OPINION: Battle for acceptance of homosexuality in universities

By Brian Tebogo Mashego, third year BA student

Last week Thursday I was chilling with a group of friends at the Matrix building at Wits University, and hell broke loose when one of my friends made a reckless statement about a fellow gay student.

Within a wink of an eye we then interrogated his thinking around the issue of homosexuality, and as we were having this conversation I realised that although our South African Constitution theoretically ensure equality for all, social acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals is generally lacking especially by those of us who grew up in traditional and religious families.

The discussion reminded me of a heart breaking event that happened to a fellow student, Thabiso; who was a colleague of mine when I was studying at the Vaal University of Technology.

Thabiso was contesting the student elections when his opponents found out that he was gay. The entire election campaign then became focused around his sexuality, throwing his campaign into chaos. By the time voting began students didn’t want anything to do with him. My heart was broken because students didn’t judge him on the basis of his competent leadership skills, but on his sexuality.

That event robbed us of a having a potentially talented student leader. As I began the discussion of the unfair treatment of Thabiso at my old campus I was met with criticism, losing some of my friends along the way.

Many talented students who are capable of leading the student community are denied that opportunity based on their sexuality.

Our discussion at the matrix continued to raise questions about the prejudices that prevail today, especially amongst the student community.

Chunks of the student population on our campuses still embrace hostile attitudes and unfair treatment towards gay students.

Of greater concern than the utterance of my friends’ homophobic remarks, is the fact that – like Thabiso – many talented students who are capable of leading the student community are denied that opportunity based on their sexuality. Our broader society has not only influenced this negative thinking, but have also lead us as students to belittle and disqualify them based on their sexual orientation. We are told that it is “immoral” and “unafrican” to be gay or lesbian. Our selective morality is revealing.

I think we are facing a challenge of creating a supportive society that is inclusive and respectful of gays and lesbians.

Homosexuality is a topic around which our culture still gets awfully skittish. This became visible to me when I was talking to a few homosexual students. Most of them feel that greater hostility is shown to them by ‘traditional’ and religious people.

Thabiso’s case teaches us that there is a great need for our student communities to begin embracing sexual diveristy on our campuses. This must start with our student leadership.

They must breakthrough barriers and speak out against this unjust treatment on behalf of gay and lesbian students. They must do this because it’s their obligation as student leaders and are supposed to represent the entire student body.

Pay dispute endangers students

Low night shift allowances for Campus Control are allegedly leading to increased absenteeism among security guards—and putting students in danger.

Security guards are paid a monthly night shift allowance of R203.94.

They work seven night shifts a month, each of which are 12 hours long.  This means they are paid about R29 per night shift in addition to their basic salary.

Chairperson of the Wits branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) Nnwamato Sadiki said the low allowance and long hours have started a trend of absenteeism amongst security guards working the night shift.

“Each and every shift you cannot find people that are on shift, some of them are reporting they are sick and some of them are reporting that they are not interested in coming due to various reasons,” said Sadiki.

Campus Control security guards are meant to be posted in the Braamfontein area for the protection of students who live in the area.

Campus Control liaison manager Lucky Khumela said security guards did take off work for sick leave or other reasons. He could not say whether there was increased absenteeism due to unhappiness with the night shift allowance.

“I cannot say no or it’s not a problem that has been identified yet because you find that people get sick or they need to get off work,” Khumela said.

ONLINE 27_Campus control

UNDER WAGE: Guards from Wits campus control are unhappy with their night shift allowance. Wits union leader, Nnwamato Sadiki, says guards are earning an extra R203.94 for the seven night shifts they are required to do per month. They want R272. Photo Anazi Zote

“I have never really heard of any issue that workers are reluctant to come to work because of low pay. Wits University is competitive when it comes to campus security companies especially in comparison to other universities,” he said.

However, Wits Vuvuzela reporters who live in the area have noticed a lack of visible Campus Control security guards. Many students also said they felt unsafe in the area, especially when they stay late at school to complete their assignments and study for exams.

Matsepo Khumalo, 1st year BA in Dramatic Arts, said she feels unsafe in Braamfontein without security guards.

“I witnessed a mugging outside Bridgeview and that is relatively close to campus. It is really scary to think that you can be mugged near campus … It would be nice to just walk freely,” Khumalo said.

Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela that while Campus Control was short-staffed, shifts were adequately staffed even after security guards call in sick.

“Although we are we are very short-staffed we are fortunate that we have security officers who stay around Braamfontein and some of them stay on campus. Whenever someone books off sick another security guard will come to replace him,” Khumela said.

Sadiki said the safety of students could be comprised because security guards are not motivated to work.

“We can’t say we need to compromise the lives of the students but if we are not getting enough of what we deserve and of what we have worked for, it can bring the morale down,” Sadiki said.

Deputy chairperson of Wits Nehawu Billy Cebekhulu said the disputes over the night shift allowance has been going on since 2009.

According to a Wits human resources memorandum sent to Nehawu in March of this year, management acknowledged that the night shift allowance had not increased for six years to 2008 from 2002. It said the night allowance “remained constant for reasons of security industry compliance.”

However, management said that while the allowance was fixed, the total pay package for security guards increased “without fail” every year.

Khumela denied that Campus Control security guards were underpaid.

“Wits University pay their security well and if that was not the case there would be no security guards on campus,” said Khumela.

But Cebekhulu told Wits Vuvuzela that Wits security guards were receiving lower night allowances when compared to the University of Johannesburg.

Sadiki said the security guards believe they are also receiving lower pay packages when compared to other service staff at Wits. He feels Campus Control are not being treated equally to the people they are protecting.

“I am disappointed in Wits because I thought it was an institution with a good reputation since it produced intellectual students.

“They are getting exposure from green pastures everywhere but they forget the environment of working classes, which is the security officers on campus, is deteriorating,” Sadiki said.

Nehawu said they were planning on taking action with regards to the night shift allowances to upper management at Wits.

‘Cocaine’ conman back on campus

WITS’ cocaine conman has struck again, this time swindling a student out of his Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

On Tuesday morning John Kelm* was approached by a man near the Planetarium at about 10:30am. Kelm said the man had a Nigerian accent and asked if he could use Kelm’s phone to call a friend to pick him up. The man made the phone call and told Kelm that his friend would call him back on Kelm’s phone.

After this, the man produced two small bags of “cocaine” and said that he was going to sell it to the man he had spoken to on the phone. The man then said he needed to take Kelm’s phone with him to go and meet his buyer, and that Kelm should hold onto the second bag of cocaine as proof that his phone would be returned.

Kelm refused the offer and the man responded by threatening him with a knife and then left with Kelm’s phone. He opened the packet to find that the “cocaine” was white flour. Kelm tried to run after the man, but he had fled.

The Conman

Kelm described the man as being 1.75 metres tall and very well built. He also had a tattoo on his right shoulder. Kelm reported the theft to Campus Control and was told a similar incident had happened on east campus two days prior.

“They described the man to me, and it was the exact description,” Kelm said. The clearly frustrated student said he did not understand how the man was able to get onto campus. “Why aren’t they (Campus Control) doing anything about it?” asked Kelm.

Campus Control head of investigations Michael Mahada told Wits Vuvuzela that the matter had been handed over to Hillbrow police and the white substance would be chemically analysed.

The con

Campus Control investigations officer Luvuyo Zitwana told Wits Vuvuzela that the cocaine con was increasingly common on campus with at least seven thefts of cellphones in the past year.

He said many more thefts likely go unreported by students. Wits Vuvuzela was shown security footage of the conman and of the actual cocaine con going down.

In the video, the conman is seen asking a student to borrow his phone. He then makes a phone call and waits for his ‘friend’ to call him back. In actual fact, the conman has called his own phone, set to silent and sitting in his own pocket.

He then slips his own phone out of his pocket and, with his hand hidden, calls back the victims phone. This makes it appear that entire phone conversation is legitimate. In the security footage Wits Vuvuzela viewed, the man is seen operating at John Moffat and Chamber of Mines.

Previous incidents

Last year, Wits Vuvuzela reported that “I’ve lost my phone” stories similar to the cocaine con were one of the popular methods of theft on campus.

The conmen target students with the latest cellphones, such as Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. In one case, the white powdered substance a conman used was found to be mealie-meal.

At the time, it was estimated that 50% of those arrested for theft were Wits students. Theft at laundry facilities in residences was particularly common.

Campus Control also stressed that non-students who gained illegal entry were responsible for many of the crimes on campus.

Lost or stolen student cards should be reported and blocked, and students should refrain from swiping in non-students. *not his real name

Related articles: Campus control put brakes on thieves.

Ex-Witsie sentencecd to 15 years.


Learning from a height

“I was inspired to paint this view because I like the way nature and architecture co-exists in the city,” said Marc-Anthony Madella, first year Fine Arts, during a live-painting course on top of the Wits School of Arts Building on East Campus.  The students will be painting different perspectives of the Braamfontein cityscape for the next week.

For more photos from the class go to Jay’s Blog

Geosciences rock first open day

Fossils, meteors and Mars absorbed top Johannesburg matrics last week in an open day that Wits Geosciences hopes will draw more students to study Geology.

“Geoscience companies are banging down my door saying ‘where are your graduates?’” said Senior lecturer Dr Susan Webb.

The Exploring Earth open day, held during the university break, was a first for the School of Geosciences. The School recognised a need to expose high school students to earth science before they applied for university, and to attract top performing students.

Around 50 students were invited from the top 25 feeder schools in Johannesburg and were split into teams to compete in the five challenges of the day.

The first challenge was to match the microscopic image of a rock to its life-sized partner. The wide-eyed students were free to interact with the rocks and minerals, the microscope samples and the machine itself.


“It’s good fun, this,” said Cameron Dry (above right) from St John’s College, who wanted to be a fighter pilot before a vocational training session convinced him otherwise. “I love science. I just never thought I could have a career in it.”

On the library lawns, the students used a mallet to hit a metal plate in the geoscience equivalent of a carnival Strongman game.

“The hammer was really heavy,” said Jeppe Girls’ pupil Athena Tsai. A computer collected information about the hit for the students to use in calculating the thickness of the soil below.

Next, the students used Google Earth to explore the surface of this planet, and Mars, before sitting down to a free lunch in the Bleloch Geological Museum.

Prof Lew Ashwal headed up the meteorite challenge with an array of space rocks worth around R500 000. He told them meteorites were important because “they’re cool” and “they’re worth a f**k lot of money”. He said people often phoned him, thinking they had found a meteorite. But “nine times out of ten it’s a ‘meteowrong’”.

The last challenge was for pupils to reconstruct a skeleton from loose fossils after briefly studying a complete version.

“Judging by the students’ reactions [today] was a success,” said PhD candidate and associate lecturer Grant Bybee, who had manned the microscope challenge. The winning team members each received a mineral box worth about R300.

Photos by Anina Minnaar