SLICE: Braam power outages turn campus into my new home 

Fourteen days without electricity turned my academic ambitions into a harrowing experience.

On the night of May 1, 2024, Braamfontein turned pitch black, as a power outage plunged some parts of the inner city into darkness.  

I was in the newsroom, situated at the E’skia Mphahlele building on Wits East Campus, writing a review of a theatre play I had watched. Living in a country where loadshedding and power interruptions have become the norm, I did not take the outage to mind, thinking the electricity would be restored in a couple of hours.  

The next morning, Johannesburg City Power revealed that underground cables in the Braamfontein area had caught fire, due to suspected cable theft and vandalism. Knowing the city is overseeing the situation, I further relaxed, thinking the matter would be fixed swiftly, but that did not happen.  

Since productivity was limited in my residence room, my daily routine changed dramatically — the library in Solomon Mahlangu House became my accommodation, where I rose early to charge my devices, eat, and do some coursework. 

As a journalism student, I typically have one or two classes daily, allowing ample time for writing articles, research, and programme engagement. I spend most days on campus, occasionally returning to my residence to rest or prepare meals between classes. 

By 10 o’clock in the evenings, I normally return to my room which is a walking distance from campus. I typically buy groceries and cook to save money. 

As food prices have gone up due to inflation. I have resorted to only having one or two meals a day. I sometimes grab lunch provided by the Wits Citizen and Community Outreach (WCCO) programme but in most cases, this clashes with my classes, forcing me to improvise.

But on Saturday May 5, 2024, after a basketball game, I returned to find all my recently bought food spoiled in the fridge, just after I had stocked up for the whole month, a financial setback of note.

Due to only having borehole water at my residence as well as a scarcity of water when there are power outages, I then resorted to commuting to Wits Junction daily so that I could shower at my friend’s place before heading to class. 

I felt hopeless and exhausted, unable to change my situation — fueling resentment for this place called Braamfontein. Without financial assistance or a food allowance, I had to dig deeper into my own pockets. I observed Darwinism firsthand as “survival of the fittest” unfolded in its ruthless and pragmatic manner.  

This situation was a defining moment for me, the emotions I felt, made me look at things differently. Mainly, that challenges will come, but my resilience can see me through.  

Finally, on May 13, 2024, the lights in Braamfontein flickered back to life after a long two weeks. Immediately when the lights came on, the joyous screams of students filled the air, and as if on cue, rain showers descend, bringing a sense of renewal amidst the chaos.

FEATURED IMAGE: Salim Nkosi Photo: File/Leon Sadiki

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EDITORIAL: The stench of Joburg lingers in the ashes of Usindiso 

The City of Johannesburg has been found liable for the Usindiso building fire, and this finding should anger all residents of Johannesburg. 

On Monday 05 May 2024, the commission of inquiry into the Usindiso building fire found the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) and its entity Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) to be liable for the tragedy.  

This finding comes after Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi established a commission of inquiry, chaired by Justice Sisi Khampepe, in September last year to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire at the Usindiso building in August 2023, which claimed 76 lives. 

In short, the reasoning behind the findings of the commission boils down to severe neglect. According to the commission report, the building was declared a “problem property” as far back as 2019. 

Why was the building declared a problem property? Well, the building had violated numerous municipal by-laws relating to water, electricity, public safety, waste management and emergency services. Occupants detailed the presence of numerous illegal electricity connections, overcrowding of rooms and the usage of water from firefighting installations as domestic water supply.  

These are a mere snapshot of the conditions that made Usindiso unlivable- others included violent crime, a lack of waste management and the blocking of emergency exits by shacks – things CoJ was made aware of over four years ago.  

The building was initially abandoned in 2017 by Usindiso Ministries and was never zoned for residential purposes. By 2019, the CoJ and JPC were aware of this. Moreover, they were aware of the decaying state of the building, with the commission report stating the building was liable to be demolished back then. This did not occur, however, and the building was soon hijacked and illegally occupied. 

As the property owners, the CoJ and JPC were then responsible for ensuring compliance with these by-laws designed to ensure building safety. If this had been done, the fire would arguably not have had the devastating consequences it did. According to the commission report, “Law enforcement at Usindiso building was virtually absent and there was no political accountability taken by the officials of the City for the condition of the building both at the time and in the aftermath of the fire.” 

In essence, the severity of the fire could have been prevented had the CoJ simply done its job. While yes, the fire was caused by an isolated incident (a man setting someone on fire on the ground floor), did the fire have to reach the levels it did? In the commission report, survivors detail how they could not access escape routes and had to jump from the fourth floor to survive. If the CoJ had addressed the fact that shacks had been blocking emergency passages, would more people have been able to escape?  

This is just an example of how neglect exacerbated the fire, and there’s more that could be said to illustrate the point. If water had been supplied to the building, residents would probably not have tampered with firefighting instalments. If the municipality had disconnected the illegal electricity connections in the building, perhaps the flame would not have spread as quickly as it did. The list could go on. 

In other words, if the municipality had taken accountability, the commission would not be recommending a plaque to commemorate 76 lives.  

As South Africans and residents of Joburg, this should enrage us. The Usindiso fire is not just a random tragedy, it is a product of governmental incompetence and complicity. In the rubble and ashes, the stench of Johannesburg’s corrupt government lingers – a stench that has proven to be fatal now. 

EDITORIAL: Settings boundaries is self-preservation

My journey to setting boundaries began with a simple realisation: I was suffocating under the weight of others’ expectations. Now I know it’s the most radical act of self-love one will ever commit.  

As I navigate the complexities of life, I have come to realize that setting boundaries is not just a necessity, but a superpower. Being intentional about my time, energy, and relationships has improved my well-being. 

Setting boundaries is not selfish, but essential for our survival. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that people who set boundaries, and prioritise self-care have higher self-esteem and better mental health. By taking care of ourselves, we can show up more fully and be more present in our relationships and lives.  

Spiritual boundaries include being mindful of the company I keep and the beliefs with which I engage with, which are Christian beliefs. As Emmanuel James Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  

Engaging with like-minded communities has also provided a supportive environment where I can share my thoughts, learn from others, and deepen my understanding of my faith. This has ultimately strengthened my relationship with God and myself, enabling me to navigate life’s challenges with greater clarity and purpose.  

Academically, setting boundaries means dedicating time to my studies and prioritizing my education. As Mpoomy Ledwaba an international speaker and founder of Wisdom & Wellness once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” For me, this means setting aside dedicated time for studying and avoiding distractions.  

I allocate specific hours each day for studying, ensuring I minimise social media and phone usage during that time, I also create a conducive study environment by using a quiet and organised study space.   

My friends joke that my brand and personality have become “Miss Journalist”, because I have become so locked in and it occupies my mind most of the time. Whilst it is true that I am currently struggling to find the balance between a social life and my studies, I can maintain a sense of accomplishment and take pride in my academic journey. 

Much like a gardener tends to their garden, nurturing the soil and pruning the weeds to allow the flowers to bloom, one can tend to a person or situation with similar care and attention, to ensure growth.   

Financial boundaries include being disciplined and avoiding activities that would stretch one too thin. It is essential to create a budget and stick to it, while avoiding impulsive purchases. 

But let’s be real, I struggle with this one the most. Who can resist the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the glazed baked treats on display in a coffee shop? Certainly not me, every day I have to fight against my senses when I walk into the Es’kia Mpahlele building, which has a Vida e Cafe at its entrance. Their Strawberry Supresa smoothie, banana loaf, and spicy chicken mayo are to die for.  

But in all seriousness, it’s a work in progress and I am trying to be more mindful of my spending habits. Maybe I will be able to resist the temptation of that coffee shop…but no promises! 

Lastly, the most important boundaries are the ones I set in my relationships. As Jerry Flowers, a motivational speaker and priest for the Time of Celebration Ministries Church says “Boundaries are not meant to keep people out, but to keep yourself in.”  

It is all easier said than done, and life is a continuous process of self-reflection, growth, and improvement. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so you need to take care of yourself first, boundaries are the tool that makes that possible. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Katlego Mtshali, 2024 Wits Vuvuzela Journalist. Photo: File/Leon Sadiki

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SLICE: The egomania of Hip-Hop 

Have we overlooked the corpses left behind in this battle of the Hip-Hop Gods? 

Conflict (or ‘beef’) is an inevitable product of Hip-Hop culture. In a genre where egoism, braggadocio and constant one-upping form an essential component of the rap identity, it is only natural that heads will clash from time to time. 

After all, Hip-Hop is somewhat like a competitive sport where being in the top spot guarantees access to money, acclaim, and power. It is essentially a fight for a pedestal, and in this context the ongoing beef between Drake (Aubrey Graham) and Kendrick Lamar – two of the genre’s biggest names – is a heavyweight showdown for the crown of modern Hip-Hop. 

The conflict began when Lamar featured on Future and Metro Boomin’s track ‘Like That’ where he laid his claim to the crown of hip-hop in the now viral line “motherf**k the big three, n***a it’s just big me” in reference to J. Cole labelling himself, Drake, and Lamar as the three biggest names in Hip-Hop on the track ‘First Person Shooter’.  

Lamar’s feature quickly sparked rumours of possible tensions between himself and Drake. Since, the rumours have escalated into a full-on war of words between the two. On April 30, Lamar released a six-minute diss track ‘euphoria’ attacking Drake for appropriating black culture and being a neglectful father amidst a series of pointed insults.  

As a Hip-Hop lover and Lamar fan, this diss track excited me. It was to me a masterful display of what a Hip-Hop beef is all about: using lyrical prowess to attack your enemy’s character. The creativity and wordplay used to insult Drake reminded me of why I fell in love with rap in the first place. But the developments since then have been disheartening and exposed the ugly truth behind Hip-Hop and the music industry at large. 

Since ‘euphoria’, both have released further diss tracks aimed at one another. Whilst at first glance this should excite fans of Hip-Hop and lovers of scandal, one listen to any of the diss tracks on offer makes it abundantly clear that what’s at play is deeper than Hip-Hop or petty conflict. 

Both parties have made serious allegations against one another. Drake has accused Lamar of domestic abuse and Lamar has accused Drake of paedophilia and associating with sex traffickers. While all allegations deserve exposure, the way it has been done is questionable. 

Instead of acknowledging the gravity of the allegations, both seem to be using them to simply hurt each other. It appears as if accusations of serious crimes have been reduced to schoolyard insults.  

In ‘Family Matters’ Drake says: “When you put your hands on your girl, is it self-defence ‘cause she bigger than you?”. While accusing Lamar of abuse, this is a mere set up for the punchline that Lamar is short. Furthermore, on ‘Not Like Us’ Lamar states: “Tryna strike a chord and it’s probably A minor”, using wordplay to refer to Drake’s alleged paedophilia.  

Should matters as serious as woman and child abuse be reduced to punchlines and wordplay? It’s one thing to attack your competitor, but it’s completely different when other people have been potentially hurt by their actions, especially women and young girls. To have their potential trauma reduced to tools to attack your competitor appears selfish and insensitive, particularly in a genre notoriously accused of misogyny.  

The important question is whether these alleged crimes have been exposed in the name of justice or vanity. Based on the lyrics on display, I would think the latter. It appears as if the ego essential to the rap identity has consumed the two to the point that they have become blind to the world around them – all they see is each other. And for artists as influential as Drake and Kendrick Lamar, undermining abuse and molestation sends a harmful message to their fanbase. 

This beef is a warning to fans of music. We tend to mystify and glorify the artists we love. I have made the mistake of attaching a prophet’s status to Lamar. But this has showed that they are no less broken than we are – the only difference is that they have power and a platform. 

As the audience, the question should no longer be about who is beating who in a petty beef. Rather, the question should be: are the allegations true or not and if so, will justice be delivered to the women and children affected? 

SLICE: World Press Freedom Day goes green 

To commemorate the necessity of a free press while tackling the  climate crisis, this year UNESCO looks to greener pastures for environmental journalism 

The 31st World Freedom Day, which highlights the importance of the press and journalism around the world focused on ‘A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the environmental crisis’ which aims to give journalists liberties when reporting on climate change issues. 

World Press Freedom Day takes place annually on May 3 – and it sheds light on the struggles and impact of the press in tackling issues and raising awareness. As journalism works to reflects what is happening in society, this year’s theme is significant as the climate crisis has had negative impacts on the world and its ecosystems. The recent floods in Dubai and the ongoing heatwaves in Asia are just a few examples of the world’s spiraling weather patterns. 

Journalists have a seemingly crucial role to play in informing the public about climate change, and its effects as they are responsible for sharing climate news. Along with this responsibility, journalists are also obligated to report in the public’s interest, and the climate crisis falls well within the range of public interest reporting. And currently, there seems to be some challenges.  

The United Nations mentioned on their website that the significance of environmental reporting lies in its ability to shape democratic societies by raising awareness of the increasing environmental crisis and its consequences. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO mentioned in a statement on May 3, that “without reliable scientific information about the ongoing environmental crisis, we can never hope to overcome it… On World Press Freedom Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protecting journalists worldwide.” 

As a result, some news organisations across the world have increased their coverage of global warming and the climate crisis. A clear indicator comes from the reporting of the flooding in Dubai, which climate scientists have stated could be related to the world’s skyrocketing temperatures, and many mainstream media outlets have mentioned this in their coverage, with publications like CNN highlighting climate scientists’ views that global warming is causing these issues. This highlights how publications have made strides to improve climate related coverage and have invested resources in doing so. 

Reggy Moalusi the executive director of the South African National Editors Forum has mentioned that one challenge that journalists face in reporting on climate related news is a lack of resources. This is because newsroom sizes are decreasing, and journalists are having to cover more topics themselves. This means that journalists cannot dedicate time solely to climate reporting as they must have their hands in every jar at once, unlike 30 years ago. “Any kind of specialist reporting has gone down,” he mentioned.  

Established journalist and editor, Candice Bailey, told Wits Vuvuzela that South Africa has a lean environmental journalism landscape, meaning that this field in South African journalism is established, but can be built upon. She mentioned that “the focus on climate change improved the vision of environmental journalism.” Which indicates that the increasing relevance of climate issues may bolster the environmental journalism space in the country. 

This year’s World Press Day aimed to look at these issues between the press and the environment and find innovative and engaging solutions for them. UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day conference will be held in Chile on May 2-4  2024. 

EDITORIAL: Convenience vs. conscience – why music streaming feels unethical

In the ever-evolving music streaming landscape, how can listeners balance costs and morals when deciding on how to listen to their favourite artists?

Choosing a platform to listen to music in 2024 has been made difficult; not only by the abundance of options at audiences’ fingertips, but by also lingering concerns regarding fair compensation for artists’ work.

The growth of music streaming in the past decade has empowered artists to reach much larger audiences however, they have been short-changed when it comes to earning streaming royalties.

An example of a student study set-up, while music is being streamed in the background. Photo: Tristan Monzeglio

A common misconception about the royalties afforded to artists is that they are solely dependent on the number of streams a particular song generates. However, the royalties paid out to artists are determined by their streaming performance relative to the overall streaming revenue generated by a platform. This means that as platforms make more revenue, there is a “bigger royalties pie to share” for artists, but their individual success is not necessarily the main determining factor for the revenue they ultimately receive.

Royalty rates also change based on different countries’ “own set of payout rates”. This is due to the difference in subscription prices offered in countries across the world. For example, in America, a Spotify Student subscription costs $5.99 (R112.28) per month, while in South Africa the same student subscription costs R34.99 per month.

Many streaming platforms offer various tiers with differing price points, respectively. However, this means if you listen to the same song on a Spotify Student plan, by virtue of its lower subscription price, an artist will make less money from your stream than from a Spotify Premium subscriber.

This can pose a dilemma, especially for university students who want to best support the artists they care about, but may not be able or willing to pay a higher price for essentially the same product.

According to VIRPP, as of 2023, Tidal offers the highest average royalty rate for artists at R0.24 (as of May 3, 2024, 1 USD equals 18.54 ZAR) per stream, followed by Apple Music at R0.15 per stream. On the other hand, Spotify at R0.059 and YouTube Music at R0.037 per stream, a fraction of what Apple Music offers.

Streaming PlatformAverage Payout per Stream
Tidal$0.01284 (R0.24)
Apple Music$0.008 (R0.15)
Amazon Music$0.00402 (R0.074)
Spotify$0.00318 (R0.059)
YouTube Music$0.002 (R0.037)
Pandora$0.00133 (R0.025)
Deezer$0.0011 (R0.020)
Figure 1: A table comparing how much major streaming platforms pay artists per listen, adapted from VIRPP to include rand values.

Average royalty rates calculations such as these are generally accepted as accurate, but they are merely estimates and not wholly accurate representations for every platform or artist. In addition, as these companies are driven by profits, there is a tendency to promote artists that are already successful, while disincentivising those trying to make a name for themselves.

One could also argue that larger platforms compensate artists for their relatively low royalty rate by offering a larger user-base and untapped audience. However, much of their discoverability, is tied to curated playlists, based on a collected user data and algorithms. This still promotes selected artists and makes it more difficult for new artists to develop organically.

Some artists choose to circumvent larger streaming services altogether. For example, Cindy Lee’s Diamond Jubilee – a critically acclaimed psychedelic pop album released this year – is only available for free on the band’s official website and can only be streamed on YouTube.

Figure 2: Cindy Lee’s Diamond Jubilee album cover.

However, the band is requesting $30 CAD (R405,71) donations for those wishing to show their support.

As a Spotify user, I feel conflicted. My personal experience using the app has been mostly positive, and I have created various playlists and discovered thousands of songs and artists I love. However, every time I open the app, part of me can’t let go of the fact that I am contributing more to the bottom-line of a large company than to the artists I listen to.

I feel it is only fair as a music consumer to pay artists what they deserve for delivering us their musical products, which – in many cases – can transcend their form as mere pieces of art into impactful feelings and memories that help us narrate our lives.

That is why I feel it is important to learn about the streaming platforms so we can make informed choices that align with our differing views and values.

For individuals wishing to support artists they care about most effectively, more direct avenues for purchasing might be preferable. For example, on platforms like Bandcamp that allow artists to self-publish and set their own prices may be the most ethical way to support artists. For buying digital copies of music, audiences also have the option to use iTunes for a more diverse catalogue.

SLICE: Honouring the struggles of the past while looking ahead

The true meaning of Worker’s Day goes beyond the public holiday.

As the sun rises over Johannesburg, the morning rush hour begins in earnest. Cars, taxis, and buses fill the roads, and pedestrians hurry to get to work on time. In the chaos, drivers often forget about the rules of the road.

Amidst this hustle and bustle, it is easy to overlook the privilege and ability an individual has to go to work based on their skills and qualifications, not their skin colour or gender.

On Worker’s Day, May 1, we remember the struggles of those who fought for us as South Africans, and others across the world, to work in inclusive, merit-based spaces,

As a student pursuing a career in journalism, I find it important to remember the tireless struggles of workers who fought for fair labour practices, equal rights, and social justice in the workplace.

I am filled with gratitude for pioneers like Emma Mashinini, former trade unionist and political activist, who became active within the African National Congress in 1956 and later founded the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union. Or Jay Naidoo, the founding general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade unions, who spearheaded the 1950s worker’s strikes, demanding fair wages, better working conditions, and an end to discrimination.

While Worker’s Day commemorates the struggles and celebrated triumphs of the labour movement, it is a sad irony that many South Africans find themselves outside of the formal workforce. According to the latest data from Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, approximately 1 in every 3 people in South Africa are unemployed, as the unemployment rate stands at 32,1%.

A sketch showing that skills and qualifications know no race or gender. Drawing: Katlego Mtshali

Despite the progress made in securing fair labour and equal opportunities, the reality is that South Africans face significant barriers to entering the workforce, including the lack of education, skills, and access to resources and networks.

As someone who hopes to enter the journalism workforce soon, I fear that my qualifications and skills may not be compensated with a fair salary, that my voice may not be heard, and ultimately, that my contributions may not matter.

Moreover, the journalism field comes with its own set of hurdles such as intimidation, lack of resources and the pursuit of truth in a rapidly changing media landscape.

That is why I have also started a side hustle as a makeup artist- because jobs are not guaranteed, and I want to be prepared. This also means I have to juggle both my schoolwork and longer hours of work if I have more than one client in a day, on weekends.

However, I am also excited about the future of work in South Africa. Our generation has the power to push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and advocate for a better tomorrow. During the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests, our generation proved to be like the generations that fought our collective freedom before democracy, they stood up against injustices and fought for equal rights, access to education and economic opportunities.

This Worker’s Day, I honour the past, celebrate the present, and eagerly anticipate the future-a future built on the foundations of solidarity, equality, and justice for all. I am proud to be part of a generation that will continue to shape the future of work in South Africa, and I am committed to using my skills and experience to make a positive impact.

FEATURED IMAGE: Katlego Mtshali/File

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SLICE: Why art matters to me

Celebrating art can be about letting the art speak for itself, despite the artists internal doubts.

Wits Vuvuzela’s Ofentse Tladi doing what she loves most. Photo: Siyanda Mthethwa

As a writer, I consider what I do to be art, every sentence and turning over of a word a new brush stroke on the page in front of me.

In April 2013, I sat behind the my study desk and instead of scrambling through the never-ending Grade 5 maths homework, I wrote my very first story. It was not planned, the pen just kept going, writer’s block non-existent concept in my head at that point.

What stared back at me in that moment were pages and pages of what I now consider the worst thing to have ever been possibly written in human existence. A story about a girl trying to find herself amid her family’s chaos.

A story I’ve now learnt to partially like or at least, appreciate as a starting point. A story that now sits, cramped in the cupboard with many other pieces. Pieces that have probably long cried out to be heard but have been overshadowed by doubt, fear and many other endless reasons.

Doubt and fear – words that have somehow been ingrained in the minds of artists. Something is just never good enough, interesting enough, anything enough to be shared. It’s this constant battle between the artist and the art itself to be heard.

Your “April 2013” days have long passed now, and like the Grade 5 maths homework, you have to scramble through the very essence of what you do, the very essence of who you are.

To me, celebrating art is about learning to let your work speak for itself in its current state. To let readers, viewers and consumers delve deep in the imperfections of your creations and find beauty in that. It’s about building the trust you have in yourself as an artist and within the work you produce. It’s about attempting to revisit those “April 2013” days.

As a writer, when last did you sit and simply write a piece? When last have you blocked out the thousands of reasons your mind automates that make it ridiculously hard to simply just write? When last have you given your work a platform, a chance, a moment to simply just exist?

For art to be art, it must be born, with or without the doubt, the fear or the endless scrambling. It matters because it speaks. It is its own.

You made them,

Thought by thought,

Dream by dream,

Idea by Idea,

And, yet they still stand,

Waiting for a purpose.

You’ve drawn them from past experiences,

Sculptured them from the very people you know

And dug out of them emotions you fear to dig out of yourself.

They have become your escape,

Your new reality.

Sometimes you hate them,

Sometimes you love them

But most of all you live by them.

You write

And write

And write

Thoughts flow,

Ideas come to paper,

Your face beams

Until suddenly,

It’s all blank.

They come to you every now and then,

Nagging,

Begging,

Whispering their miserable lives on hold.

You made them,

Thought by thought,

Dream by dream,

Idea by idea

And yet through all of this

They still stand,

Waiting for a purpose.

With that being said, I want you to take a moment to breathe life into your art, to remember it has every reason to exist in this current moment.

FEATURED IMAGE:

EDITORIAL: AI in art: friend or foe? 

AI has advanced over the past few years; having the potential to have its tentacles in every industry and the arts have not been exempt. However, what are the effects of this technology on the arts – a practice that is underpinned by human’s creative expression   

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a prevalent part of the modern world. It has made itself at home in many of the industries we enjoy, including manufacturing, marketing, and art.  

Art takes form in many ways, from drawing, creative writing, music; and the are several ways AI has been introduced to these fields, where it made significant changes — some of which are good; others not so much.  

However, I am particularly interested in how it is affecting the arts as I am a writer myself. I have been writing creative pieces since I was a child, and it was always interesting to me to see how I can twist my words and assign my feelings a ‘physical form’; and I think AI writing misses the intricacies and nuances that could be infused by a human. 

Besides it being able to churn out written pieces, AI advancements occur in different aspects of the creative process, such as giving ideas for the direction of an art piece, creating a sketch from scratch, and more problematically, using other artworks in the creation of new ones. 

Despite concerns of art practitioners about the technology, AI continues to advance. In April, Udio, an AI powered music creation tool was released publicly. Udio allows users to create music by typing a description into a prompt box and altering it for the desired result. This is a highlight of the ways in which AI has grounded itself in art, and how simple it has made the creation of art — this accessibility has been widely debated. 

On a personal level, I believe art is meant to be about expression, a means to put forward your beliefs and your thoughts. I think that art is made to mean something based on what the creator felt and represented, an element that I think may be missing from AI-generated art. 

Despite this, many other artists may see the use of AI as an interesting extension of their own processes, and some may have even found some interesting ways to incorporate these new technologies into their work. 

One such example is Stephen Shange, a multimedia artist and graphic designer at Wits who has been making art for more than 20 years. He explained that something he often considers is whether art is just a picture or a result of the human spirit. He wonders if art can just be considered so because it exists, or if the presence of intention gives it that title.  

However, he notes that there are some ways that AI has been beneficial to his process, especially in completing the less exciting parts of the creative process, “[AI is helpful] as a starting point or for filler content that is meant for basic use.” 

Dimpho Malatjie, a film and television student at Wits, mentioned that AI in art is a “double-edged sword.” She explained that it can enhance the creation process, but it can also create issues for creators. “There are things that people use AI for that they would have previously called an artist to do, for example, the writing of scripts and even using apps to edit.” These could be considered both a blessing and a curse because it can help with the execution of more time-consuming work. 

The use of AI in art is very nuanced, even amongst artists in the field but it seems like AI is here to stay, so it is necessary for artists to find themselves in it and use it to their benefit. 

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SLICE: Journalism is my future, but it is in crisis

Daily Maverick’s ‘shut down’ successfully highlighted the dire state of journalism, but also left student journalists with fears about the future.

A screen grab of the Daily Maverick home page on April 15, 2024.

EDITORIAL: Why everyone should be a tree-hugger

Trees are one of the oldest living organisms in nature, and they have many great lessons to teach us, one being to slow down and breathe every once in a while.

Feel the groove of their bark on your fingertips. Touch your cheek against its rough skin and inhale the scent of nature. Breathe in the fresh oxygen just released from its leaves. Exhale the toxic feelings that live in your heart. Slow your mind. Lose yourself in the motion. Just exist quietly for a while.

I have always had a fascination with trees, feeling drawn to them in a way I could never explain. Whenever I could, I would scale their trunks and sit amongst the branches. It was always so peaceful in the treetops, and I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Wits Vuvuzela’s Victoria hugging a tree and showing everyone how it is done on Wits campus. Photo: Thato Gololo
Wits Vuvuzela student journalist, Victoria Hill hugging a tree and showing everyone how it is done on Wits campus. Photo: Thato Gololo

I started hugging trees at a very young age, not knowing quite what I was doing or why, but I knew I had found the one place I could always go whenever I needed life to fade away.

Humans are a quintessential part of nature and are a species who have proven themselves very different from the rest, with verbal language, complex psychological functions, and interdependent social communities.

Yet, when we think about ourselves in comparison to our oldest companions, trees remind us we are part of something much bigger. Humans are not at the centre of life — the world can exist without us.

But trees, animals, insects, and nature are what make the world go round. Willow, acacia, pine, oak, baobab, and many other types of trees influence humans, whether mentally, physically, or spiritually.

Whenever I visit a new place, I look for the tree that speaks the most to me, that evokes the most emotional response, and give it a mighty big hug. I have hugged trees with skinny trunks where I can clasp my hands together, but also wide trees that I can lean against without a care in the world. Then there were trees that were scraggy, and others that were so beautiful they stole the show.

Everyone should be a tree-hugger in this era, because in a world of deforestation and global warming, increased anxiety and depression, feelings of isolation and marginalisation, and spiritual disparity — hugging a tree is a homeopathic solution to human plight.

The beautiful, green landscape at Wits University, with many trees waiting to be hugged. Photo: Victoria Hill
The beautiful, green landscape at Wits University, with many trees waiting to be hugged. Photo: Victoria Hill

Here’s how and why:

According to research, hugging a tree can reduce stress and anxiety levels through the lowering of cortisol levels, allowing one to feel centred and grounded. Rashmi Schramm, a medical physician and meditation coach, says trees emit negative ions which science says has an impact on humans’ perception and experience of stress.

Dr Stone Kraushaar, a clinical psychologist also known as ‘The Hug Doctor,’ says oxytocin, our happy hormone responsible for emotional bonding and trust, is released after 21 seconds of physical contact. During or after hugging a tree, people say they feel calmer, happier, and more optimistic.

Dr David Scholey, a lead researcher on determining the physical benefits of hugging a tree, says it has been proven to reduce one’s heart rate and blood pressure and boost one’s immune system. Dr Hugh Asher, a certified forest bathing guide and forest therapy practitioner, says humans absorb organic chemicals called phytoncides emitted by trees which protect them from diseases.

Trees are important for carbon dioxide removal and oxygen deposition in the atmosphere. They are also vital for ecosystems to survive. In the age of climate change, they are more important than ever, with increased human dependency on these organisms. By hugging a tree, one is acknowledging their role in life and the interconnected nature of our planet.

Peter Wohlleben, an avid forester and author of The Hidden Life of Trees, says “a tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it”. Human society is very much the same, yet has seemingly forgotten these underlying morals in the face of current challenges.

Trees are living beings that have existed through many histories and live to tell those stories. Through hugging them, one can feel connected to the space they inhabit whilst reconnecting with their soul. Feelings of inner peace, outward optimism, and all-round serenity are just some results, and if these mighty trees can grow from little seeds, so too can you.

FEATURED IMAGE: Victoria Hill, 2024 Wits Vuvuzela Journalist. Photo: File/Leon Sadiki

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