Photography service provider accused of killing competition  

Thato Senoamadi (21) posing on the stairs below the Great Hall Piazza after getting his degree in BSc Computer Science before a CPS officer arrived to cut the shoot short. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Graduating students given strict orders to use Wits University’s official photographic service provider – or else.  

A longstanding agreement between Wits University and their official service provider for graduation photos, Gordon Harris Photographic is being called out for its monopolistic nature by students and practitioners.  

Graduation season is in full swing at Wits, with in-person ceremonies taking place in the Great Hall between Monday, April 17 and Wednesday, April 26. 

In an email sent to students on Wednesday, April 12, the university announced that no other photography service providers will be allowed onto campus, and those spotted will be removed from the campus by Campus Security Services (CPS). 

Put the camera down!

Wits Vuvuzela learnt just how serious the threat was on Tuesday, April 18, when this reporter was swiftly removed from the Great Hall Piazza after taking two photos. An unnamed CPS officer said, “Please stop what you are doing…You know you are not allowed to be using your camera here!” The officer said permits are needed for anyone using photographic equipment.  

Another photographer was pulled aside at the time but was let go when he could prove the camera, belonged to the student he was taking photos of and not his personal property.  

Then a lengthy pillar to post search ensued in pursuit of this permit or accreditation, something which this publication has never had to secure to cover graduations. In the past the Great Hall steps were considered free dominion for all, with the inside of the hall reserved for the service provider.  

Head of communication at Wits, Shirona Patel said this is a security measure. “[CPS] are strict because we have had many photographers (and people pretending to be photographers) wanting to scam Wits’ students and their families.”  

Gripe with Gordon Harris 

Gordon Harris Photographic, the university’s service provider offers the service of studio photographs two hours before and after the graduation ceremony, together with three on stage photographs.  A service provided across 100 institutions nationwide, with almost blanket exclusivity.  

The cheapest packages range from R400 to R550 for high-resolution images shared via email or prints, the latter incurs an additional delivery fee.  All non-refundable.  

An affected graduate, Thato Senoamadi (21) told Wits Vuvuzela, “It is very unfair. Not everyone can afford what Gordon Harris charges…Imagine having to capture your graduation memories with a phone because the photographer you can afford is not allowed on campus,” he said.  

These are the same sentiments shared in a tweet by Twitter user @DanielNgobeni6 at a graduation ceremony held at Unisa on April 4, 2023, where a photographer can be seen being dragged away from the ZK Matthews Great Hall.

A student creative and photographer, Thando Radebe (21) has resorted to bending the truth to carry on with his side hustle. “I find it weird that I have to lie [to CPS] every time a different security guard catches me taking pictures,’ he said. “I tell [CPS] I either didn’t know or that I never got the email, some of them are very understanding,” he added.  

 “[Gordon Harris Photography] wants all the money to themselves, some of us cannot even compete,” a disgruntled Radebe said. “For example, I charge R900 per hour with room for negotiations and more photos than them…but because I do not have a contract with Wits, students will never know,” he said. 

An official complaint was lodged with The Competition Commission in July 2022. Spokesperson, Siyabulela Makunga said, “The commission is currently engaging all affected respondents to gather requisite information as part of our screening process,” which can take up to 12 months from when the complaint was received.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Graduates exiting the Great Hall and coming down the stairs to the Piazza after the end of their ceremony. Photo: Nokuthula Zwane/File