Q&A with Gundo Mmbi

Gundo Mmbi, 27-years-old, is the principal at SPARK Soweto. Photo: Provided

Gundo Mmbi is a Wits BEd graduate and former Wits Education School Council transformation officer. She is a human rights activist and a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community. She played an active role in the #FeesMustFall movement. In 2017, she became an assistant principal at SPARK Turffontein and is currently the founding principal of SPARK Soweto.

How did a young woman from Limpopo find herself at Wits?
I was told that the child of a cashier will never make it to one of the country’s most distinguished universities. I wanted to break barriers by securing a bursary. I studied hard to achieve acceptance to Wits University and secured a bursary from the housing department to study. That’s how my Wits story began!

You majored in mathematics and English. What factors motivated you to study BEd?
Growing up, I have always been curious about who was setting my exam papers and why the quality of the questions was the way it was. The standard of mathematics in South Africa has been lowered for scholars. Each year, I have watched as the pass mark declines, gradually dropping from 50% to 30%. I don’t think it is the teachers or the scholars, but our country’s curriculum leaders and education officials who may lack faith in our abilities.

Have you always been active in student politics and issues of social justice?
Wits is a world on its own, and you learn a lot there about who you are and what type of person you would like to be. Student politics exposed me to a world of leadership and holding people accountable for what they Wits is a world on its own, and you learn a lot there about who you are and what type of person you would like to be. Student politics exposed me to a world of leadership and holding people accountable for what they are responsible for. I was a shy village girl when I got to Wits until I stood up against my English lecturer when he questioned my gender identity: the activist in me was born.

How did your experiences at Wits lead you to where you are now?
A degree from Wits University enables you to proudly embrace your diversity while being proud of your unique individualism. Wits taught me it is okay to come from Limpopo and be raised by a single mother while fighting for free education.

At 27 you are the principal at SPARK Soweto. To what do you owe your success?
I owe my success to the freedom that was fought for by the people of South Africa. Knowing that their fight for my freedom opened doors to higher learning, I was able to go after what I want with no restrictions or prejudice. I owe it to all the teachers that shaped my life, who ensured that I became the best version of myself and not forgetting “my mother and father” (the National Student Financial Aid Scheme) for the financial support when I needed it.

What led to the move from Turffontein to Soweto?
I applied to be a tutor at SPARK Maboneng in 2015 while completing my degree in education. I then became a maths teacher at SPARK Maboneng and taught for two years. An opportunity to grow into school leadership was offered, and I applied for it. I became an assistant principal at SPARK Turffontein and now founding principal of SPARK Soweto. SPARK Schools has 21 schools across South Africa, and I am part of a group of young people who are changing the face of education.

FEATURED IMAGE: Gundo Mmbi, 27-years-old, is the principal at SPARK Soweto. Photo: Provided

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‘I would make the same decision again’

WITS University vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib faced down criticism of how he had handled the #FeesMustFall protests, and other “misrepresentations” in his latest book, Rebels and Rage, at its launch in Hyde Park on Wednesday, March 13.

A group of about 20 people who identified themselves as students took Habib to task over his decision to call police onto campus during the 2016 #FMF protests.

Prof Habib defended his decision, saying, he had called police onto campus because of the responsibility he had to ensure the safety and security of the entire Wits community, and that 77% of students who had taken part in an SMS poll conducted by the university, had indicated that they wanted to complete the academic year.

“If I was faced with the same circumstances and the same conditions, I would make the same decision again as it was the progressive and right decision under those circumstances,” he told the Exclusive Books audience.

His critics were having none of his explanations, and were robust in their engagement. “You are a skilful liar … you are a very, very violent man,” said one, much to the displeasure of the audience that heckled him.
The young man was not fazed, and challenged the VC to host an assembly at the university to allow students to engage with him about the book. Afterwards, he told Wits Vuvuzela that he was a student at Wits, but wouldn’t give his name.

Former Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) member and All Residence Council chairperson, Willie Muhlarhi, said that he had attended the launch to call Prof Habib to account for “misrepresenting the role of student leadership” during #FMF.

In the book, Prof Habib is critical of student leaders and academics he characterised as being “far-left”. He accuses student leaders of being often absent from efforts to provide solutions. As an example, he says the most progressive funding model that was brought to the university was created by a group of accounting students, who were not part of student leadership.

This is inaccurate, according to Muhlarhi, who is studying towards a masters in finance. “Habib fails to mention that there were SRC and student committee members involved in creating the model submitted by the accounting students, which shows a lack of research on his part.”

Students are not the only critics of Habib’s book. Former Wits anthropology lecturer, Dr Kelly Gillespie, who is named in the book as being one of the far-left academics, told Wits Vuvuzela that Prof Habib had misrepresented her and progressive lecturers’ actions and motives during the protests.

“It’s incredibly irresponsible for him to argue [progressive lecturers] were proponents of, or encouraging violence when 99% of the time we were there, we were trying to reduce violence and calm things down on both sides. He is creating extremely partial accounts that are very dangerous, and for some it feels he’s creating conditions for [academics] to be watched by state security,” Gillespie said.

Prof Habib has disputed the claims that he misrepresented #FMF events. “I wanted to correct the narrative of Fees Must Fall being pushed by politicians that the vice-chancellors are these neoliberals while the student activists are progressives who are the only ones committed to the goal of free education. That simply isn’t true,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

Wits will host an event for Rebels and Rage, Prof Habib told the audience at the book launch, but details will be announced later.

FEATURED PHOTO: Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib responded to criticisms that he had misrepresented events and prominent figures during the #FeesMustFall protests at the launch of his book, Rebels and Rage hosted in Hyde Park.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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#FeesMustFall protests cost universities R800m

The #FeesMustFall protests have left institutions of higher learning with a hefty R800 million bill in damage to infrastructure and the hiring of extra security. Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor revealed this on Wednesday, August 8, in a written reply to a question posed by a Democratic Alliance (DA) member of parliament.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) arrived at the figure after requesting submissions from all institutions to cover damage caused by the protests from 2015-2017. DHET then compiled a detailed report of the figures it obtained from each university. The report further broke down the figures according to year and the details of the damage provided.

Wits University told Wits Vuvuzela that it reported an estimated R25 million worth of damage for 2015 – 2017, whereas, according to the DHET report, Wits reported R28 million worth of damage in 2015 but none for 2016 and 2017.

Wits Vuvuzela sought clarification from the university for these discrepancies, however, seemingly no-one can provide the answers.

Buhle Zuma, the university spokesperson, didn’t answer questions relating to: how the sum was calculated; the details of the damage and costs that were considered in the final figure; and how the university separated the cost of #FeesMustFall related damage from damage that was not related to protests.

She also couldn’t explain the absence of a 2016 figure when there is documented evidence of damage to Solomon Mahlangu House and a fire on the second floor of the Wartenweiler Library.

DHET spokesperson, Lunga Nqgengelele said that there were no standard criteria used to determine the cost and each university used its own criteria to determine the amount of damage created by #FeesMustFall protests.

“We assumed the universities would be the best positioned to determine which criteria to use when calculating the amount,” Nqgengelele told Wits Vuvuzela.
Some universities, such as North West University, included the cost of additional private security while others only included infrastructure damage.

NWU recorded the highest costs, which are estimated to have been R198 million. This was largely a result of two buildings being set alight on the Mafikeng campus in February 2016, resulting in the university being temporarily shut down. This damage amounted to R151 million in the 2015-2016 financial year.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said that the university compiled its final figure using incident reports they had sent to their insurers. “These are all student unrest related, distinguished from routine damage,” Jacobs told Wits Vuvuzela.

Nqgengelele added that the cost had severely set back the government’s programme to provide education. “Money is not freely available; we will have to take it from somewhere else. I won’t be surprised if students wake up tomorrow and protest not having a library meanwhile they burnt the library down,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Graffiti from the #FeesMustFall protests, which reads ‘#Asinamali” can still be found around Wits campuses.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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Q&A with Kelebogile Morukhu

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