Habib: Mandela personified Wits at its best


Professor Adam Habib is pictured with Advocate George Bizos and Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Photo: Wits Communications.

Wits vice chancellor (VC), Professor Adam Habib, said late statesman Nelson Mandela’s experiences at Wits University were similar to those of many black students at the university today.

Habib was speaking to Wits Vuvuzela in an interview before the university held its memorial in honour of Nelson Mandela on Thursday.

“Like many blacks in a white institution, he was alienated and excluded.”

Habib said Mandela’s stay at Wits also “opened his mind”.

George Bizos, Ruth First and Joe Slovo are some friends and comrades in the liberation struggle Mandela met as a Witsie. Habib said Madiba explored his political ideas about freedom and equality while at the institution.

Habib also noted that it was the Wits SRC (student representative council) that initiated the “Free Mandela Campaign” in 1974.

Radio Days starts by paying tribute to Nelson Mandela and emphasising the power of his voice. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

An image of Nelson Mandela is shown at the annual Radio Days conference at Wits University this year. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

The group were arrested in 1975 and Advocate George Bizos became defended them in court. Habib said the Wits VC George Bozzoli at the time “very supportive” of the SRC.

[pullquote align=”right”]’He believed in economic inclusion, democracy, civil liberties and political participation”[/pullquote]

Mandela enrolled at Wits in 1943 and was the only Black student in the Faculty of Law but failed to complete his degree. He left in 1948 but was conferred an honorary doctorate in law in 1991. He said of his time at Wits: “At Wits I met many people who were to share with me the ups and downs of the liberation struggle, and without whom I could have accomplished very little.”

Madiba continued to have a “powerful” relationship with Wits – not always agreeing with the institution, Habib said.

While he had never known the former president personally, Habib had met him a few times in groups of people.

Cherry-picking memories of Mandela

As an activist himself, Habib was always careful not to “iconise” individuals as struggle heroes instead of recognising liberation to have been the result of a collective effort. “Madiba made it hard,” Habib said, noting his unique presence which earned the name “Madiba Magic”.

While there was an undeniable charm about the statesman, Habib warned against “cherry picking what we choose to remember” about Mandela: “He believed in economic inclusion, democracy, civil liberties and political participation”.

He said some of these ideals, such as economic inclusion, had not been achieved and that the ruling party would do well to recognise this.

As part of remembering Mandela, Habib attended the official memorial service at FNB stadium this week on behalf of Wits University.

“Some things about the day were positive and some parts made me angry,” he said.

He commended the “sophisticated” running of the day and the “strategic” choice of speakers:  “It sent the message that we determine our own events.”

Having America and Cuba not only speak at the event but be forced to interact said “We recognise you as a global power [to America] but these are our allies [Cuba, China, Brazil and India]. Having Namibia speak said ‘we prioritise the revolution of the African continent’ as well.”

The aspects of the day that upset the VC were the speaker system and screens not working. “We got it right for the World Cup, why not now? I want the small things to work.”

On members of the audience booing President Jacob Zuma, Habib said it was a clear indication that people are angry and that “things aren’t hunky-dory”.

He also said people would be mistaken to assume that was a sign of what’s to come in the elections next year: “It wasn’t representative of South Africa as a whole. KZN wasn’t there, the Eastern Cape wasn’t there, Mpumalanga wasn’t there. Don’t assume this sends a message. I did think it was the wrong moment for that as well. That was Madiba’s day.”

His was a life magnificently lived

Habib has made honouring Madiba an important part of Wits’ future: “We need to work towards ensuring that no student must go through what he went through while here.” Later in the day, Habib announced that Wits would erect a wall of remembrance as a tribute to Mandela.

“His was a life magnificently lived, a tragic life in many ways as well. If each of us could have half his passion for what we believe in, the world would be a better place.”

Habib hoped current and future Witsies would take this lesson from Madiba with them through their careers. “Excel academically and become a great professional but always remember those outside, on the margins. Think about the impact your actions have on them.

“In its paradoxical way, he personified Wits at its best.”


“I’m pretty much South African” – Identity and culture among Chinese youth in South Africa

The dynamics within immigrant societies are complex and difficult to navigate. The Chinese community in Johannesburg is an example of this complexity. Within the Chinese South African community exists a group of young people who consider themselves more South African than Chinese. We meet this group and find there is no real balance between traditional heritage and the “modern” present – as they are unapologetically in tune with the latter.

Megan Song is South African Chinese but that is where her link with the stereotype of Chinese in South Africa ends. She does not live in Cyrildene, the neighbourhood east of Johannesburg that has become home to thousands of Chinese families. Her parents have no ties with the communities that have come to be associated with Johannesburg’s Chinatowns.

Now 22, Song remembers that her parents encouraged her to “play with children of all races and be fully immersed in what it meant to be South African”.  She is part of a group of young Chinese South Africans who have found their sense of identity in Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan nature.

Song is a second year economics major at Wits University who enjoys “a good movie with friends” when she isn’t spending time with her boyfriend. She plans to move with him to North Korea, where he is from, as soon as they are both ready. She does not feel very connected to her Chinese heritage.

Urban Identity

There has been an increase in the efforts of Chinese immigrant communities across America and the UK to become more integrated in the communities into which they settle, according to sociologist Ben Scully. He says a similar trend in South Africa would not be surprising. “There are higher chances of their children succeeding in school and so on …”

The experience of Chinese youth in Johannesburg is too complex to view simply as a cultural balancing act between traditional backgrounds and modern South African culture. To begin with, there is no single “Chinese-South African experience” to speak of. In addition, Chinese communities are complex and diverse.

Yangjiao “Jill” Cheng is a 26-year-old journalist from China. She moved to South Africa almost a year ago to improve her English and to work for the South African bureau of the China News.  Like Song, she enjoys movies and spending time with her white South African boyfriend.

When we met she was carrying a box of fruit and vegetables because she was planning a meal for her friends. “I’m like the housewife of the group.” Her weekend plans included a picnic on Saturday and a friend’s party in Sandton on Sunday. Apart from language, there are no obvious barriers between Cheng, her boyfriend and her friends, who are mixed in race, gender and origin.

“The parents are more the people who have to wrestle with the idea of raising their children in a different culture. The people who are born here, well, that’s all they know.”

Balancing the “old” with the “new”

Some Chinese South African youth feel removed from the Chinese community in South Africa. Scully argues that Chinese immigrants might feel a sense of cultural sacrifice when moving to South Africa but it would be strange to expect the same from their children.

“The parents are more the people who have to wrestle with the idea of raising their children in a different culture. The people who are born here, well, that’s all they know.” He compares their feelings to those experienced by children of people who came from “the countryside”. The children consider themselves to be “city kids” and have no attachment to their parents’ rural homes.

Howard Ahhon was born in Macau, an island which, like Hong Kong, is administered by China. His mother and father moved to South Africa when he was two years old. “I’m pretty much South African, but there is a traditional [Chinese] influence because of my family,” Ahhon says, fiddling with his hip hop-styled snapback cap. 

He still celebrates his Chinese (lunar calendar) birthday along with his Western (Gregorian calendar) birthday and enjoys “real Chinese food – not sweet and sour noodles” but does not feel sufficiently connected to his heritage to consider himself Chinese. “I consider myself more South African than Chinese. I can still never understand their way of doing things.”

“Local” versus “Foreign” Chinese

Many Chinese youth who move to South Africa have difficulty relating to first-generation Chinese South Africans who consider themselves “South African first”. Ahhon explains that language acts as the first barrier between the “local Chinese” – born and/or brought up in South Africa – and “foreign Chinese” who were born and brought up in China.

“You see it at these [Chinese] events, local people hang out with the local people and the foreigners hang out with the foreigners.” Asked if he would like to see more integration between “local” and “foreign” Chinese youth, he says: “It would be nice but I personally think it will never happen.”

Chinese youth appear not to have many opportunities to meet and work on establishing relationships. Apart from the annual Dragon Boat festival, the Chinese New Year, charity and sporting events, members of the community “pretty much keep to themselves”, Ahhon says. Cyrildene, the “new Chinatown”, doesn’t hold much of an appeal for the South African-born Chinese youth. The “foreign Chinese” youth are bound to the area, at least while they settle into being in a new country.

Freedom of association

Simon Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1986. In 1993 his family decided to move to South Africa as they were uncertain of their future if they chose to stay. “China was going to take over Hong Kong in 1997 and we weren’t certain whether China was going to convert Hong Kong into a communist or capitalist culture.”

His family wanted to save what they had made and work towards securing their future. “I mean can you imagine? That means all your assets are going to be shared equally among everyone in the country, which is not very fair.

We wanted to avoid stuff like that happening to us,” says Chan. He has few Chinese friends and cannot remember the last time he was in Cyrildene. He was looking forward to going to Caribbean pop star Rihanna’s concert with his friend, Mpho. He was also planning to do RUNJozi (a local youth marathon) “with an Indian friend of mine and next week I’ll be with my Jewish friend”. He says it never occurred to him to choose friends based on race. “I consider myself South African and we’re a multicultural society. I have Chinese friends but they’re not my friends because they’re Chinese.”

Cultural reflexivity

The young Chinese people interviewed feel removed from their “roots”.  Visiting Hong Kong last year, Chan chose to speak Cantonese during his stay. At a shopping mall he asked a woman for directions. “She responded to me in English. That was really strange, but I think she could pick up that my Cantonese wasn’t so good and I wasn’t from there.”

Journalist “Jill” Cheng has made it a rule only to speak English while in South Africa. After her boyfriend referred her to the Wits Language School for English classes, she decided to make the most of her studies. “He told me I must speak English every day. The only time I should speak Chinese is when I phone my parents. My speaking is not so good.” While she values her Chinese heritage and feels learning about one’s culture is important, Cheng enjoys warming up to South African culture.

“I love this country, it’s very beautiful and South African people are very friendly.” She has been to five provinces since being here and wants to go to KwaZulu-Natal later this year: “I want to be in Durban for Christmas.”

The cultural differences appear not to have fazed Cheng. She laughs off some of her experiences: “I went to the shopping centre and met some strangers. They greeted me by saying ‘Hi, love’ and I was so shocked.” Terms of endearment are only used between “close friends, family or your lover” in Chinese culture. “I learnt later that it’s just a friendly greeting.”

She has also noticed the difference in South Africans’ approach to work. “There are so many people in China … so everyone must work very hard.” Her introduction to South Africa’s “no work on weekends or public holidays” policy was not easy to get used to. “Sometimes over the weekend in China we have to work and if you don’t want to, you are fired because there are so many other people wanting to do the job.” She has come to enjoy her free weekends: “I now read or spend time studying or with my boyfriend over the weekend.”

A study in 2004 by the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies on Asian communities in Britain describes the communities’ sense of political and cultural identity as “reflexive” – open and usually bound to change.

Howard Ahhon’s future plans may illustrate this point best. While considering himself South African and admitting he feels no deep connection with Chinese culture, he would like to marry a Chinese woman who will help him teach their children “about Chinese culture and heritage”. He is “open to love in whatever form” but Ahhon says that “preference” would please his mother. “She’s always told me how happy she would be if I married a Chinese girl. I agree with her… It would just be easier, I think.”

“I love hip-hop and house, I listen to YFM and am basically South African, but I feel proud and attached to the victories of China. I remember being very excited to hear that China would be hosting the Olympics.”

Twenty-nine-year-old investment banker Jackie Keong is another example of this cultural reflexivity. While she says she identifies with black South African culture, she would support China during a match against South Africa. Having grown up in Troyeville, Johannesburg, Keong became friends with black and coloured South Africans. “It just happened naturally and I’ve just always felt accepted in those communities.”

She explains how she self-identifies: “I love hip-hop and house, I listen to YFM and am basically South African, but I feel proud and attached to the victories of China. I remember being very excited to hear that China would be hosting the Olympics.”

Her colleague and first generation South African, Andrew Fok (26), feels less connected to China. He calls himself a South African “patriot” and has strong views about the country he considers his home.  “I will definitely be voting in the next elections but it’s unfortunate that we’re kind of voting for the lesser evil. I’m not interested in the ANC and Juju Boy, so I’ll probably be voting for the DA. “Their track record in the Western Cape is a clear indication of what they can do, so it only makes sense.”

When he is not working as a chartered accountant, Fok enjoys “watching a game at the pubs or bars around here [northern Johannesburg] with some of my mates”. He keeps himself informed about what happens in Hong Kong but Fok sees himself as “South African through and through”.

Simon Chan shares Fok’s sentiments and feels well integrated into South African society, except “when I’m filling in a form and there isn’t a Chinese or Asian option. I usually have to tick Indian or Coloured”.

Chan says this sometimes serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the “middle ground” the Chinese community at times finds itself in. “You can’t tick white because you don’t want to be discriminated against because of BEE [Black Economic Empowerment], but you can’t tick black because you really aren’t black.”

While he doesn’t feel marginalised by this, Chan says filling in forms has become “one of those awkward moments you just laugh off and don’t look too much into”. He sees himself as well placed in South Africa’s “rainbow nation” and takes pride in hoping to form a new heritage for his children.


“Joburg as a piece of art”

ARTISTS UNITE: Tseleng Phala (left) and Kudakwashe Johnson (right) in Braamfontein, on their company's prospects.  Photo: Ray Mahlaka

ARTISTS UNITE: Tseleng Phala (left) and Kudakwashe Johnson (right) in Braamfontein,on their company’s prospects. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

Having grown tired of Johannesburg’s “elitist” art circles and the city’s “faceless” nature, a group of urban youth decided to create a space for the kind of art they believed in.

Kudakwashe Johnson (25) and Tseleng Phala (30) are two of the five-member organisation, Building Unity through Arts (BUA).

BUA describe themselves as “a young company comprised of creatives aiming to bring forth a different kind of perception towards local art.”

This perception is of art as a “hobby and not a career.” The young team want to manage artists and make sure “all they have to worry about is producing work.”

Johnson said they wanted to change society’s perception of art as a non-lucrative industry: “We have architects, graphic designers, engineers and a vendor. We want to have an accountant on the team as well, someone who will just deal with the books.”

This is all in an attempt to make the company a “working machine” in the creative industry.

BUA also want to work on re-establishing real relationships between artists and audiences – undoing the craft’s “aloof” image.

“We want to move away from this conscious ideology artists are associated with,” Johnson said.

The self-employed former Information Technology (IT) student said BUA’s aim was to make art more accessible and exciting to “everyday people”.

He remembered how certain performers did not like BUA hosting poetry sessions at a bar: “They didn’t like the idea of being ‘deep’ in a pub.”

It is this idea, of artists being distinct from “ordinary” people that BUA wants to take apart.

Phala is a former Witsie and BUA’s art director. He is responsible for the organisation’s branding.  He also ensures the quality of all the works put out by the company are “original and of international standard”.

Some of this work will be on display at BUA’s event, “A 1000 People Boogy”, in November.

Performances from some of Johannesburg’s most celebrated artists as well as freshly unearthed acts can be expected. Live poetry and sets from house, drum and bass, hip hop and reggae DJs will be central to the Boogy. The event will also showcase the work of visual artists.

This will be one of BUA’s many events to raise awareness of the company and vision. “We just want attention,” Johnson said, speaking on their efforts to draw crowds to their Facebook page.

Phala said they wanted to give a “face” to Johannesburg by occupying spaces most people would not expect: “We want to have people see Joburg as a piece of art.”

A 1000 People Boogy will be held at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill from 12pm on 30 November.

WITH GALLERY: Journalism that matters

Paula Fray challenged journalists to “remember the faces” behind the “big issues’ they covered. Speaking at a seminar on “Community Voices”, Fray of FrayIntermedia noted that stories had become accounts of “he-said-she-said” battles between officials. “Nobody speaks to the communities that are really affected, the human face is forgotten,” she said.

“Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?”

Citing e-tolls as an example, Fray explained the different stages a piece of legislation goes through before it becomes law.

She said the debate among citizens and community members should start while the law is being drawn up, when people can still influence the direction it takes. “Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?

That’s when the debate should have started because by the time they (the media) broke the story, the debate had already been framed and it had become quite a middle-class he-said-she-said game.”

While Fray said she understood the financial and time constraints journalists faced in the newsroom, she urged them to ask tough questions and not to be intimidated. “I know it’s not easy but many of these problems are universal to all newsrooms and you need to push past them.”

Gcina Ntsaluba of Corruption Watch shared his experiences trying to access information from the government and state-owned companies. He explained how to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to get records from these entities. Using examples of stories published by the City Press and other Media24 publications, Ntsaluba gave real examples of how the Act could give more depth and “exclusivity” to a story: “We all love exclusives here and this tool helps you access some exclusive information.”

A community journalist in the audience spoke about the apathy of community members to the work done by community journalists. Fray said this attitude could be changed by a different approach from journalists themselves: “People become disengaged because they no longer see themselves in these stories. Make the stories about the communities who are affected and it will tell a better story and involve the very people you want to see reading your work.”

Conference an African powerhouse

POWER WELCOME:  (from left) Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Anton Harber and Alex Kotlowitz welcome guests to the three day power reporting conference Photo: Caro Malherbe

POWER WELCOME: (from left) Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Anton Harber and Alex Kotlowitz speak at the opening session of Power Reporting. Photo: Caro Malherbe

Delegates at this year’s Power Reporting conference have labelled it the best investigative journalism platform on the continent.

Idris Akinbajo, editor of Premium Times in Nigeria, was not able to attend last year’s conference but was pleased to be able to share skills with fellow journalists this time around. “This conference is surely among the best if not the best,” he said.

Power Reporting programme director Margaret Renn was introduced to the conference nine years ago when she was invited to be a guest speaker. She said this year’s conference was “by far the biggest” with over 300 delegates in attendance. “It’s managed to establish itself as a place where African journalists hear stories, share skills and share their own experience,” Renn said.

She has  noticed a large number of journalists arriving from South Africa’s major media houses. Some of these included the SABC, eNews Channel Africa, Media24 and Times Media Group. All final-year journalism students from the University of Limpopo and seven staff members were also some of the guests at this year’s conference. Renn said she was pleased that the conference had become an important aspect of skills development for students.[pullquote]It’s managed to establish itself as a place where African journalists hear stories, share skills and share their own experience.[/pullquote]

Renn said she hoped Power Reporting was considered one of the best investigative journalism conferences on the continent. She said the aim was to build a “co-operative ethos” among journalists and to build a community for them to feel a part of.

Hopes for the future

She said the conference is modeled after the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Annual Summer School in the United Kingdom, which Renn has also run.  “Many of us have been to similar conferences in the [United States] as well and it’s the same model in that you get a bunch of journalists together and you share your skills,” she said.

Rosaveld Parks, a feature specialist and blogger from Johannesburg, was impressed by the session on the use of social media in news: “This conference is about the way forward. We use these tools but don’t understand their power, so these skills are useful.”

Yang Meng is a freelance reporter from China. She and her partner were working on a story about Chinese gold mining in Ghana and attended the conference to learn more about the continent as a whole. She was especially happy with the exchange of ideas and difference in perspectives.  “We heard views from Kenya and Namibia and to us it came as a surprise. On the ground there’s a really different view from what we see in China,” she said.

“You should go see Josh”


AT HIS BEST: A now healthy and strong Joshua Irwin at the Wits gym.
Photo: Sibusisiwe Nyanda

Joshua Irwin had been overweight all his life. During his first year at Wits, his weight reached the point that he was forced to use the disabled parking area.

He remembers the shame of being “effectively disabled” by his weight. At his heaviest, Irwin weighed 130kg.

But two years ago, the third year Psychology major took matters into his own hands and, on his own healthy eating plan, Irwin lost 55kg in eight months. And this year, the self-confessed former sugar and carbohydrate addict took his quest for health a step further.

He is now a nutritional coach and personal trainer. The business idea came to him after he joined the Wits gym and saw “most people doing stupid things”. He became the “go-to guy” after people heard about his success.

He has since landed 13 clients, eight of whom are fellow Witsies. A former anthropology major, Kirby Randall, lost 12kg on his plan. Irwin claims another client lost 9kg in two months and that his own mother lost 12kg after taking some of his nutrition advice.

Irwin’s approach to nutrition goes against some well-known theories about how to get healthy. He argues people don’t need six meals a day to function, especially because most people underestimate the portions they have.

He fasts 16 hours in a day and stays away from carbohydrates and sugar. “By accident I didn’t have carbs once and I decided to go a few days without.”
He says the cravings for unhealthy foods “disappeared” when he stayed away from bread, grains and sugar.
He also doesn’t believe in using food as a reward.
A friend once told him: “Never reward yourself with what you’re trying to recover from.”
At 77kg, Irwin has come a long way from the first year who couldn’t walk from student parking areas.
“Walking uphill and downhill from East to West Campus can be incredibly painful when you’re overweight.”

For a long while, he tried to lose weight but would gain it back. He saw nutritionists for help but felt their “cut and paste” eating plans were impersonal and out of date. Irwin said his confidence had taken a beating.
“I was just tired of it and it hurt. You get overlooked often. You’re not even in the friend zone – you’re just not an option because you’re not desirable.”
He enjoys being able to be more sociable now. “I remember feeling I was extremely visible for my weight, not because I was a nice person or because I was smart … It was just, you know, that fat white guy with long hair. People would have preconceived ideas about you.”

He believes being thin is linked to how well people deal with their past life experiences.
Nutritionists miss this point, he argues, and this leads to their clients not being able to conquer weight problems successfully.
Irwin plans to do his Honours and Masters in psychology, focusing on behavioural and eating abnormalities. He feels the person-centred approach of therapy will help develop more meaningful relationships with his clients.
He wants to be the “go-to guy” for fitness and health in Johannesburg and has his sights on famous South Africans.
“I want celebrities who have had weight problems to be able to tell their friends: ‘You should go see Josh’, because of my work.”

WITH GALLERY: Soulful wrap to a weekend of jazz

The third leg of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival is usually the most highly anticipated. This year’s finale was no different – with the likes of Selaelo Selota, Stimela and Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse standing out as local favourites to look forward to. Carmen Lundy and The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards were the must-see international acts.

Saturday was the busiest of the three evenings, with all the restaurants in the enclosed precinct filled to capacity.

A medley of jazz genres and hip hop could be heard as enthusiasts made their way from one venue to the next, rushing to get a good seat with the perfect view.

Bassline and the Dinaledi stages were the more intimate spaces, with the audience almost at eye level with the artists. Stimela and Kabomo Vilakazi were on the more concert-like Mbira stage and their shows were fitting of this setting.

As soon as they started performing their first item, Stimela’s audience was on their feet. The crowd danced and sang along to the band’s very last song – after which they demanded an encore from the Afro-fusion legends.

As the evening drew to a close and jazz lovers made their way out, they were met with crowds that had clearly watched Selota instead. They laughed and shouted “Thrr Phaa!” the catchy phrase and title of one of his more famous singles. The exit queues were abuzz with informal reviews of the shows they had seen, most of which were filled with excitement and satisfaction.

Wherever you ended up this past weekend, as long as you were in Newtown, you were in for a soulful treat from some of the world’s most celebrated artists.


Transie Missions

Witsies use various modes of transport to travel to and from campus everyday. Some take 15 minute walks, while others have to travel for up to two hours. Wits Vuvuzela went out to bus stops, popular taxi pick up points, pedestrian crossings and trains stations to find out how the commute is for students and staff.

A day in the life 

Witsie Yusuf Bapeekee at the Braamfontein train station. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Witsie Yusuf Bapeekee at the Braamfontein train station. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Yusuf Bapeekee used to travel by motor bike when he lived in the West Rand near Kagiso. He recently moved to Mayfair and now walks daily to and from campus. [pullquote align=”right”]“I normally leave campus around 3.30, [but] because it’s Ramadan I leave around 1.15, after prayers.”[/pullquote]

“I never see anything out of the ordinary… just small school kids that walk free not scared. I see them and I feel free.”

Bapeekee said it took him “half hour tops” to make the commute. He said he left home at 7.15am. “I try to be early for my lectures”, he said as a smile grew across face.

“I normally leave campus around 3.30, [but] because it’s Ramadan I leave around 1.15, after prayers.”

Bapeekee said he enjoyed the walk. “It’s free to walk, plus it’s exercise.”

Asked about the crime associated with route around Enoch Sontonga Avenue, Bapeekee said:

“If I saw more students I’d feel even better.”

Walk on by 

Ntombi Mbatha carefully crosses the street. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Ntombi Mbatha carefully crosses the street. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

A short brisk walk is all it takes for Ntombi Mbatha, 1st year BHSc, to get to and from campus. She lives at a Southpoint building just two blocks away from campus.

Even though her journey is uncomplicated she nearly got hit by a taxi once. She said that experience has made her think more than twice before crossing the street now.

She is fascinated by the high school students she passes on her way because they remind her of her days as one of them.

Ntombi feels very safe walking in Braamfontein.

“I went downtown once and it was just such a mess, Braam is better,” she said.


Ngake Mukgowane rushing to catch his train home. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Ngake Mukgowane rushing to catch his train home. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

 Staff travels

Students aren’t the only ones who have to commute to and from Wits. Staff members also have their own transport missions.

Ngake Mukgowane is a Wits staff member who uses the train to commute.

He leaves his home in Dobsonville at 5.30am every morning and has to travel for about an hour and a half to reach Braamfontein station.

Mukgowane has been working at Wits for 18 years and has been a train commuter for most of those years.

He was in a rush to catch his 4pm train when Wits Vuvuzela reporters found him.

60 minute trip

John Malungani shows us how to call a taxi. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

John Malungani shows us how to call a taxi. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

John Malungani, 1st year BSc Com Sci,

has to commute for at least one hour a day to get to campus.

He says that he is more than willing to make the trip because of the good reputation that Wits has.

John lives in Tembisa. There is no taxi that comes straight from there to Wits, so he has to walk for another 15 minutes once he reaches Noord taxi rank.

He wishes he lived a little closer so that he could work and study till late on campus like other students.

“It’s hard travelling for two hours a day,” said Malungani.


Mandela’s legacy in question

Representatives of several political parties came together on Friday to debate the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

Representatives of several political parties came together on Friday to debate the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

“Don’t blame Mandela because black people are lazy”.  The president of the Wits Debating Union (WDU), Jamie Mighti, said he was willing to be unpopular and tell fellow black students this “inconvenient truth”.

Mighti was speaking at a debate held by the WDU about former president Nelson Mandela’s legacy focused on whether Mandela sold black people out in the name of peace and reconciliation.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) representatives Hon M A Mncwango and  Bonginkosi Dhlamini, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Makashule Gana and Andile Mngxitama of the Economic Freedom Fighters or EFF also formed part of the debating panel.

[pullquote align=”right”]”Mandela cut deals with white people at the expense of black people.”[/pullquote]

The IFP, DA and WDU all argued that Mandela did not sell black people out but rather “chose peace over justice” so the country could move forward.

This is in light of Mandela’s decision to protect the private property rights of the wealthy, who were still mainly white.

Mandela was also criticised for his decision to keep South Africa a capitalist state.

Public figures such as his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, have publicly called him a “sell out” for choosing to have black and white people live and work together on what they have called the “stolen” land of black Africans.

Gana of the DA said it was important to consider history and context when looking at what Mandela did for South Africa: “Many other African states were collapsing and skilled people were leaving these countries with no skills transfer … He was driven by that fact and the Freedom Charter, which stated that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”

Mngxitama was the only panelist who disagreed with the stateman’s approach to building a new South Africa: “Mandela cut deals with white people at the expense of black people. That is his unique contribution, that’s his legacy.”

The activist-turned-politician was met with a room full of applause and cheers when he said the EFF planned to “take the land and he economy back.”

He also said that under their (EFF) rule, all members of parliament would be forced to use public hospitals and take their children to public schools – “then they’ll be sure to make Baragwanath a quality hospital”, he said, to which the crowd responded with more applause and screaming.

[pullquote]”Don’t try party like a white kid. He’s going to leave you behind because he’s 12 years ahead of you.”[/pullquote]

Mighti said he was alarmed by the approach of “the Andiles and Malemas of this world”. He urged fellow students to forgive and forget about the apartheid regime and focus on being better students to ensure a more promising future. “What Andile says makes for good slogans, but it doesn’t make for a good supper”.

He said more black students needed to be in the library and “not at Puma [Social Club].

Don’t try party like a white kid. He’s going to leave you behind because he’s 12 years ahead of you. He had a good education, you have catching up to do.”

A student, who chose not to be named,  shouted at Mighti: “You insult us as blacks and yet you are black. This is what the system wanted.” He argued that the 24 hour libraries on main campus are used by black students, objecting to his claim that black students don’t put in as much work as their white mates.

He said white students were able to do better because they had resources like Apple iPads, computers with internet access and cars, which made their learning simpler.

Mighti ended his address by saying to black students “look in the mirror and ask yourself why you are not the top student in your class. There’s too much ‘instagraming’ and ‘facebooking’ going on”.

The debate ended without final remarks from Mngxitama as he was “summoned” to Soweto to join the EFF’s National Assembly.

The debate, which was held at FNB 101 last night, was aimed at addressing what the WDU has called “ongoing conversations” among young people.

Another debate will be held next week Friday as part of the WDU’s “Responsible Reconcilliation” Series. Next week’s topic is Socio-Economic Integration.

The youth get keen on doing it for Madiba

THE YEAR 2013 is proving to be the year of the youth.

Philanthropy and politics are making their way to the top of young people’s priority lists. And Mandela Day is a perfect way of engaging in both.

A recent survey by consumer research company, Pondering Panda, showed that nine out ten youngsters had plans of taking part in the Mandela Day initiative this year.

The number of youth giving 67 minutes of their time on former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday has increased threefold, with 33% of those surveyed saying they would be participating for the first time.

The Wits community has also done its bit to celebrate Mzansi’s favourite statesman.

Wits Business School (WBS) went to the Nazareth House in Yeoville. The house is home to abandoned HIV positive babies and children.

The Yeoville home also looks after the aged, mentally challenged and terminally ill.

WBS staff members decided to create a fun-filled day of cake and play for the 30 children of Nazareth House.

Face painting, jumping castles and games were the order of the day as the children enjoyed hot dogs, party packs and a large Nelson Mandela birthday cake.

“We decided to do something more personal and fun for the kids,” said WBS events officer Vuyolwethu Mntonintshi.

The WBS team also bought groceries, clothes and nappies for the home.

“We thought we’d also do some painting and gardening, but the place is actually pretty well-maintained,” Mntonintshi said.

She said they still had plans to buy books and toys for Nazareth House but had to wait for the procurement process at Wits to pass.

The spotlight on Nelson Mandela’s health appears to have brought greater attention to the icon and his legacy.

Some prominent young people decided to have an early Mandela Day.

In the second week of July, Lehasa Moloi of ETV’s Sony Mgongo fame took to Alexandra township with a team of celebrities.

The stars gave residents of the Itlhokomeleng Home for the Elderly manicures and haircuts in the sun. They also enjoyed chats over tea and cake in paying respect to Mandela.

Moloi was raised by his grandparents and is no stranger to frail care as he looked after his grandparents when they were ill.

He said he wished the plight of senior citizens could be “in people’s faces all the time” as they tend to be the “forgotten generation”.

While his condition is said to have improved, the former president’s health continues to be a matter of concern to South Africans everywhere.


Mighti: Wits is not the SRC’s Spaza Shop


THE MIGHTI LEADER: Jamie Mighti talks about his hopes for improved student-management relations. Photo: Prelene Singh

THE MIGHTI LEADER: Jamie Mighti talks about his hopes for improved student-management relations. Photo: Prelene Singh

INCOMING Vice Chancellor  Adam Habib has agreed to an open meeting between Witsies and management early next semester, to forge a connection between them and address student issues.

[pullquote align=”right”]“You have turned the university into your personal spaza shop and are holding us all at your mercy.”[/pullquote]

The meeting was suggested by Wits Debating Union’s president, Jamie Mighti, who criticised the SRC for failing to represent students adequately. The idea behind the town hall-style meeting is to give students a chance to speak directly to management, as “we’re losing touch with each other”.

He made the suggestion two weeks ago during an interview with Habib and Wits SRC secretary, Tasneem Essop on Talk Radio 702. The interview followed an open letter Mighti posted on social media. The letter went viral, getting over 960 “likes” and being shared by nearly 400 people on Facebook alone.

In his letter, Mighti said the SRC had “chosen to ignore the ‘R’ in SRC” and questioned some of the decisions made in previous months. He said the SRC, while not incompetent, had no vision, discipline or capacity to deal with students’ issues.

“I love many of the people on the SRC as individuals. They are great people and will do well in politics. But we have had enough of your politics at our expense. You have turned the university into your personal spaza shop and are holding us all at your mercy.”

He said he was worried the SRC was dividing students and “alienating” themselves (the SRC) from management. “We need collaboration versus confrontation with the university.”

Essop said while she could agree there had been a breakdown in communication between the SRC and students, it was unfair to suggest the SRC was not doing anything for them. “We’re just not good at advertising our success.

“It’s a fallacy that we don’t think of more immediate issues,” she said, responding to Mighti’s claim the SRC was more active in international activism than in tackling on-campus issues.

“We’re not trying to dispel student issues  … we’re putting suggestion boxes around campus. We also have an open-door policy.”

Essop said the SRC was happy to be part of the town hall meeting, and that it was in their diary.

Related links:

Wits Vuvuzela May 10, 2013 Petitions, protests and perplexity

Wits Vuvuzela May 17, 2013 The charges against the eleven will not be dropped

Wits Vuvuzela April 26, 2013 SRC accused want a public trial

Urban politics: thrifting in Jozi

Mpumelelo Mfula organises Babatunde gear at his RHTC stall at The Grove Market in Braamfontein

Mpumelelo Mfula organises Babatunde gear at his RHTC stall at The Grove Market in Braamfontein

On Sunday mornings, while most people go to church, inner-city Jozi becomes a refuge for urban youth looking for spaces to express themselves.

The Grove Market in Braamfontein turns into a platform where urban cool kids like Mpumelelo Mfula and Andile Jila meet to further their cause.  Vintage print jackets and tweed pencil skirts constitute their voice of protest – affordability and exclusivity providing them with a weapon against urban consumerism.

Thrift shopping or “thrifting”, as it is commonly called, is the art of finding one-of-a-kind items of clothing at markets and buying them for next to nothing.

A stall owner, who would give her name only as S’ponono, sees thrifting as her way of sharing her sense of style with the world. While doing her regular price negotiations she said: “I just feel like, if I’ve seen a piece for too long, I have to give it away.”

This is at the centre of thrifting culture – the sharing of exclusive items with people who share your passion for being different.

While profit is not the main goal, thrifters benefit from the income they make. Andile Jila, 1st year BA, uses the money he makes from thrifting to pay his fees.

“I’m paying the NSFAS interest, I buy my own books and I have to live. I’m surviving, though. Girls love clothes.”

Thrift stores have evolved from selling women’s clothing only, to becoming mini-department stores in their own right.

Bright African wax print bow ties and colourful clutch bags are some signature Babatunde brand items sold by Mfula, who started wearing the bright hats and matching ‘90s style sweaters when he was a Witsie years ago.

“It all started from varsity culture and wanting to be unique. I started wearing certain things before they were popular and that became my form of expression.”

Mfula, who has an honours degree in Politics, admits that thrifting is an unusual career choice for a graduate.

“People always say: ‘You have two degrees, you could do so much with that’, and I could be, but I’d be dying on the inside. I believe I’m part of a movement of urban politics.

“About five years ago we would take our money and spend it at the malls. Now our money stays in these circles and we benefit from our culture by developing an economy. It’s quite progressive.”

Asked if he felt the money from thrifting could sustain him long-term, Mfula admitted the average person would not think so but that it was good enough for the lifestyle he preferred – a “humble” one.

Mfula plans to grow his online store and one day develop pop-up stores around the country. “I want to promote the street culture that comes with thrifting and have stores for a few months in different spaces.”

He said it was important to remember that living with purpose wasn’t easy. “I’m building from the ground up and taking a stand in what I feel is an urban politics.”