A more meaningful kind of dress-up

The Portrait Racket 1

Most of the portraits were retrieved from studios that closed down, where treasured images and documents were never collected.         Photo: Tendai Dube


Remember when you were a child playing dress-up? How when you wore your parents’ clothes you believed you were an adult – and for those few minutes, before you were reprimanded, you thought you could skip the 18 or more years of being a kid.

You became exactly what you saw in the mirror and owned it with a child-like confidence.

This is what the portraits on display at the Origins Centre did for people in the past, they created the best self-imagined version of people.

The Portrait Racket showcases portraits of ordinary people in South African history in a time where, for most people, the only photographs they had were the identity photo in their passbook.

According to curators Ruth Sack and Lisa Espi: “Airbrushed photographic portraiture was a widespread, flourishing business in South Africa for the greater part of the twentieth century, from the 1930s to the 1990s. The people in the business referred to it as ‘the portrait racket’.”

It was an affordable way to have a colour picture taken. The technique was reportedly brought to South Africa by a Mr. Popov from Chicago who opened the first studio.

The Portrait Racket 4

The Portrait Racket includes a selection of completed airbrushed portraits, and in some cases the original small photographs they were based on.   Photo: Tendai Dube

The studio salesmen went door-to-door and sold people the opportunity to have themselves remembered in a way that often differed from their circumstances.

The airbrush artists took a photo of you and one of your partner, enlarged them and put them alongside each other. The couple would then explain how they would want to be dressed up in the portrait, and usually that outfit portrayed a finer and more accomplished attire than the one they owned.

Whether it was a more tailored collar in one, or a more expensive wedding dress in another, most of the portraits told a better story than the reality. One of the stories was of an elderly woman requesting a wedding picture of her and her deceased husband based on a picture of him in his youth, since they never had one taken.

The exhibition includes a selection of completed airbrushed portraits and in some cases the original small photographs and the succinctly scrawled instructions that were submitted to the artists.

Take a timeline trip to the Origins Centre and read a few stories of the people who went to such lengths to redefine what their oppressive passbooks were in reality and turned it into something romantic.

Most of the portraits were retrieved from studios that closed down, where treasured images and documents were never collected. Some of these portraits could help others get reunited with their long-lost relatives.

The exhibition ends on March 31 and the display occupies one of the walls inside the building’s shop.


The Wits Food Bank is close to empty

Done N’ Dusted: The Wits food bank is running low on supplies and appealing to Witsies to donate food for needy students.                   Photo: Tendai Dube

DONE N’ DUSTED: The Wits food bank is running low on supplies and appealing to Witsies to donate food for needy students.                Photo: Tendai Dube

The Wits Food Bank is running out of food. The food bank is a campaign of the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach centre (WCCO) aimed at “managing food insecurity among students,” said Karuna Singh who is the manager of the food bank.

The initiative started in 2013 and provides students in need with toiletries and food.
Early into this school year, an email was circulated requesting staff to donate whatever non-perishables they could to the bank as it was nearing depletion.

The food bank left with only food parcels that are donated from Stop Hunger Now, but they need more.
“Those meal packs come with rice, lentils and soya mince, so it’s quite a nice nutritional pack but it’s six meals in a pack and it has to be cooked,” said Singh.

“You can’t possibly eat that every day – students want something faster so tinned foods are good, peanut butter is always brilliant – the protein,” Singh added.

The food bank has steadily been running out of tinned food and other necessities needed to supplement the food parcels they give out to students and as of this week they cannot make a single package, which usually lasts a month.

According to Singh, approximately 500 food parcels have been given to students since July last year, with “an average of eight students a day coming in to collect”.

“Usually the beginning of the year not too many students are in need as they have just come from holiday,” so the bank expects the need to only get greater.

“We have various projects at WCCO where we have groups of students collecting food. So whether it’s though their friends, family, on campus or through awareness days but obviously that can never be enough so we also look for donations through staff.”

Singh said she was hoping staff and students would do their best to help replenish the food bank if they are able to.

The food bank is run on a volunteer basis by Wits students and their offices are located at Student Affairs, Senate House, Room 37A or WCCO, Matrix basement.


Wits Vuvuzela, Seven percent of undergrads at Wits attending lectures without food, July 15, 2014

Wits can’t be knocked down

LETS MAKE A CLAP: Wits boys share their victory with the crowd as they walk off the field after a stunning game of multiple tries.

LETS MAKE A CLAP: Wits boys share their victory with the crowd as they walk off the field after a stunning game of multiple tries. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

FNB WITS remain in the top spot of the Varsity Shield log after a comprehensive win against the University of Fort Hare (UFH) last night. The Witsies came away 93 – 0 against the team from Alice at the Wits Rugby stadium.

This was Wits’ second win in the season against Fort Hare, having beaten them 39 – 24 last month.

Wits flew into half-time with an unassailable lead of 48 points after right-wing Joshua Jarvis and left-wing Luxulo Ntsepe helped score two more tries. Fort Hare never managed to recover with poor defence dominating their performance.

“We didn’t make our own one-on-one tackles, we never got the ball-in-hand – we’d kick it away. So we played most of the game without the ball-in-hand, so surely when you don’t have the ball in hand in rugby, you’ll always go down,” said UFH’s coach Currie.

“It’s an embarrassment, I think the best thing about this game is that it’s over. But you have got to keep fighting, the show’s not over, we’ve got two more games left,” said UFH captain, Madoda Ludidi.

“You can’t afford to have three tries scored against you in the first fifteen minutes, then you start playing your own rugby – start playing ‘catch-up rugby’, which is not winning rugby, unfortunately,” Ludidi added.

Wits rugby captain, Richard Crossman congratulated his team on a good game. He was named the “player that rocks” for the night – the Varsity Shield title for the man of the match.

“I’m so glad we were so clinical, I think it was a great game for the team, we’ve got a great coaching style and great management,” Crossman said.

Wits coach, Van As said the boys could stay on top.  “If we keep our feet on the ground and just make sure we achieve what we want at the end of the season.”


Wits Vuvuzela, Wits boys shield their position on top, February 27, 2015

Wartenweiler library weather woes

OVER the years, Wartenweiler Library on Wits’ East Campus has continually been a concern for students hoping to get some studying done. On a warm day, the four-level building is just too hot.

Students have sent complaints to the Wits Vuvuzela about this and are struggling to study because they feel that the air conditioning in the library is insufficient.

“It’s really great when it’s cold, likes now, but otherwise it’s too hot to even think,” said Nicole Stern, 1st year BA student.

“You find yourself falling asleep because this heat makes you drowsy and the heat just makes you want to fall asleep and its really annoying, it would be fantastic if they could actually turn the air con on,” said Katherine Stewart, 1st year BA student.

Stewart is a first year and came to Wartenweiler library in the first week of school about three weeks ago and said it’s been like this since the first day.

Not all students find the building uncomfortable, “It doesn’t really affect me at all, I don’t get cold and I don’t get hot, I feel like it keeps me pretty alright,” said Crystal Poulter, 2nd year BSc. “There isn’t enough circulation so at times I get sleepy,” she added.

Poulter said it just needs more movement of air because right now its stagnant but she does not necessarily have a problem with the room temperature.
First-year BSc student, Lebogang Dladla, noticed the issue at other Wits venues. “We have this issue in classes as well, even at education campus.”

Heated Up: Wits students are struggling to be productive in the Wartenweiler library on East Campus.     Photo: Tendai Dube

Heated Up: Wits students are struggling to be productive in the Wartenweiler library on East Campus. Photo: Tendai Dube

Dladla added that her studies are affected because she has to now add additional pressure on herself to concentrate harder because of the heat. She thinks that a temperature system that can be regulated would be the best solution.

Another first-year student studying a BA at Wits, Selelo Maake, doesn’t see an issue. “It seems quite alright to me and I’ve been here a couple of times and it’s quite comfortable for me. I’m all dandy,” he added.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Karasen Gangan, technical inspector at the Property and Infrastructure Management Division (PIMD), to ask him about the ventilation issues.

He was surprised we were receiving complaints since the air conditioning was repaired last Wednesday. Contractors had come in to fix the cooling tower control panel, which was not working.

When Wits Vuvuzela went into the library on Tuesday this week, the air was still stuffy. Some staff in the library were using personal fans.

On the first three floors of the library building, which are the busiest ones, the air conditioning does not appear to be working, however on the fourth floor, which is set up as an office space for Wartenweiler library management, the situation seems to be much better.

Gangan responded to that by saying that the fourth floor works on the same system but parts of it work on its own, and that it too has to be repaired frequently.

He and some staff in the library attribute the faulty air conditioning system to the age of the building which is now over 70 years old. When asked if the system can be replaced, Gangan said, “We can look into that, but that’s a costly exercise.”

“At the moment it’s serviced and maintained for the regular items but if there’s anything major that fails, then we’ll obviously look into replacement,” he added

According to the inspector and contractor, the issue “this time was the v-belt, which is very much similar to a fan belt” had snapped and would be repaired by Wednesday morning.

Bhakti Yoga Society: ‘It’s so much more…’

Exhale: Students in position during a Bhakti Yoga session on Wednesday afternoon.                                                                                                 Photo: Tendai Dube

EXHALE: Students in position during a Bhakti Yoga session on Wednesday afternoon.          Photo: Tendai Dube

As you approach the elevated building, DJ Du Plessis, you overlook a scenic garden of trees and a mini-waterfall that flows through rocks into the little pond Witsies know to be on West Campus – a more secluded part of Wits which goes perfectly with the serenity that is needed to do yoga.

Through the doors, you’re welcomed by multicoloured yoga mats and on them are bodies bent and stretched over in unconventional positions.

This is what you can expect from one of the Bhakti yoga lessons. Their classes run four days a week, from Monday to Thursday depending on the level of yoga you chose to partake in.

You can also learn about the philosophy of yoga during lunch on Thursdays. According to Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, coordinator of the Bhakti Yoga Society, “A person’s life is like a whole package, first the body, is like our immediate home so anyone who likes their home, wants to keep it clean. Yoga then is allowing our bodies to be clean and to be fit.”

Nhlabatsi is mostly known by his community as ‘Savyasaci Das’, his Sanskrit name. He is a monk who has followed this spiritual path for about 13 years.

The society has signed almost 300 members this year and has won best Civil Society Organisation.

“Since I joined yoga, I’ve been sleeping better, feeling fresh in the morning, I have enough energy to get through the day without feeling worn out and my body is more flexible than it was before I joined,” said Rebotile Masera, 2nd year BAccSci.

Savyasaci said some of the benefits the students gain from yoga are that they feel their muscles working and that “some people are just happy that they can finally sit and touch their toes.”

Wits boys shield their position on top

Tendai Dube and Lutho Mtongana

The Wits Varsity Shield team is back with a competitive bang, sitting top of the log with three wins and a draw in their first four matches of the season.
FNB Wits has been unstoppable since the season kicked off a month ago and this week was no different when the boys drew 37-all against the University of the Western Cape (UWC) at home.
Wits captain and flank Richard Crossman said the team has been fortunate in getting this far in the Cup.
“It’s been a huge transformation, we have a whole bunch of new guys, new management, and they are all fresh from matric. We only have two or three senior guys,” said Crossman.
Although they are currently leading the log, the team still have to work hard to stay ahead of the game and, according to Crossman, are training intensely.
“Our weaknesses is that we are young and inexperienced but that could also be our strength because our guys are young and are willing to learn,” Crossman said.
In their first game of the year the Wits boys went head-to-head against a normally challenging Fort Hare, and defeated them with a solid 39-24 win.
They then proceeded to squash the TUT Vikings with 71-36 in their next match on February 19.

CROSSING THE LINE: Richard Crossman, Wits Rugby Captain, flank  Photo: Tendai Dube

CROSSING THE LINE: Richard Crossman, Wits Rugby Captain, flank Photo: Tendai Dube

On March 9 Wits will be playing against Fort Hare on the Wits Rugby Field and Crossman is determine that they will come out on top once again with their home ground advantage.
There are five teams in the Varsity Shield this year: UWC, Wits, Fort Hare, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Wits needs to finish at the top of the log at the end of the season to secure a chance to move back into the Varsity Cup.

NSFAS repayment for what?

Tendai NSFAS

FILL IN: A student fills in a NSFAS form to apply for university funding from the government. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

LERATO Morake* lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Pretoria. She drives a sleek, silver Audi to her job, where she earns R440 000 per annum.
She also has no plans to pay back the almost R200 000 she owes to NSFAS because no one has been around to collect.

Frustrated students across the country have protested a lack of funding provided for needy students by the National Student Financial Aids Scheme (NSFAS).

NSFAS is suffering a shortfall due in part to students not repaying their loans and replenishing the fund’s coffers.

But former students who are now successful say there is no reason to repay NSFAS because the scheme does not try to collect.

Morake started working in 2008 and said NSFAS has not attempted to reclaim any funds from her.

“They are not even trying to do anything, they aren’t even trying our phones, my number is the same number I used when I applied and they never even tried to call me,” Morake said.

They could’ve just used my ID number and the details of the people that owe them, then through that they can get us to pay back.

According to the NSFAS website, once a student starts working and earns more than R30 000 a year, they must pay back part of the loan. Meaning you would only pay back R900 a year on a salary of R30 000 a year, or R84 per month. A small price to pay considering the interest charged on the loan is subsidised at 80% of the rate that commercial banks would charge.

Students sign a legal contract to repay their loans and the scheme promises to “contact all students who graduate or stop studying to give consent for repayments to be deducted from their bank account every month,” according to the NSFAS website.

But this hasn’t been the experience of Morake: “I don’t think they tried to find me, I read somewhere in the papers that they were trying to find people but, because they are a government financial institution, if they wanted to catch us out, they could’ve gone to SARS, [SA Revenue Service]” she said.

“They could’ve just used my ID number and the details of the people that owe them, then through that they can get us to pay back,” she said.

Morake only knows how much she owes because of a statement she once saw at her cousin’s house in Croydon a few years ago. Her cousin has moved three times since then.

“My aunt also went through this programme, I think about seven years ago and she still hasn’t finished paying for it, so it’s just like donating money and no one sees where it’s going,” Morake said.
NSFAS receives a budget from government, which it then uses to provide a scholar with funds to pay for tuition, accommodation and books.

NSFAS was introduced by government in 1996 to provide poor matric-holders access to a university education. Students have their annual tuition paid and receive the rest of the amount for books and other course material as credit, not as cash, to avoid misuse.

NSFAS offers an income-dependent loan, meaning the student only begins to repay the loan once they start earning an income.

Morake received her undergraduate degree in corporate communications and development studies at the University of Johannesburg in 2008 and since then has worked at three different companies.

Her studies have resulted in her getting a job as a corporate communications consultant for a popular fast food franchise.

At the time she applied for NSFAS, Morake’s mother was unemployed and looked after their home in Alexandra township. Her dad could not afford to pay for her schooling as he did not earn much as a handyman and electrician.

I told them to send the banking details and stuff but they didn’t bother so I didn’t pay.

The cost of paying back a loan is burdensome, especially for an individual just entering the workforce and trying to start out their lives.

“When I first started working I worried, I said to myself, ‘okay, this is your first job, they said you have to pay them back or else they’ll find you’, so I called the call centre, they proofed my details then they told me I had to pay 10 percent of my salary and it was a ridiculous amount for me at the time,” Morake said.

Still, Morake told NSFAS to send her the relevant details to begin repaying her loan. However, the scheme never followed up with her.

“I told them to send the banking details and stuff but they didn’t bother so I didn’t pay,” she said.

“I just didn’t want to be the only one paying.”

Lerato is planning on studying further. She wants to do her honours in management but does not plan on using NSFAS again.

“This time I’ll pay for it myself, it would just be greedy otherwise,” she said.

*not her real name



Wits VuvuzelaThe devil wears NSFAS, February 27,

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of nay?

Fifty Shades of Grey Poster

Fifty Shades of Grey Poster

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan,  Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Rita Ora
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Vuvuzela Rating: 5/10

Fifty Shades of Grey roped in big bucks this Valentines weekend raking in over $266 -million at the global box office on its opening weekend.

The erotic movie performed predictably well, considering the massive hype surrounding E.L. James novel, which has sold over 100 million copies. Sex it seems certainly does sell.

Ster-Kinekor announced on February 15 that it achieved its biggest box office for a single day in the company’s recorded history since 1995.

The widely read bestseller seemed to consistently attract negative reviews.

The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane wrote that, “It could hardly be worse. No new reader, however charitable, could open Fifty Shades of Grey, browse a few paragraphs, and reasonably conclude that the author was writing in her first language, or even her fourth.”

The storyline follows recent college graduate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), as she enters a sexually charged relationship with handsome, yet troubled, billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).

The movie adaptation seems to have followed a similar fate. Despite massive ticket sales, popular film review sites, Metacritic.com and Rotten Tomatoes rated the film 46 percent and 26 percent respectively based on mixed reviews which were mostly negative.

“The film never pretends to be other than what it really is: soft-core porn for the ladies, diluted with an r-rating,” said Sara Stewart from the New York Post.

Those who have read the book are probably curious about how director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s movie adaptation of the book, particularly its sexual scenes, translate to the big screen, without going beyond cinema regulation standards.

The indieWire’s Eric Kohn felt that “most viewers will be seeking a safe word to escape this two-hour-plus mess of half-baked excess.”

But it wasn’t all face down, David Edelstein from Vulture magazine said that, Fifty Shades of Grey is nowhere near as laughable as you might have feared (or perversely hoped for): It’s elegantly made, and Dakota Johnson is so good at navigating the heroine’s emotional zigs and zags that you want to buy into the whole cobwebbed premise.”

Aside from the very attractive lead characters – clothed or unclothed, the movie’s soundtrack was a sultry and soulful experience, with songs from Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, Beyoncé, some Frank Sinatra and Rolling Stones, accommodating both modern and classic music palates.

If you are one of those who thought the movie was terrible, speculation that the director might not be part of the trilogies future adaptations will motivate you to try the second movie and see if it rubs you up the right way.

Q&A with Andile Mngxitama


Andile Mngxitama: EFF member and the member of Parliament

Andile Mngxitama: EFF member and the member of Parliament    Photo: Tendai Dube

Andile Mngxitama, Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) MP holds an MA in sociology from Wits and has published the first four essays in the New Frank Talk series, a journal of critical essays. Mngxitama is also a columnist for the Sowetan and City Press

What do you think of the current education crisis tertiary institutions are facing?
Here when students say ‘we want free education’, which is a fundamental right, what comes is violence from the police, arrests and intimidation. It shows that this state is anti-black, and totally incapable of listening to the needs of black people, it reproduces the apartheid logic. We should be paying students to keep them at university.

How do you suggest the situation be resolved?
In Bolivia, they pay poor families in rural areas to keep their children in school. that’s what we should be doing.
We should be grateful that our students – after 12 years of kak education – somehow qualify to go to an institution of higher learning. They should be rewarded, not punished.

How did we get to this situation?
In South Africa to get a matric exemption, it’s like we celebrate. In white society, a child is born, they will end in university and it’s not a mystery – it’s a given, but for us, because we have to overcome so many hurdles to actually get a matric exemption or to get university entrance, it’s a huge thing. It is achieving a lot against massive odds and then you get punished in the end.

What are the EFF’s plans to combat the education crisis?
The problem is that the 12 years students spend at school in South Africa, black public schools, are f**cked, it doesn’t prepare them for anything.
So what you do is you bring all the Zimbabweans with O – levels into SA schools and make all our teachers write the basic test – they will fail.
Zimbabwe must become our center for educating. Those teachers who fail have two options, they can get a package and go home or they can get reeducated and we send them to Zimbabwe. Let’s not create a difficult life for ourselves, bring all the Zimbabweans and spread them in rural schools…You just give them a two weeks crash course on methodology.

“The Mngxitama ABCs to solve the education crisis.”
Our teachers are underprepared, uneducated, untrained, unmotivated and they can’t do their basic job, but if we inject this new process then I think that within five years we can get back lot of South Africans into the system who are able to teach. We must build schools also and put real money into those things.
At a university level, not a single student must apply for a bursary. As a student you literally walk up to your university and if you qualify they should take you.
And they can say beforehand that Wits is a pro-poor school therefore we will take sixty percent of all new intakes from bursary students, so I already know what is my bill which I then present to government, to say these are the number of needy students that we have taken. They must make the registration illegal, that thing is evil, once you’re in you must be in until you finish.

Initiation creates ‘camaraderie’

CORRECTION: Wits Vuvuzela initially reported that Joshua Ndlangamandla was from Men’s Res, but he is actually from EOH. We regret the error. The error has been corrected in the copy.


MARCH ON: “Freshmen” sing and dance as part of their first year initiation during O-week.                Photo: Roxanne Joseph

MARCH ON: “Freshmen” sing and dance as part of their first year initiation during O-week. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

DURING O-week the residences plan a highly interactive experience for the wide-eyed young adults in first year to help familiarise them with the university and each other.

Two years ago, Wits Vuvuzela reported on how two female students formally complained to the dean of students at the time, about unsanctioned initiations and how they were “victimised” and experienced sexism from students at a male residence.

“There’s a fine line between what the freshers can take and what they can’t and what they are going to complain to their parents about and what they are going to find fun,” said Priya Thakur, Sunnyside house committee chairperson.

“Right now we are still trying to get them used to the entire res and varsity, get them to mingle with other students because, in as much as they are going to be students who are alone, they are still going to meet with students from other res’s as well in their classes,” said Joshua Ndlangamandla, a BSc third year and the sports administrator at Ernest Oppenheimer Hall of residence (EOH).

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to house committee members at the residences about how first years were being initiated and if the acts were harmless or not.

The “freshmen”, as EOH call their first years, appear to be treated as cadets. Wits Vuvuzela witnessed Men’s res in their blue t-shirts doing a series of drills and push-ups, followed by dancing and singing.

The freshmen only earn their keep after the formal initiation, when the “freshmen” jump into the pool, and “depending on how we feel on the day, it might be fully clothed,” added Ndlangamandla. “They will no longer be called “freshmen” but “Ernest men”.

Sankie Kgatse, a first year staying in Sunnyside residence said it has been “fun”, that they were taught a lot of traditional songs and did some physical exercise. “We gym yoh! We do a lot of physical activities and they are very hard … We wake up around 5.30 every morning,” the first year added. The freshers do morning runs to get them used to waking up early for classes.

According to Sunnyside’s Thakur, one of the traditions they uphold is their pledge night with Ernest Oppenheimer Hall of residence (EOH), where the freshers pledge their allegiance to EOH. The pledge took place earlier this week.

“It’s fun because historically Knockando and Men’s Res hate each other and then Sunnyside and Jubilee are fighting over Men’s Res when EOH is not around, it’s a lot of res rivalry, which is pretty fun during the week.”

The pledge also included a wedding, where house committee chose the person they would marry, Kgatse explained to Wits Vuvuzela. Ndlangamandla regrets that he wasn’t initiated in his first year at EOH and found that he generally struggled in his first two years because he didn’t really know the people around him.

He sees the benefit in initiation because “you’re partnered with someone through initiation and you’ve been through the same struggles you’ve been telling each other, ‘oh that house comm manager is an asshole’, so you have something in common”.

“It builds that brotherhood, that camaraderie between people that if you’re struggling, don’t do it alone … Once you’re alone we can’t help you out because we don’t know where you are in life,” says Ndlangamandla.

“It’s all about building a proper rapport between the students and us so that they can come to because most of us have been there before,” he adds. When asked about any worrisome activities, Thakur said she could not reveal that to the Wits Vuvuzela, and doubts that any other res would.

“A lot of the things we do here are internal and house issues, it’s designed and meant specifically for Sunnysiders. If the university had to read about it, I don’t think they would understand – it’s a different thing living at res and the Vuvuzela has a much wider audience,” said Thakur.

Apart from morning drills, the first year are taken around Johannesburg to the Hector Peterson Museum, Vilakazi street and the South African Breweries to watch how beer is made.

Academic dies while visiting Wits

Prominent gender activist and academic Mikki van Zyl  was found dead at the Protea Hotel Parktonian in Braamfontein last week.

The gender activism world has lost a great asset with the passing of Mikki van Zyl. Photo: Sourced

Gender activist Mikki vn Zyl died while on a visit to Wits last week. Photo: Facebook

Van Zyl was staying at the hotel during a visit to Wits University for a workshop jointly hosted by the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society and the university of Bergen’s Centre for Women’s and Gender Research.

A source at the Protea Parktonian told Wits Vuvuzela van Zyl had died of a heart attack but this could not be confirmed. Her body was discovered by by hotel staff early on Thursday morning.

Professor Melissa Steyn, of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about van Zyl, describing her as a close friend. “She was my best friend, I feel like a schoolgirl saying that but she really has been because we wrote two books together on sexuality in South Africa, Steyn said. Steyn described her longtime academic collaborator as “unfailing, strong and determined, she really gave everything she had.”

Van Zyl has contributed significantly to both gender activism and the anti-apartheid struggle for over 20 years.

Van Zyl graduated from UCT (University of Cape Town) with a degree in Communication and Media Studies, and a MPhil in Sociology.  She has lectured in media studies, sociology, criminology and diversity studies.

According to Steyn, van Zyl was also an instrumental in setting up diversity studies at UCT along with disability studies. In 1993 she started her own business for gender and capacity development, Simply Said and Done.

A nod, a wink and some dollars

Changing money on the streets of Yeoville leaves no paper trail. It’s easy if you know who and how to ask. The amounts are small and it is difficult to catch the traders. And the people doing it have some stories to tell about laws and legality.

The popular one-way Rockey Street in Yeoville is always busy during the day, with people hustling to make a living. At night the main road is bright with the yellow hue of street lamps and the colourful blinking of traffic lights. Once the Yeoville Market closes, its image is darker.

Away goes the innocence of a traders’ paradise with fresh vegetables and traditional ingredients. What emerges is a more sinister scene with dark alleys that act as a shield for illicit dealings on the street.

The exchange is flash fast and inconspicuous. You give him the dollars and he in turn gives you the equivalent in rands. And, in no time at all, both parties are parting ways.

Yeoville is more than a century old. It was one of the first suburbs to be built in Johannesburg. Over the years, the area has always been a hub for immigrants from around the world. But more recently it has become a home for people from countries all over Africa – a gateway where more immigrants than South Africans live.

FOREIGN NATIONAL: Many Yeovillites come from all parts of the African continent. After a few months in South Africa, their legal stay in the country expires and they can no longer access formal institutions. Photo: Tendai Dube

Arriving with just enough money to start a new life, they bring in foreign currency and need to find ways to exchange it for rands. Once settled, they need to start sending money to their families at home.

A convenient method of exchange is the trading of currencies on the street, also known as the black market, and money is sent home through the hawala remittance system, which is an informal way to transfer money.

It’s called the black market because the transaction itself is illegal. It is done out of sight and often in the dark. Because the transaction is illegal, the market operates by default outside of the formal economy.

Informal currency trading is a crime in South Africa. According to the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) website: “It is illegal to buy or sell foreign currency to anyone except an authorised dealer.”

Foreign exchange in South Africa is controlled by the SARB and the local market is governed by exchange control regulations that control the flow of money into and out of South Africa.

The South African foreign exchange market is structured in such a way that all money leaving South Africa is controlled by the Reserve Bank, which nominates and licenses a number of authorised dealers or banks.

To send money out of South Africa, all funds have to be directly or indirectly approved by the SARB via exchange control regulations.

Not all of these black market dealings are that mysterious. When you find yourself in urgent need of some US dollars with no questions asked and no paper trail, you can try your luck and take a trip to Yeoville. However be advised – what you are doing is illegal.

From a dealer’s perspective

Vince* is a foreign national who claims to have traded illegally on the other side of the exchange. He would not confirm his identity as a dealer nor his real name, but encouraged Wits Journalism to speak to him about the practice.

“Mostly it’s about a better rate. You get more clients when you have a better rate. People go to these people because there’s not too many questions, no one asks for your ID or your papers, it’s just an agreement.”

According to Vince, illegal traders don’t cheat their clients with counterfeit bills. He says that these traders are “businessmen” who are “established” and won’t sell you fake bills because they want you to return. By the same token, they very rarely receive fake notes.

“For you to be in this business, you need to know paper quality. It’s easy to tell a dollar.”

Traders on the street usually keep amounts low, never more than $1000. If you want to exchange larger amounts, Vince says, they will refer you to other traders in wider Johannesburg.

The US dollar is the most widely used currency in the world, according to popular currency site XE Currency, which explains why it is the most prevalent currency in Yeoville. Vince says that, in his interactions, he has not seen any other currencies traded except for, on rare occasions, British pounds.

DODGY DEALINGS: Residents have access to four authorised forex exchange bureaus along the busy thoroughfare of Rockey and Raleigh streets. After hours, the street is well known as a place where currency is traded. Photo: Tendai Dube

Vince explains that there is a science to getting better rates on the street. An individual with a $100 bill is more appealing than one with loose notes of less value and will therefore be given a better rate.

“It’s a black market thing, it never gets back to the banks. It’s an under-the-carpet thing … and it’s much easier to take your money back [home] if it’s in US [dollars].”

It also eliminates a paper trail. Forex traders in Yeoville don’t worry about being caught by the police because, according to Vince, their business is based on trust.

“When you are stopped by the police you just say: ‘I’m a Zimbabwean and this is my currency in my country’, and they don’t ask you where you got it from.”

Vince says that usually works because they never keep large amounts. “Nobody moves around with thousands, it’s only small denominations.” Besides, most people who buy and sell are “regulars” and that’s why there’s no “snitching”.

The hawala remittance system

Another popular aspect of currency trading is the hawala remittance system, which allows people to transfer money between countries in Africa. According to 2010 research by Frederick Ahwireng-Obeng and David T Mutombo in Real Money, New Frontiers: Case Studies of Financial Innovation in Africa, edited by Mark Napier, the money does not actually physically move between the two parties in the different countries, in this case, between Yeoville in South Africa and other African countries.

It is estimated that more than 25 hawala agents were operating in Johannesburg a few years ago, but with the ever-rising rate of immigration, the number of agents is increasing too.

According to the research, an example is that of a Ghanaian tailor in Johannesburg with a younger cousin in Ghana. He wants to send money to his cousin but, because he lives in South Africa illegally, going to a bank is not an option for him. He also knows how bureaucratic banks are, they charge high commissions, offer poor rates of exchange and can be rather slow.

The tailor decides to approach a hawala agent, who offers him a negotiable commission of less than 5%, and a promise that the delivery will be made within 24 hours. The hawala agent offers an exchange rate of nearly R1 less than what the banks were charging to the dollar at the time, increasing its appeal.

The agent then liaises with his partner in Ghana to arrange for him to give the tailor’s cousin the equivalent of the money in either dollars or Ghanaian cedi. The partner is then reimbursed by the agent in Johannesburg, either financially or in goods and services. Sometimes there is reverse hawala, where the agent in Johannesburg gives money to an individual on behalf of someone outside the country.

In Yeoville, Malawian transporter Ndale* is also a hawala agent. Many people with family in Malawi use him and the hawala remittance system to send money home. Ndale spends his days delivering goods with his bakkie to traders in the market for a fee while his side business is dealing between Malawians in South Africa and their families back home. He only deals in interactions between South Africa and Malawi as that is his established network and he has people he can trust back home.

MONEY CHANGES: People find it more convenient to exchange money informally on the street as the trade is speedy and leaves no paper trail. Photo: Tendai Dube

These are the methods used by many African refugees and immigrants who have been granted asylum in South Africa, with the expectation of living a better life away from their politically unstable countries.

Limited options for some

Adroa*, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of deportation or arrest, is an immigrant who has exchanged dollars before.  The Ugandan national struggled on his journey to South Africa. He chose South Africa because, according to him, it is considered a land of opportunity and democracy. “Where all dreams come true.” He travelled from Uganda through Kenya with $300 and then to Tanzania where he lost his money.

“When I reached Tanzania they robbed me of all my money, they conned me. They said I must pay for a bus straight from Tanzania to South Africa. I didn’t know that there is no bus.”

Adroa found himself in Mozambique without any money and holding on to the hope that his uncle living in South Africa would come and fetch him. He stayed with a “kind” woman for two weeks before his uncle managed to come to his aid.

On his journey from the Equator to South Africa, Adroa says he noticed that most of the countries he travelled through operated currency exchanges outside the formal economy.

“In Mozambique there are always people on the street and their job is to buy and sell.”

When Adroa arrived in Johannesburg, there were people waiting for the buses who offered to change his money on the very street where his bus stopped.

Adroa has been in the country for a little over six months, trying to become a businessman as he works for his uncle selling shoes. His uncle travels to Mozambique every few months to buy shoes and they both sell them here in Johannesburg.

When Adroa was new to the country, he remembers being naïve and lacking an understanding of rands. He recalls that he would sell shoes for his uncle by placing the box of money on the counter so people could take change for themselves. One day he received a counterfeit R200 note. He still has the bill so that he will never forget what a fake note looks like and will never make that mistake again.

Adroa’s legal stay in the country ended three months ago when his asylum period expired, halting his dreams to study in South Africa.

“When I finished school, I thought I would become an engineer, but I found I can’t be because it was too hard for me, so I became a business person. Being an engineer will take me more years.”

But formal education is impossible for refugees like Adroa who now live in South Africa illegally. He has been trying to renew his asylum status since June this year with the Home Affairs head office in Pretoria.

“Uganda is part of East Africa, East Africa goes there [to Home Affairs] on Thursday. I go there on Wednesday to be in the queue for the next day. But I won’t get asylum, as I enter the gate they say: ‘No, today is busy we are ending here [stopping the queue at this point] until next week.’ The last time I went there it was the same thing.”

Because of his illegal status in the country, he has been arrested about five times but never charged. He stays in the police cells overnight and then his uncle gets him out the next morning.

Adroa has no valid documentation and cannot use formal institutions. One of the authorised dealers based in Yeoville says that, in order to buy or sell other currencies, an individual needs to provide a valid passport with a valid permit, recent proof of residential address, proof of income and an airline ticket.

“You can even end up sleeping hungry when you’ve got money because you can’t change it.”

WESTERN WASTE: According to the people in Yeoville, the rates and the conditions at authorised bureaus are too high and inconvenient for people in the market. Trading illegally also eliminates any paper trail for people who may be involved in illicit dealings. Photo: Tendai Dube

Farai* is a Zimbabwean national staying in South Africa legally who sells vegetables inside the Yeoville Market.

Farai says she usually goes to Rockey Street to get her dollars exchanged and refers her friends there too. “It’s simple, they don’t need papers to change the dollars, you just give them the dollars and they give you the rands back.”

She knows of a few traders on that street but won’t use just anyone. “Sometimes you have to be careful, you can get fake money, so you have to know where you’re going in Rockey Street. You have to know the signs of money.”

When Faria exchanges money, she goes with small amounts to avoid being robbed or giving illegal traders any reason to follow her home. “If I change [money] today, I wait another week and then go back.”

Black market dealers aren’t known to just anyone, according to both Adroa and Farai. If you want to exchange any money illegally you need to know someone who can introduce you to a trader.

It’s a street rule known to all that if you want to exchange, you need to go through someone you know so that the trader knows you’re “safe”. This is mainly how they avoid arrest.

I nzara [it’s hunger],” says Vince in Shona, explaining what motivates some to go into illegal dealings. And then sometimes it’s just business and looking to earn a profit.

*Not their real names

The market in Yeoville is a prime trading location but many traders have remained on a waiting list for the past nine years. By: Tendai Dube

FEATURED IMAGE:  People find it more convenient to exchange money informally on the street as the trade is speedy and leaves no paper trail. Photo: Tendai Dube