Joburg: The city on edge

Johannesburg is famous for its fortunes and notorious for its crime. With millions in the city chasing a dream – are they adequately being kept safe?

FORTRESS JOBURG – High-raised walls with spikes and electric fencing, with surveillance from CCTV or unarmed private security guards like Cameron Fayindlala of 24/7 security – Johannesburg residents spend large amounts of money to guard themselves and their property. Photo: Seth Thorne

When the sun sets over the economic hub of South Africa, Johannesburg – do you feel safe? “No, I don’t – crime in Joburg [is] way too high,” said Rogers Risenga, a resident of Alexandra – one of the city’s hotspots for serious crimes. 

He is not alone – nearly eight in ten of the 6,2 million residents are estimated to be living with constant feelings of unsafety in the city, and who can blame them? Joburg consistently tops the list where the most serious crimes are reported in Gauteng province. Hearing of or falling victim to armed robberies, home break-ins, assaults, murders, and carjackings in the city is almost a daily occurrence. 

Crimes are not distributed evenly, with handfuls of areas across Joburg recording crime rates well above the city (and national) average. 

Regardless, instances of crime are prevalent citywide. The City of Johannesburg (COJ) plays a crucial role in developing and implementing localised solutions to crime. They outline that crime and a lack of safety are some of the biggest challenges faced by residents. In response, a City Safety Strategy was created, but last revised in 2016/17. It outlines that the responsibility of creating a safe city does not sit solely on the shoulders of local government – but involves the whole of society.  

A “multi-agency collaboration” approach has been adopted, but are they currently effective if a large majority of the residents feel so unsafe? By identifying and contextualising (some of) these different sectors, the question is asked – is everyone pulling their weight? Why? What (are just some) of the solutions if not? 

Examples of crime statistics where Johannesburg consistently tops national average. Photo: Seth Thorne

The national structure tasked with protecting civilians and combating crime is the South African Police Service (SAPS) – with 44 stations located in the city.  SAPS has a feigning perception for a number of reasons, including but not limited to perceptions of corruption and underperformance from detective units. 

This is not to discredit pockets of commendable policing work. Statistically, SAPS are short-staffed (over 80 thousand under their ideal target), poorly resourced (26% of police vehicles are not operational) and underperforming investigative capacities. “It usually takes [SAPS] three or four hours (at least) to arrive on the scene of a crime after we have contacted them,” said community policing volunteer Deidre De Carvalho.

“When cases are actually opened, they are [often] not investigated properly” – or at all, explained Lizette Lancaster, project manager at the Institute for Security Studies. A sentiment echoed by interviewees across the security sector. 

SAPS were consistently contacted for comment; however, communication went cold.

At a local level, the COJ has a plan to “reduce crime by 50% in the 40 worst crime hotspots”. This will largely fall under the mandate of the department of public safety.

Interactive map highlighting Johannesburg policing precincts that record some of the highest national serious crime statistics. Map: Seth Thorne

Joburg is one of six municipalities to have their own police service – the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), established due to “high levels of crime and grime” and a “lack of confidence in policing” according to their homepage.  

They “largely respond to high levels of serious crimes, like robbery and assault,” said JMPD superintendent Xolani Fihla. “We work in support of the national police – we do not have things like stations to hold suspects or crime intelligencem” he added.

Thousands of trained and armed JMPD officers are deployed by local government across the most populated municipality in South Africa to combat crime, enforce the city’s by-laws, and police traffic in the city. Photo: Seth Thorne.

Brewing in the department of public safety’s pot is the establishment of two new crime prevention and combatting units designed for serious crimes in the city. These are the JMPD armed tactical reaction unit, as well as a regional crime combatting and prevention unit. On November 10, 2023, these were officially launched by the MMC for public safety, Dr Mgcini Tshwaku, as part of the city’s #FightingCrimeManjeNamhlanje project. 

“We are going to use all means necessary to find these criminals” said Tshwaku in an interview with Newsroom Afrika. “We want to send a message with these units, that [we] will not be negotiating with criminals,” he added.

Apart from SAPS, JMPD partners with other security sectors like private security, crime prevention wardens, patrollers, and community policing. “Everyone needs to move together… more boots on the ground to help tackle crime,” said Fihla. In interviews with other stakeholders, they commended the responsiveness of JMPD when needed.

Additionally, in mayor Kabelo Gwamanda’s 2023 State of the Council Address, he said that the city plans on increasing the CCTV monitoring sector through partnerships with the private sector and through their own Integrated Intelligence Operations Centre (IIOC). Fihla explained that the JMPD undercover unit works closely with the IIOC, who inform them of crimes or by-law enforcement incidents that had been picked up in the control room.

Gwamanda also plans to recruit approximately 2 000 crime wardens to (as provincial police commissioner Elias Mawela describes them) “serve as the eyes and ears” of the police and JMPD.

Crime wardens have been a pervasive feature of recent provincial politics. There have been thousands of three-month trained wardens deployed as part of a R1.5 billion program announced by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi earlier this year. 

The wardens make use of (sometimes armed) patrols, stop and searches and expensive equipment like drones, CCTV cameras, helicopters and fast cars. In his presentation of Gauteng’s most recent crime statistics, Mawela said that he believes it is too early to judge crime wardens’ performance.

Currently, it is facing questions about the legality of its formation, as well as accusations about these wardens having a heavy-handed approach to tackling crime – brutalizing suspects in the process. This stems from the possibility of poor crime prevention training and a lack of a vetting process in appointments.

Ultimately, all sectors are heavily reliant on the work of SAPS to see out the wheels of justice. It is only SAPS that can legally detain suspects, investigate, and open dockets of cases. 

“I appeal to the leadership of SAPS [to work together with the COJ], [because] people are really in trouble and crying out about crime. The only thing that JMPD can do is to arrest, but in terms of detention, investigation, and writing of dockets, that is still the function of the SAPS. So, we must forge a relationship,”  said Dr Tshwaku in his interview with Newsroom Afrika.

Noteworthy statistics of three major safety and security sectors – SAPS, JMPD and the private security – operating within Johannesburg. Infographics: Seth Thorne

A walk or drive around suburban Joburg shows the heavy investments by residents to protect themselves. From armed guards, and CCTV cameras, to high-raised walls with electric fencing. 

“Classical policing functions are today being accomplished through private security rather than the police service,“ said Doraval Govender and Professor Krisandren Pillay in their critical evaluation of policing.

However, the cost of safety in this industry is open to the highest bidder.  It is a service that prevents, picks up on, and responds to crimes committed against their clients. “Private security is expensive…People pay because they know we will be there when they call,” said Francois Marais, CEO of Randburg-based private security company Ghost Squad.

“With private security being a luxury only wealthy citizens can afford, there is a concern that this industry [could] widen the inequality gap – namely leaving those most directly affected by crime most vulnerable” said Professor Pillay, in his inaugural lecture on private security. 

They work very closely with communities, sometimes at the expense of innocent individuals on the other side of the fence that residents did not like the look of and shared such on their community WhatsApp group. 

Being well-resourced, private security are often first respondents to scenes.

There are also legal limitations in their duties, relying on the police force to respond efficiently if a crime is suspected to have or has been committed. But, after interviews with multiple security providers, this has (largely) not been the case.

“A couple of my employees (security guards) were held hostage by criminals. To this day police have not even taken statements,” said Eben Hulley, head of E&B Guarding, a private security company that operates in Johannesburg south.

Crime most affects communities themselves, and thus the public is critical in combatting it. They are better informed about what is happening around them and more willing to protect their areas. 

“We want to use the broken window theory – getting rid of visible crime will discourage more crime from being committed,” said Community Policing Forum (CPF) member, Deidre De Carvalho.

CPFs were set up to build a working relationship between the national police and communities. Volunteers, like De Carvalho joined “to take ownership and start protecting [their] community”.  

They work with other residents, private security, patrollers/guards who are registered with CPFs, and governmental security agencies. They perform patrols and consistent communication with the mentioned partners to locate, prevent and intervene in crime – working with the police station of their area. These are similar to the functions of neighbourhood watch groups.

When it comes the working relationships, “It depends on how good the SAPS station commander is, as some are extremely keen on working with other sectors like private security – but others refuse… luckily our station commander is good with that,” said De Carvalho.

Like all other sectors, these groups face legal limitations in how they can respond to crime and their effectiveness lies in the responsiveness of other security sectors. They rely on governmental security services to respond when a crime has been identified. “CPFs and security companies are guaranteed to get there before SAPS,” said De Carvalho. “We have to cordon areas off for hours until SAPS arrives.” 

Areas that largely cannot afford private security, with less prominent CPFs and underperformance of other security sectors sees a rise of, as Lancaster describes, “self-help groups” of people carrying weapons to feel safer and protect their areas. 

However, these sometimes morph into vigilante or criminal extortion groups of their own – charging/extorting protection money from the community. These arise because “police are seen as absent and cannot be trusted” by residents said Lancaster.

Research shows that if the public trusts the police and feels that they are fair, people are more likely to comply, report crimes and share crucial information that would be of use for police investigations and tip-offs. However, there is a trust deficit between the public and the national police force. 

Safety policies at the national level coincide greatly with local and provincial public policies. These have included increased budgetary spending, more boots on the ground and aggressive policing approaches. Aggressive policing strategies can strain the trust between government law enforcement and communities.

Governmental agencies have been documented brutalising communities because of these aggressive policing policies stemming from political focuses. “Doing a raid on informal traders is not going to stop crime because you are taking food out the mouths of their families” explained Lancaster. 

“If [these policies] are done correctly, people may feel safe… but they are often done badly leading people to mistrust law enforcement”. 

lizette lancaster

Every single possession belonging to these families covers this street in the Johannesburg CBD as police conduct a raid of an alleged hijacked building – a prevalent issue on the agenda of Johannesburg police. Photo: Seth Thorne

Numerous organisations play important roles in safety through research, data collection and analysis for the public. One such research organisation is the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), which assists the COJ in the formation of its safety strategy. 

An important part of tackling crime is understanding where and when crimes occur to create targeted policing. However, as Lancaster describes, the politicization of crime statistics has made it difficult to collect accurate data to pinpoint and combat crime.

The trust deficit can be seen in fewer victims of crime reporting them to police. Johannesburg proudly boasts a 62% decrease in recorded sexual assault crimes since 2005/6. However, this rather represents a declining confidence in reporting such cases to the police or a lack of responsiveness – not in the crime itself.

“Politicians… and worse yet the police are scared that they will be judged and punished – which leads to terribly perverse incentives. Especially sexual violence, people are not reporting it because (apart from stigmatisation) police actively dissuade [victims] because they are scared that they are going to be criticised and disciplined for [recording high crime statistics in their precinct],” explained Lancaster. 

As shown, numerous agencies work hard to counter crime. As more boots are put on the ground in other sectors, legally, all rely on the national police force to respond timeously and effectively for justice to run its course in both accusations and actual crimes. However, constraints and underperformance at SAPS illustrated by the responses indicate that this is often not the case.

David Bruce, a South African criminology expert, calls for police to implement less nationally focused policing strategies. Delegating some policing powers to provincial and municipal police departments could greatly help curb crime because there are “major variations in how violence is distributed across the city”. 

Additionally, there needs to be an improvement in the overall responsiveness of SAPS to scenes, as well as the effectiveness of their investigations.

Curbing crime involves the whole of society and policies should reflect that. To involve society, the working relationship, as well as the trust deficit between police, communities, and other actors, need to be improved to allow for more accurate data to be recorded, and better police intelligence. 

Overall – there are many actors and partnerships that are crucial to curbing crime – all with their pros and cons.  An incohesive working relationship between them both impacts crime and hinders justice. This mostly affects the everyday residents, like Rogers Risenga, who live in worry about the high levels of crime in the city. Working together can change that.

Grindr Kidnapping: Criminals know they can get away with it says Activate Wits 

Concerns for the safety of dating-app users soar after the kidnapping of an 18-year-old student. 

A Wits University student is recovering in hospital after being kidnapped by a group of men who had allegedly lured them through online dating app, Grindr.  

The victim was found by police, bound and unconscious, on September 20 at the Denver Men’s Hostel and taken to Milpark Hospital for treatment.  Seven suspects were arrested and charged with kidnapping and extortion, with police recovering three knives and the student’s belongings in their possession. 

Police are investigating if the suspects have links to numerous other cases of a similar nature in Gauteng. 

The student is currently staying at one of the university’s residences and on September 19, their roommate reported them missing after not returning from meeting with someone from the app. 

“A Wits warden informed [Campus Protection Services (CPS)] that a student was reported missing by his roommate,” said Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel. CPS then immediately alerted the South African Police Department (SAPS). “They worked to track down the student… CPS were a central part of this team and acted swiftly,” added Patel. The university says that this is the first case of this nature that they have been made aware of.  

The kidnappers contacted the student’s family and demanded tens of thousands of rands in ransom money. 

SAPS Gauteng spokesperson Brenda Muridili said that a large group working together to recover the student were led “to an ATM where one of the suspects was expected to withdraw the ransom money on the M2 Road. The police held an observation and then placed the suspect under arrest [as] soon as he arrived.” The suspect then led the police to the hostel. 

Grindr is a popular social networking and online dating app that sees around 3.6 million online daily users worldwide. The app is targeted towards the queer community (mostly men – 69% of users) looking for, as the AfroQueer podcast describes it, “hookups, relationships and love… and some other things in-between.” 

However, this app has been an ever increasing medium to facilitate organised crime.  

There have been numerous cases where users have been targeted by people who robbed, assaulted, raped, kidnapped and/or murdered them. The app itself issued a warning to its South African users over the rise in kidnapping’s linked to their own platform earlier this year.  

A screenshot of the Grindr homepage in January 2023, issuing a “Johannesburg Safety Warning” due to the rise of kidnappings around the city that targeted its users. Image:

Noma Sibanda, who is a representative from LQBTQIA+ rights-oriented society Activate Wits, said that the “app itself is not safe because anyone can open a fake account”. There is no verification process when opening a Grindr account and anonymity is synonymous with most profiles, largely due to stigma, which criminals take advantage of.  

“When speaking to someone romantically, people can be misled easily… so when meeting up for the first time with someone on the app, do so in a public place with other people,” said Sibanda.   

Activate Wits says that this event “not only causes physical or psychological harm but also perpetuates a culture of silence and fear… [Criminal syndicates] capitalise on this because it is easier in South Africa to be operational because they believe they can get away with it,” added Sibanda. 

Sibanda hopes to work closely with the university for victims to come forward and report crimes as “it may be easier for the queer community to speak (and open up) to others in the community”.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Student activists pose on the Library Lawns while facing the Wits Great Hall. Photo: File


Horrors of domestic violence explored in new book

“Believe women when they ask for help and believe men when they threaten women,” said Dr Nechama Brodie. 

Dr. Nechama Brodie signing her new book Domestic Terror at its launch at Rosebank on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne

Incidents of domestic violence are not isolated – they show patterns of systemic violence in South Africa. This is the chilling reality explored in Dr. Nechama Brodie’s new book Domestic Terror: Intimate partner violence in South Africa.

The book tracks South African women’s experiences with domestic violence over a 100 year period, many of them living in fear and terror in their own homes,  some murdered by the intimate partners they shared those spaces with. 

Brodie, a veteran journalist, writer and lecturer at the Wits Centre for Journalism was in discussion with broadcaster and journalist Azania Mosaka at the book’s launch at Exclusive Books, Rosebank on September 6.

“By definition, terror is the deliberate instillment of fear…when controlling partners feel as if they are losing control, they up the levels of violence to instil more fear and for them, control,” said Brodie. There are many instances of instilling fear, from smashing a phone to stalking – anything that may cause emotional, physical or any other form of distress. 

“Women are often killed with protection orders in their handbags. Police should intervene ‘on the small stuff’ (warning signs) before the ‘big stuff’ happens.”

Dr Nechama Brodie

There is a huge failure of the police and justice system when women seek protection from their domestic partners but are not taken seriously. A more intersectional approach which includes healthcare services and the judiciary is needed she emphasised.

A big takeaway from this book is that the warning signs are usually there. Friends and family see abusive relationships and may know about the abusive nature of partners (mainly men) but ignore it until it is too late. Some families and friends paint violent partners as “devoted” and ignore calls for help from women by sending them back to the abuser for “the sake of the family” explained Brodie.

Journalist and presenter Azania Mosaka facilitating the conversation at the book launch on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne

“Bodies show a life of terror,” said Mosaka, referring to a 2019 case of a 54-year-old woman who was murdered by her partner and had her body dumped in a veld, left to decompose. Pathologists had to examine her bones, with her cause of death (ultimately finding that she was beaten with a brick) indistinguishable from previous injuries – some healed, some had not. Almost every bone imaginable was broken at some point.

For those who survive and report their abuse, the risk of being retraumatized is high during the trial process. Character assassinations, slut shaming and sanitizing the abuser’s image are some of the things victims face in court. “The fact that she was drunk or spoke back does not excuse her for being murdered…this links to the historical nature of the societal entitlement of men over women’s bodies,” explained Brodie.

This is Brodie’s third book on true crime in South Africa. She admitted that she thought she could not finish the book halfway through because of the subject matter, but it was more important to finish writing it. “The terror was far too real. It is a heavy book to read because some of the stories become relatable,” she shared. 

Having read the book, member of parliament Glynnis Breytenbach said it is “hugely important, impeccably researched . . . It must be said, and it must be read”.

Attendee, Tannur Anders says she wants to read the book because “Dr. Brodie is an incredible researcher and journalist. [Her] extensive data-driven work provides valuable insights to better understand South Africa.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Dr. Nechama Brodie poses proudly with her third crime book at its launch on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne.


FEATURE: Do we need a national referendum for coalitions?

A national dialogue on stabilising coalitions in our democracy was held to find common ground; but was overwhelmingly met with disagreements, walkouts, and boycotts.

Picture this – it is 2026 and South Africa is on its tenth democratic president. Public confidence in the government is at an all-time low shown by well over half of eligible voters not turning out to vote.

Power and water cuts are frequent, wastewater treatment plants are spilling raw sewage into rivers and unemployment, inequality and poverty levels remain on an upward trajectory. Yet, no administration has enough power to implement policy or provide service delivery because another motion of no confidence is around the corner, threatening their tenuous positions in key national departments.

This hypothetical becomes a reality if coalitions at a provincial and national level operate similarly to coalitions in the country’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg. 

Since the 2021 local government elections, Johannesburg has seen a revolving door of executives – five administrations in two years. Three of the five have seen partnerships with the African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other ideologically aligned parties. The other two seeing coalitions with the likes of the Democratic Alliance (DA), ActionSA, the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) and other largely anti-ANC and EFF parties.

This is why a dialogue on developing a framework for stabilising coalitions was hosted by Deputy President Paul Mashatile for political parties on August 4 to 5. However, it caused more friction than consensus – with an expert suggesting that a national referendum is needed for people to democratically decide how coalitions function before next year’s election.

Referendums are nothing new to our country in formulating a working democracy, as evidenced by the one in 1992, when (only) white voters indicated whether they supported the negotiations with newly unbanned political organisations, leading to the proposed end of the apartheid system.

In his analysis of the event hosted at the University of the Western Cape, a senior lecturer of political science and governance at Wits University, Dr. Kagiso Pooe, said that the dialogue did not provide a solid framework for stable coalition governments because “power politics was the main game.”

Quelling the chaos

In May 2023, a conceptual document was created by the Institute of Elections Management Services South Africa (IEMSA). The document identified the dysfunctionality of local government because of coalitions and provided suggestions to stabilise these marriages of convenience to best serve residents rather than party interests.

Instability at the local government level has “resulted in diminishing public confidence, poorer service delivery and allegedly millions of rands squandered.” as said by the author of the document Nkululeko Tselane.

However, coalitions are here to stay. The 2016 and 2021 election results in major municipalities showed no political party emerging with an outright majority. Something the ruling party is alive to, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula admitted: “We are fully confident that 2024 will result in not us or anyone having the outright majority to govern.”

The DA, ActionSA, IFP, Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+) and three other ideologically aligned parties have already signed a pre-election coalition pact with one another, in anticipation of this reality.

Infographic: These are the 2021 municipal results in metropoles of Gauteng, with no outright winner, each municipality was forced into unstable ‘marriages of convenience’ to achieve a 50% + 1 to form a government.  Graphic: Seth Thorne

Blame game ensues

Although the consensus from parties was that they believed that the issues of coalitions stemmed from their formation, those hoping for an agreement on the way forward were left bitterly disappointed. This is because political party leaders sought to shift the blame of instability from themselves, rather than meet each other in the middle.

As has been the case at the municipal level, larger parties blamed smaller parties for the instability, and smaller parties pointed the finger right back.

The “[root of the issue is] not about the formation of coalitions, but the reality that politics in South Africa is failing and cooperation is going to be needed,” argued Pooe.

Thresholds and boycotts

The EFF boycotted the initial dialogue citing the “ANC’s involvement in the formulation of the framework… [is an] attempt to protect their fading grasp on power.”

The two current largest parties, the ANC and the DA, are suggesting implementing legislation which would ensure that the party that receives the most votes within a bloc governs the coalition. They also argue that should be a minimum threshold for parties to join any coalition (1%).

Pooe said this is an example of power politics on full display, and “gives insight into the fractured nature of power politics in South Africa, the ANC and DA in one corner and other smaller ones [in the other].”

Parties such as the VF+, Good, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) are strongly opposed to these legislative suggestions. Dr Pieter Groenewald of the VF+ said that these suggestions were “not based on true representative democracy.”

Pooe expected opposition given much of the country’s link to kingmaker politics at the local government level – which is a system where smaller parties generally decide the fate of larger parties. “[The opposition to the threshold] only makes sense [because] parties like them and others would want to negotiate what the new rules of the game might look like.”

It is important to note that these suggestions could inhibit the growth of other parties and arguably prove hypocritical from some of the contributors. “It’s rather odd that had… this proposed action occurred in 1994, there would be no DA today,” said Pooe.

The horse has bolted

Backlash arose when Cooperative Governance minister Parks Tau revealed that a bill on coalition governments was already in the process of being developed and is expected to be finished by the end of the year. Pooe believes that this lies at the heart of the problem.

Some parties are accusing the ANC and DA of sidelining contributions from smaller parties and using these dialogues as a coverup of a preexisting deal between the two largest parties in the country.

However, both parties refute this. Mashatile criticised the accusations from opposition parties arguing that “inputs saying that the ANC and DA have a grand deal… there is no deal.” Meanwhile, DA leader John Steenhuisen responded on social media saying “[The DA] want to build an opposition majority that will unseat the ANC, not keep (them) in power.”

In an open letter to Mashatile, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa slammed both the bill and dialogue: “… it is safe to assume that the Bill has, firstly, already taken into account the ANC’s basic ideas and secondly, it does not take into account the majority of opposition parties’ views on most issues, for example on the issue of thresholds.”

A way forward

Pooe believes a referendum is the only way forward. “We have had a multiparty approach, and to change the game so drastically needs a referendum. This referendum should speak to things like thresholds,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the ANC in government has a history of feigning public participation and then simply ramming through policy positions… and given the ANC and DA seem to have a spotted a chance to resolve their failures to map actual coalition talks, it only makes sense for them to create new barriers to entry,” Pooe added.

Coalitions are seemingly here to stay and legislation would shift how our democracy currently operates. With no real consensus amongst parties as to the way forward, maybe it is best for us, the everyday citizen that feel the negative effects of bad coalition deals, to be as decisive as possible at the polls come 2024 to decide how our democracy should operate and function going forward.

Summary of the views of each of the parties represented. Graphic: Seth Thorne

FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023, electing its 5th mayor in two years. Photo: Seth Thorne


Opposition parties sign on the dotted line 

A group of South African opposition parties have signed a coalition pact ahead of next year’s elections and promised the electorate an “alternative government”. 

Seven political parties signed an agreement ahead of the 2024 national election, they pledged to work together to unseat the African National Congress (ANC) and keep the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) out of power. 

Party leaders labelled the two-day negotiations held at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park a “great success” as it resulted in the signing of a common declaration labelled the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa.  

This pre-emptive formation hopes to avoid the chaos seen in municipal coalitions across the country. 

“If we want to unseat the ANC as a government then there is no other option because there is no single opposition party who on their own will get a majority [of the vote]… we must ensure that we work together [so] that we have a stable coalition,” said Vryheidsfront (VF+) leader Dr Pieter Groenewald. 

The DA, IFP, VF+, ActionSA, Independent South African National Organisation (Isanco), United Independent Movement (UIM) and the Spectrum National Party (SNP) agree that this, “alternative government” as IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa put it, would be one that promotes a free-market economy, decentralised power and minimal government interference in business.  

Hlabisa argued that the bloc would be decisive on matters of “crime, unemployment, loadshedding…” because the “current government has failed us”. 

No red and yellow here 

ActionSA president Herman Mashaba signing his party’s declaration of intent to join the multi-party charter next to independent chairperson William Gumede as Emperors Palace on August 17, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne

Parties are open to broadening the pool of partners in the months to come if they share their governing priorities and values. 

Leader of ActionSA Herman Mashaba said that they ruled out any possible working agreements with the third largest party, the EFF because of fundamental ideological differences as they are a party who are self-described as following a Marxist-Leninist school of thought. 

When asked if this agreement would push the ANC and EFF to form a coalition agreement of their own, parties shrugged it off, and Mashaba said, “they can do what they want”. 

In response, EFF spokesperson Leigh-Ann Mathys told Wits Vuvuzela that the issues parties want to solve (like unemployment and poverty) are the same, however, their approaches are fundamentally and ideologically different. “We are unapologetically a leftist party [and are] willing to work with parties who would implement similar ideological policies,” said Mathys. 

Who rules the roost? 

The bloc is in agreement that power would be shared, relative to the proportion of votes counted. The party with the most votes was promised the position of deputy president.  

But these candidates have not yet been chosen, Hlabisa said that deciding on a candidate before the elections would “give an unfair advantage to that party.” 

Given the highly publicised squabbles amongst party leaders, a professor at the Wits School of Governance and independent chairperson of the convention, William Gumede, said that “[party leaders must] rise above petty squabbles, egos and every decision they make must be in the public interest.”   

The ANC lost its overall majority for the first time in the country’s democratic history in the 2021 municipal elections, which gave rise to the idea that no political party will achieve an outright majority alone to govern, following 2024’s elections. 

Parties argued that by setting the terms now (should they come to power) they are not left scrambling in the 14 days after the elections to form a united government. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A collage of all of the party leaders of the multi-party charter during the closing remarks of the two-day conference at Emperors Palace on August 17, 2023. Photos: Seth Thorne


Tea for Two: A surrealist take on finding one’s identity 

Witsies showcase their play on the highly coveted virtual National Arts Festival’s stage 

Tea for Two is a deeply personal interrogation of the complexities of understanding your identity as a young adult.  

Zion and the Voice embracing one another after they had worked through the mind maze. Photo: Supplied

The surrealist play, which was created by two Wits graduates, Nqobile Natasia and Reatlilwe Maroga was performed at the virtual National Arts Festival at the end of July. 

“As passionate creators, we have poured our hearts and souls into this production,” said Maroga, as she was explaining their feeling of elation on being accepted into the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.  

Meanwhile, Natasie, who is now feeling a lot more confident in their work said, “It was a tough journey [to get in], but extremely exciting”. 

The 35-minute play follows the protagonist, Zion – played by final year dramatic art student Mmangaliso Ngobese. She is a young professional, who finds comfort in their strict routines and self-imposed rigidity. However, Zion falls asleep one day, only to wake up in a deliberately confusing dream world – their own mind.  

Here, they encounter a character known as The Voice – played by second-year dramatic arts student Sazikazi Bula – who seemingly looks like Zion. Together, they navigate through and make sense of this confusing “messy mind maze,” by confronting Zion’s deepest thoughts, emotions, and identities, said Natasia.  

According to Forum Theatre, surrealism is a style of performance “characterised by its use of unexpected, often illogical, scenarios or images to create a dream-like atmosphere on stage.” 

Natasia said that they chose to use surrealism because it allowed them to visually put the audience in the protagonist’s head space; with much of the open-endedness left on the viewers to make their own conclusions. The most positive feedback I got from people is they resonate with the play, explained Natasia. 

The themes of the play are self-introspection and identity, focusing on the complex and often confusing journey of self-discovery in your own chaotic minds. 

Natasia said that everything on stage was “modelled after my brain – with all the chaos and absurdity.” 

The set, which represented Zion’s mind showed this chaos. There was a yellow bench in the front of the set, signs reading “Messy Mind Maze” and “Teens” with tin cans scattered on the floor. Most notably were the red threads intertwined, which Maroga said they were symbolising the brain; and like the mind, “everything is connected”.  

“This play tells us that we are not alone…as messy as (our) minds can be, we can work through it” continued Maroga. 

The lead actor, Ngobese said: “You realise that (like most of us) [Zion] is someone who suffocates themself in their mind all the time… as humans we bottle things up for ourselves and we are unaware of the damage we do to ourselves”.  

Overall, it is a powerful play which leaves the audience wondering how they have dealt and will deal with their own struggles with identity as they resonate with the piece.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The poster of Tea for Two advertising their appearance on the virtual National Arts Festival. Image: Supplied


Malema: “We are the dreams of our ancestors realised!” 

As the Economic Freedom Fighters celebrated turning double-digits, their party president did not hold back in his criticism of the ruling party during their birthday celebrations. Wits Vuvuzela’s Seth Thorne and Sbongile Molambo were there to watch it all unfold.

“It is not a matter of if, but when we are in government next year” (and variations thereof) were the utterances most echoed by the EFF party leadership on Saturday, July 29 at FNB Stadium in Soweto. 

Over 100 000 EFF supporters from across the country traveled in over 1 000 buses, painting the stadium red as the EFF celebrated their 10th anniversary. 

Aesthetically, the event was nothing short of a spectacle. The black stage on the pitch was adorned with massive screens, flowers, balloons and later in the day, fireworks, champagne and a birthday cake.  

The invitation to the celebration extended beyond EFF members, with traditional leaders, artists and leaders of other political parties present on stage. These party leaders included Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), who called on “opposition parties to unite as the ANC has “eaten the country’s money.” Others on stage included Vuyolwethu Zungula of the African Transformation Movement, Azapo and the Pan Africanist Congress. 

Born out of need 

EFF president Julius Malema’s speech began with the formation of the organisation, describing it as the directive of the community of Marikana following the 2012 massacre. “We listened to the people of Marikana and formed a party,” he said.  

Malema called the ANC an “organisation of murderers”, who killed miners in “defense of capital” on that fateful day. Malema said president Cyril Ramaphosa belongs “in prison” for the massacre and the Phala Phala scandal.  

Malema also made the friends and foes of the EFF aware that if “you are a supporter of a progressive agenda, you are a friend of the EFF”.  

In their various ‘happy birthday’ messages, the speakers, including Holomisa and Zungula, all alluded to how the formation of the EFF has changed the political landscape of the country. 

Looking to 2024 

The keynote speech was laden with electioneering talk, as Malema called for land expropriation without compensation, the nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy.  

Commenting on crime and corruption in the country, Malema called on the “ground forces [to] go reclaim the streets against criminals.”  

Despite being in multiple coalitions with the ANC, he said the party is “corrupt” and should not be trusted with power, as it “has failed to emancipate its people,” he said. “Unlike the ANC, [the EFF do not] bribe voters” but rather attracts people “wanting freedom in their lifetime”. 

Malema also criticised the Nasi iSpani programme, led by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi. He claimed that applicants were not properly vetted and as such would lose their jobs in no time. He also claimed that the programme is an attempt to bribe votes out of young people.  

Various party leaders called for a collective effort to unseat the ANC next year, especially though coalitions. “There is no future in this country if we do not work together… if we do not unite we will not win as the opposition parties next year,” said Zungula.  

Mihlali Tyebisa from Wits’ EFF student command said that “the event was mind-blowing for many; it was a clear demonstration of what is to come.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: Julius Malema ends his speech with a bang as he is lifted into the air, with confetti and smoke machines going off on Saturday, July 29, as proceedings come to an end. Photo: Seth Thorne


EXPLAINER: The Nasi iSpani programme unpacked

Thousands of permanent Gauteng government jobs were advertised on youth day 2023, and with the ANC holding onto a slim majority of power in the province, they cannot afford to fumble this programme.

FEATURED IMAGE: Screengrab from the explainer video. Photo: Seth Thorne


The mechanics of state capture explored 

Billions have been stolen from the state due to corruption and collusion, but many still don’t know how or why – this book seeks to change that. 

Every day South Africans are feeling the brunt of over R49 billion of public money lost to state capture, as money meant for essential services has been used to enrich politicians and their networks.  

The new book State Capture in South Africa: Why and how it happened, is the product of nearly five years of research from the group of authors. In it, state capture and its impact are analysed with a fine-tooth comb.  

On July 18, 2023, co-editors Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Peter Vale launched the book at Exclusive Books, Rosebank. A discussion with three of the contributors interrogated how and why such a large amount of money was stolen since around 2008, when the Gupta brothers repeatedly secured lucrative deals with a number of key state-owned entities.  

Contributors included professor at the Wits school of law, Jonathan Klaaren, researcher at the Public Affairs Institute Devi Pillay, and journalist turned researcher Reg Rumney. 

(From left to right) Pater Vale, Devi Pillay, Jonathan Klaaren, Reg Rumney, and Mbongiseni Buthelezi discussing some of their key findings as to how and why state capture occurred at their book launch on July 18, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne

Defining state capture  

The definition of state capture itself was widely contested, as it presents differently in various parts of the world. What was agreed upon was that most countries have experienced some version of it.  

Broadly defined, it is the process whereby private individuals (like the Gupta brothers) influence legislative and/or procurement processes through their connections to political actors (like former president Jacob Zuma). 

Co-conspirators and the shadow state 

Pillay focused on the middleman role played by professionals, such as auditors like KPMG, in state capture dealings. She said they “use their specific skills to benefit a third party” at the expense of the state.  

“Professional firms legitimize corruption and operate secretly…with inherent conflicts of interest,” added Pillay. 

Klaaren unpacked the concept of state capture as being the contestation of a constitutional and shadow state. The former is a state where the power of the government is limited by laws, while the latter is the power wielded by private individuals and vested interests, who can manipulate state apparatus.  

Media capture  

Rumney argued that by capturing the media, one could capture the minds and hearts of the public. This is exactly what the Gupta brothers sought to do so through their own media companies, including ANN7 and The New Age. 

“People still value democracy, which is why authoritarians keep up the illusion of it” said Rumney. This was seen by the attempts at starving independent media of state advertising and taking over the ownership structures of “independent” publications (which the Gupta’s attempted to do) to control the narrative and evade accountability.  

“A weakened media is much more prone to state capture…[however] private and donor funded media is why [the state is] still surviving,” said Rumney. 

The evening concluded with questions from the audience, most of the which were if the country was fully captured. The panellists argued that only partially, as it is true that ailing institutions with massive budgets, like Transnet and Eskom were captured, however crucial institutions like the Treasury and the Reserve Bank were not – despite desperate attempts.  

The panel warned that if these institutions fall victim to state capture, that is a fast track to a failed state.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The product of 5 years of research, proudly displayed in front of a packed audience at its launch at Exclusive Books in Rosebank on July 18, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne


GALLERY: Wits Humanities grads cross the stage

Wits University’s Winter Graduations are taking place between July 10 and 14, 2023.

Hundreds of postgraduate students will be conferred with their PhDs, Master of Arts and Honours degrees during the ceremonies. Wits Vuvuzela’s Seth Thorne and Nonhlanhla Mathebula caught the Humanities ceremony on July 11, to document and congratulate the students from the Wits Centre for Journalism, as they had their fifteen seconds of fame with Wits chancellor, Judy Dlamini on stage.

FEATURED IMAGE: Malaika Ditabo, now a News24 journalist, takes a break from the politics desk to savour her achievement. Photo: Seth Thorne


Voters, stop waiting for messiah, save yourselves – panel  

South Africans should see through fearmongering by politicians and the idea that a single person or party will save the country.  

Voters must vote for values such as justice and solidarity, rather than pledging loyalty to one person or party in the 2024 general elections, in order to progress as a country. 

This was the take-home message from panellists at a discussion titled “Where to from here… The state of South Africa” at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. 

The discussion was witnessed by a packed school hall of potential voters and facilitated by economist and futurist, Bronwyn Williams. Journalist and political commentator Justice Malala, Wits media studies associate professor Nicky Falkof and journalist-turned-politician Songezo Zibi, made up the panel which critically unpacked issues including fear among the citizenry and the messiah complex – the idea that a single person or party will be the saviour for the country.  

Wits professor Nicky Falkof and journalist Justice Malala listen to questions from the audience at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. Photo: Seth Thorne

Author of The Plot to Save South Africa, Malala discussed the idea that good leadership can get a country through the worst of times. He used the example of Nelson Mandela stepping up when the country was at the brink of a civil war in April 1993 following the death of ANC leader Chris Hani. A “messiah” did come forward in the shape of Mandela to shape the country’s political landscape.  

Malala argued that this worked because Mandela was driven by the desire to create a prosperous country, rather than a desire for power – whereas the current leadership’s interests are rooted in political power and it lacks the will and understanding to fix the country’s problems.  

Associate professor Nicky Falkof – who described politics as being mostly driven by emotion – said that legitimate fears of violence in the country were politicised, resulting in a culture and narrative of fear which impacted race, class and gender.   

She used an example unpacked in her book, Worrier State: Risk, anxiety and moral panic in South Africa, that violence is a threat in South Africa, however, violence with white victims (who are a minority) dominates the media landscape and is presented as more gruesome than other crimes. Calling this the contemporary myth of “white genocide”, Falkof said, “The white far right has tried to convince people that the deaths of white people are far more brutal than those of anyone else.” 

This creates panic among communities in an already fearful country and politicians use this legitimate fear to mobilise support by running fearmongering campaigns claiming that only they can solve an issue that has been blown out of proportion and context.  

Author of Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa Songezo Zibi said that the country’s political and legislative systems were “fundamentally faulty”, however, blaming the ANC was “the easy answer [whereas] we have serious structural problems that brought us here”.  

A major structural problem is the electoral system wherein constituents do not know who their representatives are. Party members are sent to legislatures and given powerful positions based on their connections to a person or party, rather than sent by their communities to represent their voices in decision-making processes.  

“[This undermines the] value of the culture of democratic participation” leaving representatives disconnected from civil society and vice-versa, said Zibi.   

The public’s interests have become lost in this disconnection between representatives and society, because the electoral system that was adopted in 1994 “created a block of faceless individuals” that the government overlooks and calls “our people”, said Zibi. 

The discussion was concluded with a few questions from the audience. With the questions all relating government shortcomings, such as electricity and education, the panelists all stressed the importance of changing the poor voter turnout in the country, and emphasised that the only way for the country to progress would be to vote those inhibiting it out of power.

FEATURED: Journalist-turned-politician Songezo Zibi makes a point at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. Photo: Seth Thorne


Architecture students re-imagine the Matrix 

 Students are stepping in to redesign the hub of social life on east-campus, which aims to turn the food court into the ‘heart of Wits’. 

Final-year undergraduate students from the school of architecture and planning at Wits are working on a year-long project named the “Matrix Re-Imagined”, where they will be redesigning the food court.  

The project, which started this year, comes after tenants and users of the Matrix on east campus complained about the building not being user friendly. 

The task is aimed at rethinking how the space can be better utilised, instead of rebuilding a new building. It is not a campaign by the university management but stems from calls from tenants themselves, who spoke with lecturers in the architecture department to ask for a process of brainstorming a way to improve the way in which the space is used.

Believing that this would be a perfect practical application of what the students have learnt; the department developed the project into this year’s curriculum.

“[What we have gathered is that] there is a problem – the Matrix is not functioning properly,” said Wits school of architecture and planning lecturer Sandra Felix. 

“Students are the largest stakeholders of the use of the buildings on campus,” said Felix. This project will bring in completely different ideas than it would if the university were to bring in outside architects for the design.”  

Students have a lot of answers we [external architects] don’t have” she added. 

The project is currently in its research phase – and so far, students have interviewed both tenants and users of the space and found various prevalent issues of practicality.  

According to third-year architecture student Kyara De Gouveia, the issues found include having “bad entrances” which results in people flooding the area, narrow passages, and impractical locations for some of the vendors. For example, the clinic is located downstairs, making it difficult for those with mobility issues to access it. 

Bookseller at Campus Bookshop, Lebogang Rabothata described the current composition of the Matrix as “impractical” due to extremely tight entrances which results in a large congestion. She hopes for a redesign which allows users to be relaxed and use the space for “reading and studying”. 

The outdoor amphitheater located on east campus where students currently go to relax and work, with the Matrix in the background. Photo: Seth Thorne

As yet, there are plans to move all student office space (including clubs that are currently located by the science stadium and the Voice of Wits [VOW FM] which currently finds itself on the ninth floor of university corner) into the area; and making the space more student friendly with open study areas, and better connections to both the library lawns and the amphitheater.  

Later in the year, the students will exhibit their work and designs to university stakeholders and tenants. Based on their presentation, the university will then decide if they will adopt their redesigns.  

Students working on the project said they are aiming to make the Matrix the “heart of [student life at] Wits”.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, third-year architecture student Tshegofatso Mashile described the project as being pressure filled, yet exciting due to the opportunities it presents. “[This is] the beginning of every architect’s dream” she said.   

Another architecture student, Milan Prioreschi, said that this project is extremely motivational as it bridges the gap between university work and practical work outside. “We are getting real life experience for the first time”. 

If implemented, the improvements will form part of the university’s much larger “Building Impact Beyond 100” campaign, which was launched in celebration of Wits’ centenary in 2022. The campaign aims to raise funds which will be directed towards teaching, research, scholarships, student support, student experiences and campus improvements; R2,5 billion of its R3 billion target has been raised so far. 

FEATURED: A busy stairway during lunchtime leading to the entrances of the Matrix. Photo: Seth Thorne