Alexandra: A microcosm of the Joburg’s housing crisis

Corruption, inequality, mismanagement, and most importantly, the rapid growth of informal settlements—are all testament to the city’s flawed housing system.

On the fateful morning of August 31, 2023 the City of Johannesburg was jolted awake by a harrowing inferno that engulfed a building at 80 Albert Street, claiming the lives of nearly 80 people. This tragic incident spotlighted the alarming reality of numerous hijacked buildings scattered across Johannesburg. These buildings often house the poorest of the poor and are typically overcrowded, unregulated and unsafe.

Though much of the discourse centred on hijacked buildings, it illuminated a more pressing concern – Johannesburg’s staggering housing backlog. Currently, the city faces a backlog of roughly 400 000 homes. With the current rate of delivering sitting at approximately 3 500 housing units per year, it would take the city 100 000 years to address the backlog.

While these figures are staggering, they barely scratch the surface of the problem. In 2022, former member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for human settlements, Mlungisi Mabaso, revealed that the backlog exceeded half a million when factoring in informal settlements and hostels.


Four facts about the housing backlog in Johannesburg. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Although South Africa’s Constitution guarantees the right to access adequate housing for all, prioritising, “those living in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerable housing,” the country’s social housing system remains deeply flawed.

In a nation grappling with a staggering 32.6% unemployment rate,  and where 18.3 million South Africans between the ages of 18-59 are living below the food poverty line, the social housing system mandates households to have a minimum income of R1 500 in order to qualify.

According to Stat SA’s General Household Survey (GHS) South Africa faces a severe dependence on social grants, with social grants constituting the second most significant source of income for households, accounting for 50.2%. Additionally, 20% of households suffer from food insecurity. These statistics raise a critical question: If millions of South Africans rely on social grants and live below the food poverty line, where are they expected to find the means to participate in social housing programmes?

When faced with a housing backlog of this magnitude, people are compelled to take matters into their own hands. This is precisely what numerous South Africans have done at various informal settlements across the city. Therefore, it is conceivable that the housing backlog is intricately connected to the emergence and rapid increase of informal settlements.

While the city lacks a formal definition for informal settlements, they operate under the following working definition: “An impoverished group of households who have illegally or without authority taken occupation of a parcel of land (with the land owned by the Council in the majority of cases) and who have created a shanty town of impoverished illegal residential structures built mostly from scrap material without provision made for essential services and which may or may not have a layout that is more or less formal in nature.”

In 2010, the city reported 180 informal settlements scattered throughout its various regions. Fast forward to 2023, and that number has surged to approximately 320 informal settlements citywide. This raises the question: What is being done to address the situation of those residing in these informal settlements?


The increase in informal settlements in Johannesburg over a 13 year period. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Alexandra, Alex, Gomora

Situated across from Sandton, the wealthiest square mile in Africa, and separated only by the M1 freeway, lies the township of Alexandra also nicknamed Alex or Gomora. Upon observing this area, one is struck by the makeshift structures, known as shacks, and even more astonished by the high population density. Hundreds of thousands of people have been residing in this informal settlement for many years. They have turned to this option while waiting to be provided housing by the City of Johannesburg, with some having been on the waiting list for nearly 50 years.

Ward councillor Floyd Ngwenya represents ward 107 in Alexandra and states that the settlement is hugely overpopulated. “When we look at the books Alex was supposed to have at least 60 000 thousand people staying in Alex, but we are [almost] a million now,” said Ngwenya. It is estimated that Alex currently has roughly 700 000 residents. Alexandra is clearly in urgent need of social housing, but not much has been done to address this issue.

Mabaso told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The backlog in fact started in 1996, in fact prior to 1996 because there are people with B forms that have [still] not been allocated [homes].”

When questioned about when he applied for social housing, Modise Christopher Bosielo (55) an Alex resident and father of three said, “I don’t remember [exactly] when, but it’s about twenty years.”

To add insult to injury, Boiselo and his wife are both unemployed and, and in his words, ‘”struggling to make ends meet”. However, he is aware that besides the housing backlog, he and his wife do not qualify for the existing social housing programmes due to not meeting the financial requirements.

While residents wait to be formally housed, their current living conditions are deplorable.

“Living conditions, I can describe it as the most challenging and I think for obvious reasons,” says Mabaso. He continues “They do not have proper houses; they are living in temporal structures that get affected in whatever condition of the weather. If it’s heavy raining it gets flooded and if it’s too hot, then you can’t stay inside. Above that there are no proper basic services that are provided. I mean all the services, the provision is on [a] temporal basis, the electrification, water, you know there is not proper sanitation.”

A Missed Opportunity – Alexandra Renewal Project

Despite the grim situation, policies and programmes have been implemented over the years to address housing issues in Alexandra. One of the programmes implemented was the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP). The ARP, initiated by the national government in 2001, and received a budget of R1.3 billion. Its purpose was to enhance the “physical, social, and economic environment of Alexandra.” A key goal was to augment housing and reduce population density in the area. The question is whether it has delivered on its intended promise, and the answer is no.

This resulted in what was termed the #TotalShutDownofAlex protests in August and July 2019. Residents of Alexandra mobilized in protest against the lack of service delivery in their community, specifically emphasizing the acute housing shortage. Subsequently, a collaborative investigation conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Public Protector was undertaken to address the myriad issues raised by the protestors. A pivotal aspect of this investigation focused on scrutinizing the management of funds allocated to the ARP.

The investigative team gathered submissions from numerous Alexandra residents. Many of them contended that the total funds allocated for housing under ARP were unaccounted for by the relevant government authorities. Residents of Alexandra further asserted that despite substantial spending under ARP, the housing outcomes in their area were disproportionately inadequate.

A submission presented by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) to the investigation team underscored the numerous gaps during the audit of the ARP. The AGSA noted inadequate project planning and a lack of proper documentation for project assessment. Moreover, the individual projects within the ARP were not efficiently executed and supervised. Due to a lack of documentation submitted by ARP, AGSA could also not verify if the funds allocated to the ARP were exclusively used for the project.  

Further submissions were made by the Group Forensic Investigation Services of the city of Johannesburg and they highlighted the following:

(a) Evidence of criminality, conflicts of interest on the part of certain service providers

(b) That the ARP management was marked by procurement fraud, post facto approvals, irregular awards, advance payments, unauthorised expenditure, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of up to R40 million;

(c) Projects not optimally managed thereby leading to poor work quality, late delivery of projects, project overruns;

(d) Tender and contractual disputes where contractors defaulted, filed for insolvency, contract terminated and court challenges, etc.

A Sector Vulnerable to Corruption

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Marie Huchzermeyer who is an associate professor at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and has done extensive research on informal settlements within the City of Johannesburg. Huchzermeyer says, “In the housing sector there’s long been a discussion about the RDP housing system not being fair and not being a good way of government spending its money, although it must also be recognised that at least the government is doing something, it does have a housing programme, it is rolling and it is allocating budget to it, but because it’s allocating such a lot of budget to housing, housing is also the most vulnerable to corruption.”

She also says that detecting corruption in this sector is challenging. “There are so many housing projects that are incomplete, where contractors have disappeared, and whether its corruption or whether its poor project management, budgets not being properly planned for and allocated, the capacity to actually deliver housing seems to be very fragile at the moment,” says Huchzermeyer.

The level of corruption is not lost on the residents of Alex and other informal settlements. “They know that the allocation processes are so fraud that when a housing project gets built politicians somehow interfere in the allocation of units and the people that were supposed to benefit from them don’t,” says Huchzermeyer.

“With corruption, it’s a reality, we cannot run away from it, and I think that’s the conundrum that the sector is facing,” says former human settlement MMC Mabaso.

He continues “I can tell you; you have a cartel in the construction [industry] that is operating, taking charge of the budget, and not delivering the good and the quality work that is expected. So, people are interested in the sector because you know you get rich quicker when you are a developer and that’s where their area of interest is actually at.” He says that it is the main challenge that is hindering the performance of the department.

While there appears to be significant mismanagement in the city’s housing sector, specifically Alex, the key question is what actions the city is taking to address this issue and whether those actions are enough.

Speaking on actions taken by the city Councillor Floyd told Wits Vuvuzela: “Currently the city of Johannesburg has implemented a project called UISP which is [the] Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programmes. That programme aims to identify informal settlements around Johannesburg and try and formalise those settlements within the spaces they are currently in. My ward with the informal settlements that we have, we have consultation meetings with residents of those informal settlements to say [ask] what is the best way you [the residents] think the government can assist you.”

A graphic detailing what a UISP is and the four phases of a UISP. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Mabaso’s sentiments are that the city has not done enough. “The city has not done enough to address the housing backlog and the informal settlements; we have not done enough,” he says.

Mabaso says while grants are in place to address informal settlements they are not being used correctly. “If you look at the performance of the city now, I can tell you they are not spending the grants [on] the programmes they should be spending them [on].”

He also highlights the alarming fact that construction has not commenced on recent housing projects that were implemented. He explains that this is due to the city’s capital budget being allocated to projects that were started years ago.

“There are no construction of houses in the mega project that we are currently implementing so, every expenditure that is on our capital budget now is for the work that started [a] long time ago, so there are no new developments that are taking place. I know there is one that will be launched that we started three years ago, so the city has not really done enough.”

Over the years, various policies and programs have been implemented, whether they have been successful or not, to address the city’s housing needs. Changes have certainly taken place; however, Huchzermeyer says, “What hasn’t changed is the need for people to resort to informal settlements.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Seated on a bench, three friends gaze out over the landscape they call home—Alexandra. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


FEATURE: South Africa’s grant system has a missing middle problem

Despite South Africa’s constitution enshrining that every citizen possesses the right to access social security – a large demographic has been excluded from the social grant system.

While it may appear inconceivable to subsist on a grant of a mere R350 per month, this harsh reality befalls millions of South Africans, who find themselves teetering precariously below the food poverty line, trapped in a crippling dependency on social grants.

Wits Vuvuzela delved into the lives of five South Africans, confronting the stark reality of surviving on that R350 per month. When questioned about how their families manage on such an allowance, a resounding “We don’t!’ echoed around the room. Donavan Du Pelsen (53) lamented, “R11 a day! It works out to R11 a day!” Another recipient chimed in, “A loaf of bread is R12!”

Social security is firmly embedded in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Section 27(1)(c) of Act 108 of 1996 stipulates that every South African has the right to access social security, which includes appropriate social assistance for those unable to support themselves and their dependents.

Yet, in a country with a 32.6% unemployment rate, millions of citizens have been excluded from receiving this core socioeconomic right, resulting in 18.3 million South Africans between the ages of 18-59 living below the food poverty line.

The quarterly labour force statistics published by Statistics South Africa for Q2: 2023.
Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Prior to 2020, when the Social Relief of Distress Grant was implemented in response to the covid-19 pandemic, unemployed and able-bodied South Africans between the ages of 18-59 were completely excluded from the social grant system.

The grants which exist in South Africa include the older person’s grant, child support grant, grant in aid, care dependency grant, foster child grant, disability grant and war veterans grant.

According to a study conducted by UNICEF one of the common misconceptions held by policymakers, the media, and stakeholders in general, is that providing social assistance to citizens between the ages of 18-59 will lead to long-term dependency. Those who hold this view think such social assistance will disincentivise active job seekers and promote laziness.

This kind of thinking imagines that social grants should exclusively be allocated to the ‘deserving poor’ while unemployed people of working age are simply not trying hard enough to fight their circumstances.

Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD)

Implemented to help the economically vulnerable South Africans during the pandemic, the SRD grant provided a monthly stipend of R350 afforded to recipients. In the 2023 budget speech finance minister, Enoch Godongwana stated that the grant would be extended until 31 March 2024. Although it was a much welcomed extension, the implementation has less than smooth.  

On 27 July 2023, the Pay The Grants campaign and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) sued the government over the unfair exclusion of millions of people from the SRD grant. They also included concerns about “the real terms reduction of the value of the grant.” They stated that while all social grants have increased over time, the SRD grant has remained the same since its implementation in 2020. “Given headline inflation over 6%, the value of the grant has decreased to R294 in real terms. Inflation in the price of food is even higher than headline inflation, having reached over 11%,” read the court documents.

“We would rather have jobs than the R350!”

– Euradiece raiters

Commenting on the exclusion of social grants for people between the ages of 18-59, Pay The Grants chairperson, Elizabeth Raiters, who is also a recipient of the SRD Grant said: “We are not lazy to work. If you [are] over 35 it’s a big struggle to find a job because of your age. So, what happens to us after 35? There’s no grant to support us, we [are] not lazy to work, we are looking for jobs.” Raiters sister, Euradiece Raiters, who is also a recipient of the SRD grant echoed the sentiment, “We would rather have jobs than the R350!”

“There is totally no grant that covers those people, until you get old age (older person’s grant), so for all those years how must you survive?” said Raiters.

Charmaine Martin, another grant recipient and mother, was forced to quit her job when her husband developed a chronic disease which left him dependent on two oxygen tanks and unable to stay home alone. “I have a chronic patient, a daughter that’s 14, no income, we’re waiting for a grant that may never arrive, so in your mind how do you think we’re surviving now at this moment?”

She continued: “Tomorrow, he needs to go to hospital, I don’t have money for him to go to hospital for his appointment.” Martin is receiving a grant of R500 for her daughter, “She’s 14, how much is toiletries? R500 is for toiletries. So where does she eat? Where is she getting clothing from?”

Feeling despondent and out of options Martin said: “I’m at a point now where I want to send my husband to a place where they can help him with his illness, his lungs and everything, and me and my child can go to the shelter and live there… At least at the shelter, we will be able to eat breakfast, lunch and supper.”

Martin is constantly managing her hunger, “I don’t eat [for] like four to five days. I’ll rather buy a grandpa and that will fill me and boost me for the day ahead,” she said.

Valentia Mahlaela (22), an honours in physiology student at Wits University, was a recipient of the SRD grant in 2020 and said she was only able to use the R350 for toiletries. “I used it as my allowance, especially toiletries,” she continues, adding that “I was never granted NSFAS so it helped my folks [parents] a lot.”

Universal Basic Income Grant

Pay The Grants has been campaigning for the government to implement a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG) of a minimum of R1500. According to Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice& Dignity Group household affordability index, the average cost of a household food basket is R5124,31.

Commenting on the need for the UBIG to be implemented Pay The Grants said, “Debts are skyrocketing and so is child malnutrition. Rising unemployment is a structural feature of the system, currently 35% overall and 70% for youth without any signs of improvement.”

The organization says that UBIG is a way to restore the basic dignity and survival of most of the country.

  • Universal Basic Income Grant

An infographic outlining the premise of a universal basic income grant. Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Although deeply embedded in our constitution, it is clear that a significant portion of South Africans have been left behind when it comes to accessing social grants. One would think that the mother in the Eastern Cape who killed herself and her three daughters due to the extreme poverty they endured, would be a cautionary tale to the government to not only increase the grant amount but also make it more accessible to people of working age. However, this has not been the case. The question stands – how many more tragedies must occur before all South Africans’ constitutional rights are met?

FEATURED IMAGE: South Africa is confronted with a striking dependence on social grants, yet millions have been left out of the social security system. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


One talk on organ donation can save seven lives  

The failure by registered organ donors to disclose their intentions to donate to their families – is causing a stumbling block for the growth of this kind of surgical procedure, which saves lives  

As Organ Donor Awareness Month comes to an end, the lack of donators continues to be a concern for doctors and organisations that work to bring awareness about this medical procedure in the country.   

According to the Western Cape Government, more than 4000 people are awaiting a life-saving organ or cornea transplant, however, the country has a mere 0.2% of registered organ donors. In addition to this, South Africa has one of the lowest rates of deceased organ donations in the world with merely one in four donors per million population. 

Dr Sharan Rambarran from the transplant clinic at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre explained that there are various factors contributing to the low number, including religious and cultural.  

However, even those factors considered, being a registered donor means nothing if the giver is not having the necessary conversations with their loved ones. This is because the organ donation system in South Africa uses an “opt-in” approach — meaning regardless of whether an individual is a registered organ donor or has their wishes to be a donor expressed in their will, their family would have to consent to the donation.  

“You can be registered with every association, you can be signed up on every organ donor registry, ultimately when you are declared brain dead your family have the last say as to whether or not you can be an organ donor,” said Rambarran.   

Dr Sharan Rambarran in his office at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Transplant Unit after discussing the various factors which contribute to the low number of registered donors in South Africa.

Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

The president of Save Seven Jonty Wright, and vice-president, Naazim Nagdee said they have since learned that this problem can be avoided if interested donors can inform their loved ones about their intentions to donate.  

“We ran a small survey and realised that over 90% of our peers didn’t know this simple fact and that’s a part of why young people don’t sign-up, it seems complex and time-consuming when it is actually not,” said the pair that works to raise awareness around organ donation.  

Tanya Bothma (43) has experienced both ends of the spectrum. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, she said in December 2017, she had a double lung transplant after living with a chronic lung disease since birth. It was the first transplant of its kind to be done anywhere in Africa. However, five months prior to her transplant, Tanya lost her brother in a paragliding accident. Her brother was an organ donor and although his organs were unable to be harvested, he was able to donate tissue and help 26 people in need.  

The sad reality is not every story ends like Bothmas. Jessie Ann Losper faced a different reality when her husband was diagnosed with stage four renal kidney failure in 2020. 

Although Losper was a match for her husband, he died before the transplant could take place. Losper said this was an eye-opening experience for her as she got a first-hand encounter of what the people in need of transplants and their families go through.  

“Not many are as fortunate as we were to find a donor. Donors are desperately needed for many. During Taariqs’ (her husband) time at the hospital we met so many people who have been on the programme even longer than him and are depressed and hopeless because they have no support from family or friends.” She continued, “Loved ones have abandoned them because of them not being able to be as active as they once were, to earn salaries, even because of the level of care they sometimes need. It’s heart-wrenching to see and know.”  

After experiencing both ends of the spectrum Bothma pleads with the public, “Please have the conversation with your family members about donating your organs after you have died, to save more lives like mine.” 

Infographic: Six facts about organ donation

FEATURED IMAGE: A Wits student registering to become an organ donor on the Organ Donation Foundation website. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


SACOS celebrates five decades of fighting for racial equality in sports 

The South African Council on Sport (SACOS) recognises that the fight for non-racialism in sports still remains relevant in the country.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, SACOS and Wits History Workshop held a two-day colloquium at the South West Engineering building and at the Great Hall at Wits. 

After having been around for decades, the two-day seminar from Friday, July 28 to July 29, focused on the relevance of the council in post-apartheid South Africa through various panel discussions. It also celebrated its history through book launches and exhibitions. 

SACOS was established in March 1973 during the peak of apartheid and was strongly dedicated to creating non-racialism in sports. It was widely recognised as the sporting arm of the liberation movement, mobilising communities nationwide under the powerful slogan “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society!” 

Unfortunately, with the advent of democracy, SACOS became marginalised. The changing political landscape of the country along with the increasing emphasis on elite and professional sports, diminished SACOS’s influence and relegated it to the sidelines in the new era.

Laurence Stewart, from the Wits History Workshop, told Wits Vuvuzela that even though things have changed since South Africa ushered in democracy; the council is still needed due to the challenges that are still pervasive in sport today. 

Stewart pointed out that there is a severe lack of sports within public schools, possibly even less than what was available 15 years ago. “SACOS is relevant now because of the poor state of all sports,” he emphasised. 

He also pointed out that the country has a priority problem when it comes to sports.  Stewart explained, “You have Siya Kolisi being the captain of the rugby team, but [he] had to be taken out of the community where he grew up, [and] taken to a private school in order to be who he is now. 

“You can’t get into the national team if you come from a poor community and live in that community, you have to be taken out,” he continued.  

He said that the entire system is based on “inequality and division” while highlighting that there has been a failure to “bridge that gap” by the government and civil society. 

“Sport is racialised, it’s divided and there’s a lot of inequality, and SACOS was a sports group which existed during apartheid, which stood up and created sports [amongst] poor communities,” he said.  

SACOS member, Carlton Weber, gave a presentation titled “A Dialectical-Historical Deconstruction of 50 years inside a community-based Sports Organisation: Remembering SACOS from within SACOS.” 

Providing a historical context for the formation of SACOS, Weber delved into the colonisation of the country and how it consequently led to the establishment of an “abnormal society”, that divided people.  

SACOS member, Carlton Weber, during his presentation on the rich history of SACOS.

Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

“SACOS, as an organisation, committed itself to re-establish, through sports, a very globally recognised human activity, to speak directly to these abnormalities and developed the principles that defined our essential humanity.” 

One of the event’s attendees, Roberta McBride, expressed her satisfaction with the fact that the speakers were addressing the issues faced in communities of colour. However, she also questioned how they were planning to solve the problem. 

Roberta McBride and Herschel Matthews share a hearty laugh as they fondly reminisce about the memories from their struggle for sports equality.

Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

“We [are] all sitting here, we all played under the banner of SACOS, what are we going to do, how are we going to take it to our schools, what responsibility am I taking to organise the youth from the areas that we come from, we don’t live there anymore, we’ve moved on, but somehow we have to organise.” said Mcbride.  

The colloquium was a poignant reminder that the struggle for equality in sports is still on going. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A dilapidated soccer ball that symbolises the dire state of sports in poverty-stricken areas in South Africa. Photo: Elwood/ Istock 


Former Witsies launch theatre company 

After creating an award nominated play, six former Witsies, interwoven by the threads of their theatrical dreams, unite to start their own theatre company.  

The curtains may have closed on the final run of the show Seeing Other People at the Theatre on the Square, Sandton, on Saturday, 22 July, but for the creators, it marks just the opening act of an exciting new journey.  

After creating a three-time Naledi Theatre award-nominated play former Witsies Hira Lodhi, Martin Grendele, Naledi Modipa, Sasha Karlin, Hlumie Moloi and James Netherlands have started a theatre company named “Top Comedy”.  

The group said founded the company for two reasons. Firstly, they thoroughly enjoy working together and share an undeniable performance chemistry and rapport. Secondly, creating this company provides them with a valuable support system.  

“The theatre industry can be quite competitive, working together means we have each other to lean on for support in regards to creating work together,” said the group in a combined statement.  

The idea of starting the company had been on the group’s mind since their days at the Wits theatre department, but they admitted that it “always seemed so out of reach.“. However, after the success they experienced with their play Seeing Other People starting the company felt like the right move.  

The group wanted to make it clear that they are a theatre company, not a production company. “The major difference being that we don’t produce other theatre or works, except our own. We simply collaborate creatively to make a work of theatre [and to] generate online content.” 

(From left to right) James Netherlands, Martin Grendele, Sasha Karlin, Hlumie Moloi, Hira Lodhi, Naledi Modipa posing for a “fun” photo after a performance of their award nominated show Seeing Other People at Theatre on the Square. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Commenting on the roles each member fulfils, they said that the roles change depending on the project they are working on and what each member wants to take on.  

“For example, Hira Lodhi [was the] director, designer and producer of “Seeing Other People” while Martin Grendele [was the] producer and performer.”  

The team says that their long-term goals are simply “To keep working. To keep creating”. 

The future of the company looks bright as they are currently working on new theatrical and digital projects.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The six Witsies who started Top Comedy after the final run of their award nominated show, Seeing Other People, at Theatre on the Square. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


REVIEW: Victim/Suspect  

In a compelling Netflix documentary, sexual assault victims face the heartbreaking reality of police accusing and arresting them for ‘false reporting’. 

The Netflix Originals documentary, Victims/Suspect follows the journey of journalist Rae de Leon from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Through her investigation, she uncovers a shocking revelation, exposing how sexual assault victims were subjected to intimidation by police during lengthy depositions, ultimately pressuring them into recanting their statements. 

The documentary directed and produced by Nancy Schwartzman, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023, and was released on Netflix on May 23.   

Schwartzman’s previous work includes, Roll Red Roll, which dealt with the permissive “bro culture” around the rape cases which took place in 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio.  

In Victim/Suspect she was able to craft an enthralling and provocative investigative documentary by tracking De Leon’s investigation and exposing how policing across the US can allow law enforcement to transform sexual assault survivors into criminal suspects.   

 De Leon utilised police interrogation footage, victim testimonies and interviews with legal experts to gain insight into where the potential flaws within the police system lie.   

Beginning with piecing together the victims’ stories of assault, De Leon then compared them with the police’s handling of their cases before they subsequently closed the cases by arresting the victims.   

 By scrutinising the work of the police De Leon uncovered a recurring pattern, noting that when law enforcement officers had a form of scepticism towards possible sexual assault victims, they would resort to employing suspect interrogation tactics against them. These interrogation tactics included subjecting the accuser to hours of prolonged interrogation and repeatedly asking them questions until they reached the point of just wanting to exit the room. Additionally, police officers would lie to the victims claiming to possess surveillance footage of the location where the incident allegedly occurred.   

 It seems that the officers’ modus operandi had very little to do with justice and more focused on bringing the victims to a point of submission and having power over them. The reasons could range from police officers trying to protect a prominent local figure to them undermining the women’s recounting of their attacks to shorten the investigative time. 

 Although this aggressive approach was used on the victims, the alleged attackers were barely interviewed, if at all.  

 While the documentary is compelling and showcases excellent journalism, it is regrettably presented in a manner that is distracting and challenging to follow. The film is loosely centred around the journalist who had been working on exposing the flaws in the way sexual assault victims and cases were handled by the police for years, but the inclusion of documented evidence at random points in the timeline can cause some confusion.  

The voiceover switches between past and present tense regarding the creation of the journalist’s article, yet there are no visual cues to assist viewers in navigating this continuous shifting.  Not only did this create an unnecessarily complicated viewing experience, but the jumbled flow of events also took away from the impact some of the footage could have had on the viewer.  

 At times, the documentary also seems too much like a profile of a fired-up go-getter journalist. Although De Leon’s actions were admirable, placing so much focus on her could arguably have taken the spotlight from some of the victims’ interviews and the footage used as evidence throughout the documentary.  

 Overall, the documentary is a good and necessary watch. As a student journalist, the documentary taught me the significance of setting aside personal fears to advocate for those who cannot speak up for themselves. One aspect that resonated with me deeply was when De Leon mentioned her own apprehension when confronting individuals by knocking on their doors. However, she recognises that she serves as the voice for those who may be voiceless, and this realisation empowers her to overcome her fears and pursue her mission. 

The biggest flaw in the documentary may be the lack of access to the police officers in question as they declined to participate in the film. This leaves the viewer feeling a lack of closure and somewhat enraged knowing that none of the officers were held accountable.  

Vuvu rating: 7/10  

FEATURED IMAGE: Victim/Suspect, a Netflix Originals documentary. Photo: IMBD


Seed of entrepreneurship flourishes on market day 

Student business owners appeal for valuable platform to be regular as it boosts brand awareness. 

From student-manufactured perfumes to thrift stores presenting affordable clothing items, the Student Entrepreneurship, Education and Development (Seed) market day was a colourful display of creativity and variety. 

The market day was held at the Library Lawns on Friday, May 19, offering a lively and vibrant experience, inviting student entrepreneurs to showcase their diverse range of business products. 

In addition to introducing students to their products, the market day proved profitable for student entrepreneurs as Jean Banda from Zer Thrift, an online thrift store, said, “You can see by the way students are buying, they want more of this.”  

The Seed programme, a collaboration between the Wits Development and Leadership Unit (DLU) and the Young African Entrepreneur Institute (YAEI) was established three years ago. The DLU, a division of student affairs, provides co-curricular development opportunities for personal, social and professional growth, while the YAEI, a registered youth-led non-profit organisation, empowers youth with practical skills and support to transition their venture ideas into impactful start-ups.  

Their joint venture, Seed, aims to equip students from all faculties with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to start and successfully start and manage their own businesses. 

Thato Wesi, the executive head of marketing and corporate affairs at YAEI, said that the market day served two primary purposes: to foster confidence in student entrepreneurs, enabling them to effectively “sell themselves” and to provide them with networking opportunities with fellow student entrepreneurs.  

Madhi Mohamed, a civil engineering master’s student and the founder of HnH perfumes, said the market day was an excellent platform to raise brand awareness for his business. “People are not aware of these more Arabic, Dubai perfumes and also locally based products … where its more affordable than going to the stores where you buy perfume for R2 000. You might as well purchase one that lasts just as long for R200 [from us].”

Mahdi Mohamed (22) says his Arabic perfumes offer better value than those sold at regular stores.
Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Echoing Mohamed’s sentiments Lehlogonolo Mabitsi, founder of Rebellious Clothing, an online based clothing store, said that he was happy he got the opportunity to introduce his merchandise to more students. The third-year bachelor of arts in film and television student added that it was a great feeling to have customers experience his product for themselves. 

Among the vibrant stalls, a prevailing sentiment resonated among the student entrepreneurs—a unanimous desire for the market day to become a recurring event. “I feel like it would be more satisfying if these were held every two weeks,” said Banda.  

Yasmin Wania, a fourth-year LLB student and founder of Cyber Rats Attic, an online thrift and consignment store emphasised the need for more effective marketing targeting students. “If Wits decides to do it more often, which I hope they do, they should definitely tell everyone it’s happening,” says Wania. 

In response, Kristan Sharpley, a student development practitioner from the DLU, said, “The Development and Leadership Unit is definitely interested in providing more opportunities for students to showcase their businesses. As the student entrepreneurship community continues to grow, so will opportunities for them to engage with their customers.”   Samuel Zitha, a third-year politics and international relations student who attended the market, said he had discovered several brands he had been unaware of and appreciated that the market was “advertising what students really need, like clothes and affordable jewellery. It was student based, we were their target market, they did their homework, so it was good.” 

Students Sphelele Maseko (21) and Samuel Zitha (21) take a break from shopping at the Seed Market. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

FEATURED IMAGE: Lehlogonolo Mabitisi (22), owner of Rebellious Clothing, poses with his merchandise. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


WITH INFOGRAPHIC: Unmasking online violence 

In this digital first era, users need to be aware of technology-facilitated gender-based violence and how to report it says Wits GEO.  

A collaboration between Sunnyside Hall’s student development and gender equity office and the Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO) hopes to make students aware various forms of online violence and harassment.

The event named “Siders for Survivors,” cleverly plays on the residence name “Sunnyside,” and took place at their main study hall on May 18, 2023. The GEOs started off with definitions and examples of gender-based violence (GBV) students may experience on campus and ways to report and find help.

However, it wasn’t until technology-facilitated GBV (TF_GBV) was mentioned that people sat up in their chairs and started engaging in the discussion more enthusiastically.

TF-GBV  refers to acts of harm, such as sexual, physical, psychological, or social abuse, that are carried out or intensified using digital tools like social media. It includes cyberbullying, online harassment, non-consensual sharing of intimate content, and any other harmful behaviours online.

GEO intern Ebenezer Maimele presented the six categories that fall under TF-GBV to the group. Maimele said something as innocuous as sharing posts that portray someone in a negative light could be classified as an act of TF-GBV. Bystanders can be held legally liable for any harm caused depending on what they post or repost.  

Maimele, said people can be “upstanders” instead, by abstaining from liking, sharing, or reposting TF-GBV posts. In this way one avoids complicity and can take further action by reporting TF-GBV they come across on the timeline.

Attendee, Chioma Nzelu (18) said, “We often perceive gender-based violence as highly aggressive and explicitly violent, but it can also be subtle and considered normal or a daily occurrence.” 

Tiisetso Maleke (25), GEO member said she hopes more students report any misconduct experienced on campus, “we are there for everybody,” not just women. 

Mukelwe Mdluli (21), Sunnyside’s student development and gender and transformation officer, shared the sentiment, and said awareness is the first step in empowering students.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits GEO armbands which were gifted to the attendee’s of the “Siders for Survivor’s” event. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


SRC in drive to banish burnout syndrome  

To mark mental health awareness month, the student support office is visiting residences and student accommodations to educate students about how to manage stress. 

Forty students turned up for the Wits SRC student support office’s first event to kick off mental health awareness month, on April 25, at Apex Studios Accommodation in Braamfontein.

The mental health drive is a student wellbeing initiative that will see SRC student support officer, Lisa Sibaca and a team of various panellists going to different student accommodations and residences to discuss mental health. 

At Apex Studios, each of the five panellists tackled a different topic relating to mental health in an interactive discussion that saw students asking questions and engaging in conversation with the panellists.

First was SRC student support member, Thato Lebitso, who addressed a topic that most students in the audience felt strongly about as it received a lot of interaction and feedback from the audience – “burnout syndrome”. He described it as “unsuccessfully managed chronic stress”.   

Lebitso explained that, although all students deal with stress, not all students deal with burnout syndrome. The key factor which distinguishes the two is the way stress is managed.  He said stress was a natural part of life and of being a student as there were always deadlines to meet or exams and tests to plan for.

However, when students do not manage their stress in a healthy way and plan their activities and obligations in detail, this leads to chronic stress which could possibly lead to burnout, Lebitso said. He identified six steps that students could implement to manage stress and avoid burnout.

Thato Lebitso’s six steps to manage stress and to avoid burnout. Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

This resonated with one of the students in attendance, Lebogang Sekhitlu (23) who said, “Once you can identify [burnout], I think you can limit the harm it does.”

The drive will continue till Tuesday, May 16, and staff from the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) would take part, so that students could be aware of the resources available to them.   

“It is very easy to blame a student for not working or performing academically, but they’re suffering in terms of their mental health, so, we’re here to offer solutions,” said Sibaca.   Omphile Seqhee (19), Apex Studios’ well-being and outreach student life intern, told Wits Vuvuzela that she was more than happy to collaborate with the SRC student support office by bringing the drive to their accommodation. She was happy that students got tips on how to deal with academic stress as that is what causes students to have the most mental health struggles.

FEATURED IMAGE: SRC student support officer, Lisa Sibaca, and her team of panellists engage with the audience at a mental health drive event at Apex Studio Accommodation, Braamfontein. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


Another milestone reached for grad with cerebral palsy 

Wits student with a motor disability successfully completes her degree despite odds being stacked against her 

At 18-month-old, Holly Heinzelmann was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after her parents realised that she was not achieving the milestones that most children her age were reaching. 

The diagnosis made it difficult for her to navigate life in a world that still has barriers that inhibit disabled people to thrive. However, Heinzelmann was determined to obtain a university degree, despite the challenges she faced. 

In April, she achieved her goal by obtaining her degree, majoring in genetics and developmental biology as well as ecology and conservation. “In general, graduating is a huge achievement for anyone, but specifically for disabled people,” she explained to Wits Vuvuzela. 

Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term which refers to a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Heinzelmann’s affected areas are her muscle tone in her legs, and maintaining balance, as a result, she is unable to walk without aid or a walking frame. To get around — because campus is big — she used a mobility scooter.  

Heinzelmann’s troubles would however not end there. After battling covid-19 in 2020, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2021. This added to the list of things she had to take into consideration when coming into campus daily, as she would have to ensure that she takes her insulin and has snacks on her to keep her blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.  

Although she is soft-spoken and meek in her demeanour, when it came to taking on the extra challenge she was faced with, Heinzelmann did it fiercely and relentlessly by continuing to show up and do the work that was required of her.    

Her mother, Meredith Heinzelmann told Wits Vuvuzela that Disability Rights Unit (DRU) helped her daughter navigate the university environment. “DRU is fantastic, and they do a fantastic job, they’ve certainly contributed to a very positive university experience for her [Holly], but there are still issues that are beyond their control like lifts not working”.  

Holly Heinzelmann and her parents, Carl and Meredith Heinzelmann the day of her graduation at the Disability Rights Unit office.
Photo: Supplied/Holly Heinzelmann

The DRU is a support unit at Wits that helps students with various disabilities. They do this by creating awareness around disabilities, making campus more accessible to these students and helping them receive reasonable accommodation.  

Heinzelmann said that the unit allowed her to keep her mobile scooter in their offices overnight to charge. This greatly helped her as it would have been too difficult for her to transport her scooter to and from campus daily.  

“If a lift stopped working and I couldn’t get to a lecture and needed to change my lecture venue I would just go to the DRU. They would assist in the engagement with the lecturers and course administration,” Heinzelmann added.  

She said the unit also assisted her to get extra time when writing exams, as the muscle tone in the lower half of her body would cause her to slouch if she sat for too long. This would affect her writing speed. 

Iman Cakirerk, a fellow Witsie and friend of Heinzelmann said that she would express her frustration about the lack of accessibility in certain labs on campus, but she always found a way to get around them.  

Heinzelmann will continue her postgraduate degree in law at Wits, and she encouraged people living with disabilities to also consider studying despite how hard it might be. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Graduate and cerebral palsy warrior Holly Heinzelmann (21) standing in front of the DRU’s offices on the day of her graduation.
Photo: Supplied/Holly Heinzelmann


SLICE: I very nearly allowed stress to kill me

After discovering the root of my depression and anxiety, it became clear why stress is referred to as “the silent killer”. 

At only 20 years old, I found myself sitting on my bed with a handful of pills ready to take my own life. I was tired of how I was feeling, and I wanted it to end.    

Two years earlier, in 2016, I had taken a gap year after I did not get accepted into any university I had applied to. I was embarrassed because in my community there is a stigma attached to taking a gap year.   

I was constantly being asked: “What are you doing with your life now?” and “Doing nothing this year will make you lazy.” While at a funeral, grieving, someone said, “Your brother didn’t take a gap year, so why are you?”  

This constant comparisons to my brother who went to university straight out of school hit me hard. So did seeing my peers move forward while I felt stagnant, and constantly feeling as if I was disappointing my parents. I started doing admin work at our church office and applied again. I eventually got accepted in 2017 for a higher certificate in journalism.  

I could have gone on to work as a journalist, but my plan was always to get an undergraduate degree first. When I received a rejection letter from UCT, I remember feeling embarrassed and like a failure again. Fortunately, I was admitted for an undergraduate degree in copywriting at Vega.  

Within the first two weeks I knew the course was not for me, but I decided to complete the year and switch to a different university or degree programme the following year. As time went on, I found myself feeling sad and angry all the time and going to class made me feel so anxious, I would cry every day.   

My breaking point came the day I received my mark for an assignment that I had worked on day and night – 37%. After that soul-crushing moment, I left campus early without telling anyone, and stopped at two different pharmacies to get as many pills as I could.  

As I sat on my bed later, the stress of dropping out was too much. So was the stress of continuing with the programme. I was ready to end my life. At that very moment, a friend messaged me: “Are you okay?” I am alive today because of that message.  

Since then, there have been a few more instances when I have felt the only way out was to take my own life. In 2022 I started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist. What came out of these sessions was not only an ADHD diagnosis, but the fact that I have clinical depression and general anxiety disorder.  

The root cause of my mental illnesses was revealed as stress. In the sessions with my therapist, we found a pattern. Whenever life became what felt like unbearably stressful, I would reach such a low that I would only see suicide as the only way out. This discovery is what saved me. 

WHO defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation”. An associate professor of health administration and public health at Husson University says stress is good in the short term because it allows us to meet deadlines and fulfil important tasks, however, it does not do well when it is activated long term.  

 The constant stress I had been under since 2016 had taken its toll on me mentally. I realised that I had suppressed my emotions because life was stressful for everyone, and I thought not being able to handle the pressure would make me seem weak.  

Looking back, there are many things I would do differently. I would pay attention to the feelings of hopelessness and the lows that were not just a bad day but would stay constantly with me. 

A clinical professor at Brown University, Carol Landau says that the impact of stress on depression is “one of the most important problems of our time”. I would like to echo her sentiments and add that it is one that we should treat with the seriousness it requires.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Terri-Ann Brouwers. Photo: File


Wits ousted from the FNBVarsityCup

Wits will not be progressing to the Varsity Cup semi-finals after being defeated by the NWU Eagles  

 North-West University’s Eagles have secured their spot in the Varsity Cup semi-finals on Monday, with a 36-3 victory against Wits.  

 The Eagles, affectionally known as Pukke had a strong start to the game, leading with a score of 10-3 before the game was suspended due to heavy downpours and lightning strikes.   

The match was resumed 40 minutes later when the rain subsided, but Wits’ attempts to get the quanco into the end zone failed, ending the first half with the Eagles dominating with a score of 17-3.  

When half-time ended, the heavy rains had intensified again and the game was suspended for over an hour. Most spectators left the stadium as they assumed ​​​​the game would eventually be cancelled, but it carried on despite delays.  

 In the first 20 minutes after the game resumed, Pukke extended their lead through full-back Santino Swanepoel, who received the ball from out wide and finished with a successful ​try. This resulted in the NWU Eagles leading with 24 points while Wits remained at three points. 

 In their final try, which was finished off by inside centre Luke Fortuin, the NWU Eagles solidified their win with a final score of 36-3.  

NWU player, Farai Sibanda who was sitting on the bench said the Eagles are excited about making it to the semi-finals, but “the job is not done.”  

NWU Eagles trying to turn over possession during their match against Wits. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Wits player, Ziyanda Msipha said that he believes the bad weather conditions negatively contributed to their overall performance. “I feel when they called it [halted the game] at first, during the first half, I believe they should have cancelled it and made us play [the next day]. I think that would have made sense because there’s a lot of momentum shifts when you’re stopping the play three or four times.”  

He explained that it was unfortunate that they did not make it to the next round. “The team is hurt, it’s badly hurt, and it’s tough because there’s quite a few players that won’t play next year, so this would’ve been their last one, ​​so in that aspect, players are really hurt.”​​  

Wits head coach, Hugo Van As said the team was “very devastated” about not making it to the semi-finals  He said although the weather was bad, he did not think it contributed to Wits performance, alluding that it was just a bad game for his team.  

He added that overall, the team performed well this year. Out of the seven games they ​​played, the games against Stellenbosch University and the University of the Free State were the only two games where they were not “on par.”   

 Wits player Jason Lee Cloete said despite the defeat, Witsies can hold their heads up high because they put a good effort on the field.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits rugby players in a maul with the NWU Eagles. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers