VIDEO: Why some Witsies did not vote in SRC elections

While many Witsies took to the polls to vote in this year’s SRC elections, there were other students who expressed no interest in the movement. Wits Vuvuzela caught up with these students to find out the issues that lead to these students not voting.




Fizzy drinks taking years off your lifespan

FATTY FIZZY: Regular consumption of these products could lead to being overweight. Photo: Thabile Manala

FATTY FIZZY: Regular consumption of these products could lead to being overweight. Photo: Thabile Manala

A young adults’ chance of being overweight increases by almost 30% every time they consume a 330ml can of a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB).

Wits Researchers have found that one can of a fizzy drink contains an average of nine teaspoons of sugar and some can easily contain more than that.

The researchers agreed there are many contributing factors to obesity, however there is a direct link between sugar and gaining weight because fizzy drinks have “absolutely no nutritional value”, they said.

The research paper confirmed a recommendation made by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi that introducing a 20% tax on all SSB products would reduce sugar intake by 36 kilojoules per day.

Mercy Manyema, fellow researcher, said South Africa’s obesity levels are number one in Sub-Saharan Africa and seventeenth in the world. Obesity can lead to diabetes, strokes, heart diseases and tooth decay said Manyema.

The study has been met with a lot of defensiveness from the public, with comments pointing out that instead of increasing the sugar tax, why is the government not subsidising healthy food?

Another comment the researchers got during a radio interview said: “If you put another tax, we are already burdened with tax, you are gonna be taking money out of our pocket.”

Aviva Tugendhaft, fellow researcher, said: “A tax would work best with other approaches including health promotion, subsidisation of health food should occur, as well as easy food labelling … It would be more effective if incorporated with other promotions.”

Manyema said: “The cost of trying to cure a sick person, is heavier than [the cost] to prevent”. She added that it cost the state 23% more to treat an obese person compared to an average weight person.

Tugendhaft advised students to be more aware of how much sugar they consume, she said “eat your fruit, don’t drink it”. Tugendhaft further emphasised that students should make a habit of checking food labels before they eat.



Oscar’s lawyer says SA’s legal system lacks certainty

Advocate Barry Roux, attorney for Oscar Pistorius, spoke at Wits last week about the problems in the criminal justice system. Photo: Courtesy EWN.

Advocate Barry Roux, lawyer for Oscar Pistorius, spoke at Wits last week about the problems in the South African legal system. Photo: Courtesy EWN.

One of country’s most recognisable names in the legal professions says the biggest problem facing the law in South Africa is the lack of certainty in the criminal justice system for citizens.

Advocate Barry Roux, known as the attorney for murder-accused paralympian Oscar Pistorius, spoke to Witsies this week about the country’s legal system.

He said people commit crime because “there is a fair chance they will not be caught, and if they are caught there is a chance they will not appear before the court or they will be acquitted”.

“If there is no certainty, there is no control” said Roux. He quoted the cliché that “justice delayed, is justice denied” saying when a criminal case is postponed four to five times, a lot happens in the natural system of life which hampers the progress of a case.

Policemen resign, investigating officers die and a witness who has attended court four to five times without giving a testimony will probably not come back a sixth time. Or if they do, the witness may no longer remember the facts, said Roux.

Roux told Witsies: “I wonder when I look at you, what’s going to happen to our justice system … You can all study, pass, become lawyers but you need to have the burn.”

He posed a question to Witsies about how they were going to get it right and fix the justice system. “I’m very happy to give up my profession tomorrow, if I knew there’d be no crime,” said Roux.

He described “tardiness” as something he has witnessed in the criminal justice system. He said it is important for young lawyers to know that “maybe it’s not all about me, what can I do to fix the justice system and not from the sides”.

Wits Vuvuzela asked Roux about the one thing he thinks the criminal justice system got right 20 years ago that is missing today. He said he would like to see “a better cohesion” between investigating officers and prosecuting officers.



Wits WiFi upgrades set to cost over 100m


HEFTY PRICE: Witsies want to stay connected on campus and in residences by any means. Photo: Thabile Manala

HEFTY PRICE: Witsies want to stay connected on campus and in residences by any means. Photo: Thabile Manala

“Hundreds of millions” is the price tag that it will cost Wits to install  a fully functional WiFi network connection at all campus residences.

In the last townhall meeting, students raised the lack of WiFi at residences as a concern. Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib said there are currently problems with financing the WiFi connection. He said the university needed “a hundred million [rand] extra over the next 12months to improve WiFi in residences”.

International House and Esselen residences have been partially upgraded, while plans for Wits Junction, Jubilee and other residences are still halted.

Xolani Hadebe, Director of CNS, said the major challenges were that WiFi is unstable, not just in residences but also on campus, and they are looking at alternative ways to replace it. He added that the kind of coverage that is needed is expensive because of the level of planning that is required.

While the Wits Junction residence connects to the internet through LAN, Hadebe said LAN costs more than WiFi and the strategy is to put in WiFi, because it would service more students.

Hadebe understands the frustrations of the students, “we all don’t like the situation we are in, we are working hard to create a stable connection.” He also added that Wits being the most prestigious university in Africa adds pressure to have world-class technology.

Nokuthula Khoza, who lives at Wits Junction, said: “We can’t access WiFi from our rooms, so we need to go to hotspots.”

Sarah Ifezulike, who also lives Wits Junction, commented on the price tag of  WiFi and said: “They could use the money to improve bus services and pay bus drivers a bit more, because I heard they don’t like what they are earning.”

Kesh Nuckchady, who lives at Knockando residence, said: “Internet has not been working since the beginning of the second semester”. He added that he had resorted to buying a modem which cost R2000 and he knows there are other students who can’t afford that added expense and so will keep struggling with connection.

“Why does it have to be a hundred million? It’s crazy! But if that’s what it takes then let it be because internet is how we learn at Wits via [resources like] E-learn,” said Elvis Mendu, who lives at Barnato Residence.

Wits theatre staff “cheated” out of overtime pay

EMPTY POCKETS:  Disgruntled staff at the Wits Theatre are clashing with new management, about over-time pay.  Photo: Lameez Omarjee

EMPTY POCKETS: Disgruntled staff at the Wits Theatre are clashing with new management, about over-time pay. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Wits theatre staff are complaining about changes in the way they are paid overtime saying “new management” limits their claims.

“Our contract says five days a week, but now we work up to seven days sometimes,” said *Sipho, who works at the theatre.

*Sipho said the work hours set in their contracts have been spread out across the week, and not five days.  Even though workers come in on the weekends, they do not get paid for overtime because they are still working off the week’s required work hours.

Sipho was told by management they did not qualify for “overtime” pay because the “minister” does not allow it.  Sipho also said that “all” the staff were unhappy with conditions.

“They [are] limiting worker hours,” said Olivia Moeti, whose mother works at the Wits Theatre.  Workers finish at 3pm on weekdays but come in on Saturday to work the other hours required by their contract, she said.

The theatre employs five cleaners, two of whom are directly employed by Wits.

According to theatre manager Gita Pather, university policy states that anyone who earns under the threshold of R198 000 each year is entitled to overtime and has to work at least 42.5 hours a week. They also cannot work more than 10 hours overtime, because it is against labour law.

“The rules of the industry have been negotiated and are in line with university policy and labour laws,” she said. When she took over as manager, overtime rules were not strictly enforced.

“They were getting paid overtime and taking toil,” she said. “Those who didn’t qualify for overtime were being given it anyway … People had gotten used to being paid huge amounts of overtime.”

But this year, she was given a budget and has to use that amount allocated to overtime across the whole year.

Problems started when new management took over this year, said Moeti.   “My mum has been working here for 31 years, this is the first time it’s happening.”  The new management insists that these new rules come from Wits University, she said.

“According to management, they say, Wits says it’s [work on Saturdays] is not overtime … they say Wits says they must get a day off instead of paying them,” she said.

However, Pather did not know about this and said the only thing that has changed is the number of hours they are allowed to work. Unless it is festival time, employees do not work on a Sunday and they work off a call sheet.

Wits Services, who manage the cleaning staff, are not aware of any overtime issues. According to director Nicki McGee: “We undertake when appointing service providers via the approved, transparent tender processes, and in consultation with numerous stakeholders at the university.

“The service providers adhere to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act … to ensure that such practices do not occur.”

Additionally, there aren’t different rates for night shift, from 4pm to 8.30pm.  No provision for transport is made for staff ending their shifts at night.   “It’s not fair to let a woman walk to Bree in the middle of the night,” said Moeti.

Pather said security provides transport to all Wits employees who work late at night. “They take them to the taxi rank.”

Moeti said management was trying to save on expenses throughout the year so that they could get “more money in December”.  She said: “They’re trying to save, they’re saving on other people’s expense.”

She also said more people had problems but they were too scared to come forward, out of fear of losing their jobs.

“There is an issue,” Pather said. “But I have a set amount of money.” She said the theatre is “completely compliant”. She said she is aware of the unhappiness, but has a budget and has to manage that.

“I am completely satisfied that we are working within the rules set by the university and labour laws.”

Freeze on fees


The upfront fee for next year will remain frozen at R9 350 but it and other fees may still increase in 2016, according to deputy vice-chancellor of finance, Prof Tawana Kupe.

The university had proposed an increase of the upfront registration fee to R10 300 from R9 350. General tuition fees will still increase.

When asked if the freeze will have an effect on the following year’s upfront fee, Kupe said, “In 2015, we will go through the normal processes for setting the various fees, including the upfront fee payment for 2016.”

The upfront fee free was the result of a long process of negotiations by the SRC which reached an agreement with the University Financial Committee (FINCO) surrounding fee increases in 2015, said SRC president Shafee Verachia.

The agreement was reached just over a week ago at a meeting with FINCO, and will be forward for approval to the University Council, which Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib, Verachia and Deputy Vice-chancellor, Prof Andrew Crouch, among others.

Verachia said the SRC successfully negotiated the freeze by commissioning a team of postgrad accounting and actuarial science students to investigate whether or not the upfront fee was unnecessarily high.

Kupe said the freeze is based on a further assessment made by FINCO, which has enabled them to recommend that the university is able to accommodate a freeze in the upfront fee and will not lose any income because “the freeze in the upfront fee amount is not a discount on the fees for 2015”.

He said there was recognition that some fees, such as the Health Sciences degrees, Wits has become too expensive and have been reduced. This is especially significant for international students, who were only allowed to pay their tuition fees in a set of instalments for the first time this year.

Currently, international students studying health sciences will have their fees cut by 60 percent, dropping to R74 680 from about R191 990.

The university had previously justified the increase of the upfront fee by saying it had high costs at the beginning of the year. Kupe said fee increases were necessary due to rising costs.

“Fees have to increase every year because of rising costs, the fact that our government subsidy is not rising as much as inflation and that some of our costs are related to items that are imported,” Kupe told Wits Vuvuzela.

“As you know, the rand has fallen against major currencies and this fall increases our costs. We also have to ensure we have enough financial resources to offer a quality education.”

Fakir addresses protest action politics

The maladministration of over a billion rands allocated to the Urban Renewal Project by former president Thabo Mbeki has contributed to the continued protests in communities like Bekkersdal.

This was one of the findings of the 2014 Ruth First fellow, Ebrahim Fakir, who presented his research at a colloquium at Wits University yesterday afternoon.

Fakir’s research focused on finding possible reasons for the increase in so-called ‘service delivery protests’ which now average about 300 per year.

Fakir focused on the area of Bekkersdal in Gauteng which has experienced protests since 2002 initially sparked by demarcation issues.

According to Fakir, the community of Bekkersdal questioned where the general development of the Urban Renewal project was because the communities still had no water, electricity and basic infrastructure.

In answering the question of why some protests turn violent, Fakir found that “protests are asking for an alternative form of policies away from neoliberalism”.

“The way in which police act don’t spark protest, but [they] help sustain the protests,” he said.

Prof Jane Duncan, one of the speakers on the panel commented that public protests were telling of the “subjective shift of politics”. She said people were feeling betrayed after being let down by their government.

Professor Noor Nieftegodien, also on the panel, gave a critical analysis of Fakir’s paper and said: “As good as the paper is, it’s very ‘business-as-usual’ in how it approaches protests.”

Nieftegodien felt that Fakir underestimated the extent of politics in those communities and recommended that Fakir should have given attention to the young people or older women of the community. He said it was difficult to differentiate between the people of the community.


Visually-impaired Witsie pursues his love of music production

BLIND COURAGE: Jermaine and his best friend Ygor share a friendship more than convenience. Photo: Provided

BLIND COURAGE: Jermaine and his best friend Ygor share a friendship more than convenience. Photo: Provided


Being born blind was not a challenge to this music producer, who has defied all obstacles to follow the lyric in his heart.

Jermaine George’s (23) love for music developed when he was five, the first day he laid his hands on a Casio piano. While the gift of a piano had initially been for his brother, he took to it with a passion that allowed him to realize his dream. George described music as “a way of life” and said music was the best instrument anyone could use to get to know who he is.

He followed his love after finishing school and is currently studying a Bachelor of Music at Wits.

Wits Vuvuzela asked George about how he performs the technical functions of music production as a blind person. He said he has always been exposed to recording but got his first equipment in matric.

“Everything is so digital right now that computers are more advanced and more powerful. There are screen readers that talk to me and tell me what’s on the screen and what to press,” said George.

He believes there are many ways to get around things and “being blind alone teaches you patience, music just teaches you discipline.” George added: “If you do not have the love for music production than you should stay away from it. Even for people who can see, they look at it and don’t know what’s happening,“ he said.

At the age of 22, George lost his parents and described that as the lowest point in his life. He said his mother had raised him to be independent, so losing the comfort of her presence was naturally painful but it did not abandon him in a helpless place. “I was never worried if I could cope… the world will never stop spinning because one person died,” he said.

When asked about the main challenges in his life, George said it was people and their understanding of what it means to be visually impaired. “Sighted people are totally shallow, so they tend to judge a book by its cover” he said.

George said impatience is his biggest weakness because he hates rhetorical questions and tends to be sarcastic. He has had to teach himself how to navigate the Wits campus as a function of memory. “It has been a real mission training myself to get to know this place.”

On his relationship, George said his girlfriend “is wonderful”. “The dynamics, we are just two people going through life only difference is she can see and I can’t” he said.




Stinky situation at Noswall Hall

FILTHY CONDITIONS: students at Noswal Hall have not been able to wash their dishes since Friday.

FILTHY CONDITIONS: Students at Noswal Hall residence have not been able to wash their dishes since Friday. Photo: Thabile Manala.

Poor sanitary and hygiene conditions continue to plague Noswal Hall residents following yet another water service interruption over the last four days.

Jabulile Mabuza, resident of Noswal Hall and SRC campus services officer said “this [going without water] is a constant problem, it didn’t start now.” According to Mabuza, there was an instance in the first semester where the students spent five days without water.

Lucky Xazi, house committee chairperson at the residence described the situation as “a health issue as well as a hygienic issue”.

He said the Noswal corridors have a bad odour because of toilets that cannot be flushed and dirty dishes that have been unwashed since Friday.

Residents have to travel to main campus to use the toilet and some have showered at the Wits gym. Many other students have not bathed since the service interruption started.

No water means that some students are unable to cook for themselves and have to rely on store-bought food. “It strains our budget because some of us can’t afford take-aways,” Xazi said.

Noswall Hall management sent an sms to students on Sunday saying: “We apologise for the water supply shortage. We are working on fixing the problem and should have water restored soon. Noswal Management.”

Mabuza said she feels the university has not communicated adequately with students and this has led to a lot of frustration. “I don’t think it’s a total negligence of the university. I think somewhere somehow is trying to fix it … but students don’t know and are left in the dark, “she said.

According to Rob Sharman, head of residence life at Wits, the problem with the water supply at Noswal Hall is due to heat pumps that are unable to service 20 floors, and one of the pumps is not working.

At the townhall meeting with the vice-chancellor this afternoon, Prof Adam Habib addressed this issue and explained that Noswal Hall is owned by ZanProp and the university leases this building.

“It is unconscionable that we pay 100s of thousands of rands for their failure to deliver on something that is mandatorily their responsibility, “he said. Habib said they the university will take action against ZanProp and is looking at what penalties they might incur.




VC wants more white Wits students to live in residence

TOWNHALL POLITICS: Pamela Dube, Shafee Verachia and Adam Habib (left to right) fielding the audience questions about promises made. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

TOWNHALL POLITICS: (from left to right), Dr Pamela Dube, Shafee Verachia and Prof Adam Habib field questions about promises made. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

There is a lack of diversity at Wits University residences and the vice-chancellor hopes to change this by encouraging more white students to live in res.

Prof Adam Habib was addressing a gathering of staff and students at a townhall meeting in the Great Hall earlier today where he emphasised his mission  to “get the right balance between diversity and cosmopolitanism.” “The constitution and freedom charter demands that diversity,” he said.

He said Wits is a diverse university, but the residence life does not reflect that. But his suggestion to have more white students in res was not without criticism. Witsie Mcebo Dlamini reacted by saying that Habib is “bringing a culture of racism in (sic) this university”. Dlamini questioned why white students are encouraged to live in residences when they can afford to live in their “Sandton and Rosebank homes”.

Other students in attendance believe that Habib should be more concerned with poor students, mostly black, and some not from Gauteng who struggle to find accommodation.

Habib said the university was currently in engagements with South Point, Angus properties and other property developers in Braamfontein to form a partnership to expand the number of beds available for students.

Habib started today’s townhall by reflecting on the goals he had achieved from promises made at previous meetings. Some achievements include the cleanup of sewage from outside Esselen res and the establishment of a new bus stop directly outside the same residence.

In response to a question about the proposed upfront fee increase to over ten thousand rands, Habib said the university is currently facing a deficit of R25 million in outstanding tuition fees from international students which has necessitated the proposed increase.

Q & A with Debora Patta

South African journalist Debora Patta. Photo: Provided

South African journalist Debora Patta. Photo: Provided

Journalist Debora Patta is a familiar name in South Africa after more than 20 years in broadcast news. She has covered a variety of stories, including the trial of Oscar Pistorius and the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in Chibok. She talks justice and media to Wits Vuvuzela:

Given your experience in the media, how has the Oscar Pistorius trial being televised changed the face of open justice in South Africa?

What it’s done is it has allowed South Africans the opportunity to understand for themselves how the judicial system works. The interesting thing for me, I would get a lot of tweets from South Africans who didn’t understand the basics and would ask questions like: “Why is Barry Roux talking all the time”, “Why is there no jury system?” Perhaps because they have gained their understanding of legal processes from American television.

Has the Oscar trial set a high standard for what South Africans can expect out of our justice system?

The televising of the Oscar trial was very important because it gave South Africans an opportunity to see how justice can be done at its very best. Now bear in mind that is not the experience of the average South African. A lot of South Africans do not have the experience that Oscar Pistorius had with exceptionally paid and skilled advocates like Barry Roux defending him, the very best prosecutor put on the case. Every element of the case has been tested and re-tested and scrutinised over and over again. But this is the best case scenario and in a constitutional democracy as South Africa, this is the kind of judiciary that we should expect and South Africans should demand.

Debora, you covered the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Nigeria. Do you think that is has received more media attention than the Oscar trial?

#BringBackOurGirls, in my opinion that is actually a far more important story. Because what it’s profiling is a situation that’s continued in Nigeria for many years now, it’s only gained international interest because of the number of girls that were abducted in April. Over 200 Chibok girls. That is why it gained traction in that sense but the story itself has been around for a long time and it’s actually to our shame as the media that we haven’t covered it more proficiently in the past. The hashtag itself garnered a lot of criticism, I think it was important because it focused worldwide attention via social media on the plight of the Chibok girls.

What has it been like working on the two most controversial events of 2014 and the international exposure that has followed?

I think the Oscar Pistorius case is not the most worthy journalistic story, let me put it like that, on some levels it’s a fairly tabloid story. At the end of the day it’s one rich white man’s quest for justice and we’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time covering it … Whether that’s right or wrong is another question.