University Corner renamed to honour Es’kia Mphahlele

The name change was delayed by the covid-19 pandemic, but the home of the Wits Art Museum is now linked to the ‘illustrious author of two autobiographies, more than 30 short stories, two verse plays and a fair number of poems’.

The plaque signifying the change of name of University Corner to the Es’kia Mphahlele Building. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya

Wits University has officially renamed University Corner as the Es’kia Mphahlele Building in honour of the late legendary journalist, author and academic, on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

Officiating at the ceremony that took place on the ground floor of the building at the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets, Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi said that this gesture was “long overdue” and believed that there were many more [legendary African pioneers] yet to be recognised. “Personally, to have the privilege of having the [Mphahlele family] here to witness this historic occasion is truly humbling,” he said.

Mphahlele was the first black professor at Wits University in the 1980s and founded the one-of-a-kind department of African Literature in 1983, which explores aspects of history, politics, indigenous knowledge, traditions and cultural heritage. He was also one of the founders of the first black independent publishing house, Skotaville in 1982.

The building houses some of the literature- and culture-related departments associated with Mphahlele’s work, such as the Wits Art Museum, the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, Voice of Wits FM (Vow FM), Drama for Life and the Wits Centre for Journalism.

In a media statement released after his death on October 27, 2008, then minister of arts and culture, Pallo Jordan, described Mphahlele, who was born in Marabastad, Pretoria on December 17, 1919, as a “doyen of African letters”.

“Soft-spoken, humble, urbane, cosmopolitan, erudite and exuding ubuntu, Es’kia Mphahlele embodied in his person and in his work what he described as ‘the personification of the African paradox – detribalised, westernised but still African’,” wrote Jordan, who also described him as the “illustrious author of two autobiographies, more than thirty short stories, two verse plays and a fair number of poems”.

The statement continued: “’Add to these, two anthologies edited, essay collections, innumerable single essays, addresses, awards and a Nobel Prize nomination for literature and what emerges is to many the Dean of African Letters,’ writes Peter Thuynsma, a leading Mphahlele scholar, in Perspectives on South African English Literature (1992: 221).”

Rorisang Maruatona-Mphahlele, Mphahlele’s grandson, said, “I am actually overjoyed because [Wits University] was my first choice of university but I didn’t get in; I went to University of Johannesburg instead where I found [The Es’kia Mphahlele Room] and was overjoyed to find that at U.” He feels thrilled that “Wits University is doing the same.”

Acting SRC president Kabelo Phungwayo said that the change of name for the building was proposed in 2020 by former SRC president, Mpendulo Mfeka, and championed by former SRC transformation officer, Luci Khofi. As the year 2019 marked a century since the birth of Mphahlele, this motivated the plan to change the name of University Corner.

Phungwayo told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The SRC sees [Mphahlele] as a revolutionary scholar who shaped the [African] discourses in literature, and it teaches us African humanism as students.” He added that the SRC would like to encourage students to look into Mphahlele’s educational journey for inspiration as they undergo their studies as well.

Wits head of communications Shirona Patel said that the delay of the name change was caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

The name change ceremony concluded with Vilakazi unveiling the name plaque to applause by the guests bearing witness to this occasion.


FEATURED IMAGE: The Es’kia Mphahlele Building at the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets is one of the tallest buildings in Braamfontein. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya

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Sex education still relevant to young people

 

 

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SEX SPORTS: Wits students trying to fit condoms into the wooden condom demonstrators on the library lawns during International Condom Day                                              Photo: Lwandile Fikeni

Wits University students got to grips with dildos and condoms yesterday as part of the first Sex Sports on the library lawns. The event was held in commemoration of World Condom Day celebrated annually on February 13.

Wits Drama For Life (DFL) in partnership with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted the

event which saw participants engage in some rather risqué, amusing  but educational tasks. Drunk Goggles required participants to put on glasses which blurred their vision while they attempted to put a condom onto a makeshift penis. In another game students were asked if they knew what a condom was made of or if they knew where to find the expiry date on a condom packet.

DFL Project manager Leonie Ogle said the event went beyond sex sports and included HIV Aids testing, high blood sugar, sexual health awareness and education.

Statistics on the AHF website claim that South Africa has an HIV/AIDS rate lingering near 18% of the population, with public knowledge of HIV transmission and prevention factors dropping to 26.8% in 2012 from 30.30% four years earlier.

Nthabiseng*, a 31-year-old Applied Drama student who took part in the Sex Sports admitted to being unaware of some of the questions posed during the games.

“I didn’t know anything,” Nthabiseng said. “It was my first time playing this game. We were asked questions about HIV and AIDS and how does the disease transmit. Questions like, ‘how do you get HIV? Through blood, through saliva or what?’.”

Nthabiseng tests for HIV regularly. Asked if she was the experience of going for a HIV test on campus she said, “I wasn’t scared because I normally do tests but sex education is still relevant, especially for young people growing up”.

 

 

 

Witsies pledge to good citizenship

Hundreds of students joined the national #BuildaPresident campaign at Wits University this week. They publicly signed a pledge to good citizenship and shared their views of what an ideal South African president should be.

Hundreds of Witsies gathered below the steps of the Great Hall at Wits University on Tuesday, where they publicly signed a pledge of good citizenship for the #BuildaPresident campaign.

The Drama for Life department hosted the event in honour of Mandela month. Anzio Jacobs, campaign coordinator, said the campaign was created to honour the legacy of  former president, Nelson Mandela.

The event displayed a collage of over 600 images of people who showcased their views on what an ideal South African president should be.

Acting SRC president, Shaeera Kalla and Dean of Students, Pamela Dube joined the campaign and also publicly signed the pledge.

“Sex pest” claims new play is not about sexual harassment

Tsepo wa Mamatu, a lecturer in Drama has also been fired from Wits for sexual harassment.  Photo: Provided

UNDER FIRE: Dismissed “sex pest” Tsepo wa Mamatu says his controversial new play is not about sexual harassment.
Photo: Provided

A controversial new play by former Wits University lecturer, Tsepo wa Mamatu,  was withdrawn from Cape Town Fringe (CTF) festival last week despite claims from the actor/director that the play does not deal with the issue of sexual harassment.

“People do not know what they are talking about. It would be incorrect to say it [the play] was about sexual harassment,” said wa  Mamatu.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, wa Mamatu said the play is an autobiographical account of his journey that is based on his memoir called Even Still – Lessons Tsepo Learned.

He said the issue of sexual harassment does come up in the play because “it was one of the most disappointing chapters of my stay there (at Wits).”

Wa Mamatu, who previously taught in the Wits School of Arts (WSOA), was found guilty of sexual harassment at Wits through an internal disciplinary process last year and subsequently fired.

Following the removal of the play, By My Grave, from the (CTF) programme owing to protests by other participants, The African Arts Institute is hosting a panel discussion on the controversy tomorrow evening in Cape Town which includes wa Mamatu.

The debate itself has left the arts community divided.

Wits Drama for Life released a statement on its Facebook page opposing the public debate saying the organisation “does not support an initiative of this nature that implicitly validates the experience of the perpetrator and that reinforces the traumatic experience associated with sexual violence”.

According to the founder and director of Drama for Life Warren Nebe, allowing wa Mamatu to engage in a debate encourages a “normalisation” of his acts of sexual harrassment.

“He is being given a platform to validate his position in a way that we think he does not deserve”, said Nebe.

“For us this reopens wounds in many ways…trauma cannot speak back to denial”.

Brett Pyper, WSOA head, says he believes debates around the play will “advance the interest of the various parties who have a stake in the conversation”.

“As a school we believe profoundly in the capacity of art to advance dialogue, redress and restorative social relationships”, said Pyper.

Nebe confirms that the play was withdrawn due to the tensions around wa Mamatu’s history of sexual harrasment and was motivated by the withdrawal of The Mothertongue Project from the festival who were also performing a play on sexual violence called Walk: South Africa.

Artistic director of  The Mothertongue Project, Sara Matchett, says, “Even without knowing what Tsepo wa Mamatu’s work was about, we did not feel comfortable sharing a platform with someone who was found guilty of sexual harassment”.

Matchett says wa Mamatu is “unremorseful”, which is why she believes “there should not be any space on public platforms to be sharing this sentiment”.

“For us there is no debate”, said Matchett.

Nebe says the controversy over wa Mamatu’s new play “reopens wounds in many ways … trauma cannot speak back to denial”.

 

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