.


“They can continue to build as long as they prove they have the minimum required bays for a building. It is in fact very courteous for them to provide ‘island’ parking spaces.


“The assumption is that you are a student to learn on their premises and how you get there is not really their problem.”
When many universities began, very few students used cars which allowed councils to be less stringent about parking provision.

Taking back the tap

Celebrities glorify them in glossy adverts and, like jeans and handbags, there’s branded bottled water to suit every image.

Bottled water is not just about on-the-go thirst quenching but has become an accessory piece.
But a Wits lecturer feels bottled water should not be sold or served at functions on campus and that, as a university, Wits should encourage tap water.
“I would like to have it banned from Wits functions to set an example to our students, visitors and staff. We need to lead, not pander,” says Donald McCallum, research media officer at the Life Sciences Museum.
McCallum has already stopped it at the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences (APES) whose museum is used for events. Jugs of tap water are now offered and many people at APES are in agreement, “because being biologists we are aware of how critical it is that everyone make more sustainable choices”.
McCallum feels that by serving bottled water at functions, Wits gives it legitimacy as a fault-free product.
Wits marketing manager Ferna Clarkson – who McCallum made the suggestion to a few years ago – does recall a suggestion was made but cannot remember who made it.
She says it was never proposed on a senior level and through policy. Wits functions do serve bottled water and Clarkson says she “is not a scientist and cannot comment on [whether] it should be stopped”.
McCallum says he does not know “how to influence institutional policy”, but runs a PowerPoint presentation on the museum’s public screens and raises the issue with students.
Bottled water is criticised for the high amounts of oil and energy used in groundwater extraction and the production of plastic bottles.
Environmentalists also disapprove of it as some of it tested, is just bottled tap water; it is less regulated for contamination and 80% of the plastic bottles end up in landfills. It also costs about 2000 times more than tap water, a glass of which costs just a few cents.
While Wits does not have many tap water points, new taps have been installed at the school of law on West Campus where water bottles can be refilled. Andries Norval, grounds facilities manager of property and infrastructure, says “future plans for additional drinking fountains are mainly planned adjacent to sports fields for obvious reasons”.

Wits needs to wisen up in its water use on campus

WITS cites its reasons for not being a forerunner in the practice of water conservation principles on the lack of automated irrigation systems.

With South Africa in danger of running out of water by 2030, Wits needs to make some changes in its use of water in the irrigation of plants, sports fields and wash-up of sports facilities.

But, steps will be taken to ensure that overwatering of plants and landscape on Wits campuses will not take place again after Vuvuzela informed the Wits grounds facilities manager of property and infrastructure, Andries Norval, about separate incidents of overwatering at JCE.

“It’s been switched on since early this morning,” said a JCE security guard at 1pm when asked about the muddy puddles and overspray at the exit to Wits medical school. Around the Highfield residences the sprinkler system had also been spraying largely onto pavements.

Norval says he will ensure that overwatering “does not happen again at the sites reported (and other sites). I will also arrange to have the settings of the sprinkler system checked to ensure there is no unnecessary overspray onto paved areas”.

Highfield Reith Hall’s housekeeper was unable to find any Sonke Plantscapers’ workers, the company managing Wits’s grounds, to ask them about the sprinklers and why water was left gushing for hours and onto pavements.

Wits also waters parts of the main campus at mid day and sports fields are watered for the full day during the week. Tennis courts are also hosed down during the day instead of scrubbed with a broom. This is the time of day that water conservation teachings state not to.

“Ideally watering should be done early in the mornings and late in the evenings, but unless automated irrigation systems are installed, this is not possible at Wits. There are strategic plans to do exactly this in future and a start has been made this year to install such systems,” says Norval.

Ryan Hill, Sonke Plantscapers’ manager, says he “also noticed the watering on JCE was on a little too long on Monday”. “We normally water in the mornings and then switch off at 1pm, when we come back from lunch,” he says.

Water waste and management is a global concern. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry says South Africa’s concern is that fresh water resources could be used up within the next 20 to 30 years if water conservation and water demand management do not become more than just municipal priority.


SOAK UP: A leaking tap, left on for hours on the cricket field resulting in a muddy puddle at Wits,East Campus



Too many Wits drivers facing too little parking

Whether the number of students registered for a parking permit far exceeds the number of parking bays available to them is a question that remains unanswered by the Wits parking office.

 “Unfortunately we do not have the figures yet,” said Wits parking office manager Vijanthi Purmasir when asked how many students are registered for a Wits parking permit.  “The total number of students registered for parking fluctuates as the year progresses.”

Purmasir says there is no cut-off system for the amount of students who apply for parking. When the number of students registering for a parking permit exceeds the number of parking bays available there is no system in place to stop the registration.

According to Vuvuzela’s numbers Wits main campus provides about 1526 parking bays for 2nd, 3rd, 4th and post grad students on Yale Road and West Campus, 484 bays for first year students at the bottom of West Campus, 160 bays for post grad and East Campus res students on Hostel Drive, 231 bays for the Professional Development Hub students and 1300 bays for staff.

The Johannesburg College of Education (JCE) campus provides about 550 parking bays for students and 200 bays for staff. Medical students are also meant to use JCE’s parking because med school’s parking is dedicated to staff only.

At the beginning of the year student parking fees went up by R88. Full-time students are now paying R642 for a parking bay that could possibly not be guaranteed to them if the number registered for parking exceeds the total number of bays on campus.

Parking and its lack of availability has been a problem at Wits for a few years. Returning students complain that it seems to get worse. First year students complain about the distance they have to walk from their assigned parking lot on West Campus to classes on East Campus.

A Wits team proposed an Optimization Model for Campus Parking Space Allocation in January. The proposal looks at managing space by splitting parking into categories, each with a different cost assigned to it. The intended outcomes are to maximise income and parking usage and to minimise student unhappiness.



Somalia: a country in need of a revolution

Young Somalians in a deli shop.

Newspaper and TV images portray hunger in Somalia but a much grimmer picture was described by Gift of the Givers founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman recollecting his week there.

“It was heartbreaking. Children are dying slowly. Parents are watching their children die in front of their eyes and can’t do a thing about it,” he said.

The owner of this Somalian delicacy shop stands unders a Somalian flag.

The famine in Somalia, more particularly in the capital city of Mogadishu, is due to the worst drought the Horn of Africa has seen in 60 years and has left thousands without food and water.

“Little Somalia” in Johannesburg is home to many immigrant Somalis who expressed their fears about the famine in Somalia.

Young Somalian in a clothing shop.

Abdurahman Mahdi, who is from Kismayo, fled Somalia in 2007 because of political unrest.

 “The problem is that the political climate is very dangerous, everyone is fighting. They all want to be winners, when it comes to fighting, there’s no other idea that they have, and all they are thinking about is fighting each other so they can’t help the people,” he says.


Mahdi says he contacts his family every month. “I try to help them if I get some money. The situation is very dangerous this time because there is no food, people cannot farm.”

Mahdi is here with his wife and children, but other immigrants are not as fortunate.

Haleema Abdul broke into tears when asked about her family back in Mogadishu. She says the situation there is serious. “I hope my country has peace, a good government.”  

Nasreen Mohammad, who has been in SA for 18 months, is the youngest in her family and fled Somalia on her own.

Mohammad and her family are from Mogadishu. She says she has recently had problems contacting her family.

“I don’t know where my family is, that’s the problem. In six months I can’t send anything to my mother because I don’t know where I can send it to. But I will try where I can.”

The country has seen an estimated 29 000 children under the age of five die in the past 90 days, and more than 600 000 Somalis fleeing its borders.

Adding to the severity of the situation is the war between the government and rebel group Al Shabab. Each group wants to have power over the people in the area. Even within the Somali government, power conflicts get in the way of any decision-making processes making government action about the famine ineffectual.

Food donation collection points are set up outside the SRC shop in the Matrix, under the 1man 1can initiative which MSA-WITS are working under. 

The Gift of the Givers has pick up points at their Johannesburg branch at Mint Road, Fordsburg.

Shortage of million dollar babies

Wits’ female boxers are dropping out of the sport because of the lack of opponents at tournaments and the gruelling preparatory training necessary for bouts that are not “in the bag”.

Bakholise Mabuyane, chairperson of the Wits Boxing Club and vice chairperson of University Sports South Africa, has been boxing since 2008 but has not had one fight.

“Every time I decide to go for a tournament, I don’t get anyone in my division,” she says.

Mabuyane is a light welterweight and is the only female boxer in the gym who fights in that division. She says her boxing has improved over the years – despite having zero fights on her card – because she spars with the guys.

“It’s quite disappointing training for a tournament and not getting a fight and even when you host a tournament you sort of don’t look forward to it because you know there’s zero chance of getting an opponent.”

Tando Melapi, who revived the club as a Witsie in 1998, is helping the senior boxers train for the Johannesburg Amateur Boxing Organisation tournament at Wits on August 27.

“It’s a universal phenomenon that female boxing is not so popular and relatively new. It’s seen as rough and for tomboys,” says Melapi.

He says, in the past, coaches who wanted their female boxers to gain ring experience would find women in a division close to their boxer’s and the boxers had to lose or gain weight to allow for a fight in the same division.

“What helped us before at Wits is that we had many females who wanted to fight and two coaches which meant we could not ignore female boxing and had to be innovative.”

The stable currently does not have a formal coach and Mabuyane says there are far fewer competitive female boxers than when she started.

“It feels like the fact that females are competing in the sport hasn’t been appreciated. People aren’t supporting it and society doesn’t encourage female boxing,” she says.

Mind over matter is fluidity in motion


A Witsie has scaled his way up to the edge of a building four metres high and is about to jump.

He leans forward on the balls of his feet, knees poised for a leap.  After a sharp intake of breath, he shoots off into the air. His “safety net” – the ledge of the balcony two metres opposite him.

Once he lands, he hoists himself onto the balustrade, and turns to jump back. Fellow Witsies gasp and watch, stunned. He is a traceur practising the fairly new art of parkour (PK).

Termed by critics as a daredevil sport, PK entails “moving through your environment as efficiently as possible, passing through, over or under obstacles”, says Irfaan Khan who “jams” with friends at Wits.

Like Khan, 2nd year chemical engineering student Robert Louw describes the sessions as a community without a leader, where everyone learns and teaches each other through practice and encouragement.

Unlike the picture  painted of adrenaline junkies performing reckless jumps off tall buildings, these traceurs all agree that everyone starts slowly and carefully, progressing from small jumps and training your way up, literally.

“Parkour’s teaching me how to focus. You’re doing a series of movements in a matter of seconds. To get it right you have to change how you focus,” says Louw.

First year mechanical engineering student Ismail Patel started almost two years ago and says PK has allowed him to face mental challenges and conquer them easily.

“PK has changed the way I look at the environment around me; walls are not just walls and rails are not just rails anymore,” says Patel,

“The urban environment is now like a giant playground with endless possibilities.”

Parkour is yet to generate a greater interest among South African women. Wits occupational therapy applicant, Alicia dos Santos, says she thinks “not many girls do it because they are worried about getting hurt”.

Many of the guys present say they would love to see more girls taking an interest and that girls bring a sense of finesse and fluidity to the moves that the guys don’t.