One common course for all first-year engineering students

By Naledi Mashishi

First-year engineering students will now complete the Common First Year course which will teach core subjects equally across the board.

STARTING in 2019, all first-year engineering students, regardless of branch of engineering, will begin their studies with the new Common First Year (CFY) course which will teach core subjects such as science and maths equally across all branches.

Although students are still expected to register for a specific branch from first year, the new CFY course means that students who choose to change branches in second year, will now be able to do so without taking an additional year.

The different engineering branches at Wits include: architecture and planning; civil and environmental engineering; chemical and metallurgical engineering; construction economics and management; electrical and information engineering; mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering; and mining.

Executive dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Prof Ian Jandrell, told Wits Vuvuzela that in addition to maths and science, the new course will include communications, problem solving, understanding the engineering profession, and design.

First-years will also be expected to complete a Humanities course. “[This is] speaking to the growing need for engineers to be cognisant of their role in society right from the very start of their university career,” Jandrell said.

The CFY course will be assessed by a team of academics across all the faculty’s schools, under the oversight of the Academic Development Unit. According to Jandrell, there will be continuous assessments, dedicated test weeks after the Autumn and Spring breaks, and the final assessment at the end of the year, will be done through the submission of portfolios.

“Students whose overall result is between 45 and 49% will be invited to an oral exam, but this is the only exam for the course,” he said.

Third-year BSc metallurgic engineering student, Asakundwi Ramurafhi, said that the introduction of the CFY was an improvement on the previous years.

“The differing first year [courses] put people at a disadvantage in second year because of the differing intensities of the courses. I wish we had had a joint first year for the more difficult courses like maths to make second and third year easier,” she said.

Jandrell said that the CFY course aimed to produce a “21st century engineer” who can work across boundaries, is confident in their own abilities, and is willing to learn and serve in society.

FEATURED PHOTO: The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment is introducing a Common First Year course for all first-year engineering student.

Photo: File

Striking miners should have a fund: expert

Ian Macun, director of collective bargaining at the Department of Labour and Advocate Geoff Budlender were two of the panelists at Wits yesterday

Ian Macun, director of collective bargaining at the Department of Labour and Advocate Geoff Budlender were two of the panelists at Wits yesterday. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

A strike fund from trade unions should be a prerequisite for striking miners to maintain their basic living conditions, according to the dean of humanities at the University of Cape Town, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu.

“Levels of desperation kick in immediately after going on strike,” said Buhlungu.  He emphasised the plight of mine workers who bear the repercussions of not earning salaries for the duration of a strike.

Buhlungu was one of three panelists speaking at at panel discussion hosted on the Marikana commission of inquiry held at Wits on Monday afternoon. Family members of the victims of Marikana were also present at the panel discussion.

The panel was the first of a three-part seminar, held by the Marikana commission. Open to public for the first time since investigations into the deaths of 34 Lonmin miners in August 2012 began, the seminar included members of the commission and other parties involved.

Department of labour spokesperson Ian Macum said many workers were dissatisfied.

[pullquote]The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations[/pullquote]
“Dissatisfaction can have a number of causes, which thread the problems that face trade unions”, said Macun.

Subcontracted workers enjoy substandard conditions at the mines, which triggers  discontent among workers. However, full-time workers also endure extreme conditions but for lesser pay, Macun suggested

The rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers and Association of Mineworkers Construction Union shows that the unions have been unsuccessful in maintaining confidence among their workers, suggested Macun.

He said the prevalence of dissent results in conflict among trade unions and contributes to the loss of law and order.

The panelists said the issues of workers bypassing the trade unions showed the flaws that are present in the system.

“The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations,” said  Macun.

On April 9, the commission will host its second seminar focusing on labour migrancy, and its third will be hosted on April 16, focusing on strike violence.

OPINION: African women resist ‘Destructive Extractivism’

Just a few kilometres away from Wits – in Hillbrow, the African immigrant heart of golden Jozi – a group of more than forty-five feminist activists and researchers from across Africa, and other parts of the world are gathered to talk about what is now being called ‘extractivism’. The impacts upon women are extreme, especially on our continent, justifying a new network, WoMin, to link resistance.

Extractivism refers to the now dominant neo-colonial model of ‘development’ in many poor countries. It is characterised by the extraction of vast quantities of non-renewable natural resources – minerals, oil, gas, and old-growth forest products – as well as the abuse of other resources including water. These are typically extracted for export from local and regional territories to the Global North and to the new BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA) bloc.

What is Extractivism?

Extractivism is a model of development which is characterised by vast social and environmental destruction, including climate change, where South Africa joins oil exporters as one of the major villains. The costs of extractivism are principally borne by workers and affected communities, which in its current form foments violence, conflict and deep inequality.

It is apt that critical conversations between African activists about this extractivist model are happening in Jozi, a city whose buildings and advanced infrastructure were constructed from vast profits accumulated by mining capital off the exploitation of irreplaceable mineral riches by the cheap labour of black men and the invisible unpaid labour of women. The workers came from across Southern Africa. [pullquote align=”right”]Extractivism refers to the now dominant neo-colonial model of ‘development’ [/pullquote]

Apartheid Capitalism

Wits alumnus, Harold Wolpe, made the argument forty years ago that a racialised system of migration from apartheid’s Bantustans and neighbouring European colonies characterised the mining sector, helping mine bosses by eliminating the need to pay a family wage because women at home would raise children and look after sick workers and pensioners with very little state support under the capitalist social system. Wolpe concluded that apartheid capitalism was able to thrive by paying black workers a wage “below [their] cost of reproduction” with the balance of these costs sustained through the unpaid care of black peasant and working-class women.

Good thing we got rid of apartheid – and with it, migrancy! Or did we?! As so many learned from Marikana, the underlying logic continues to this day. In this contemporary period the site of exploitation of women’s unpaid labour is no longer just the rural village, but the vast informal settlements that house the mineworkers and their primary or secondary families, where women with few services and little state support feed, clothe, and care for the workers and the next generation of labourers, many of whom will be surplus to the requirements of capital. And the men still evade the irrational 1885 Berlin-treaty borders; they come to SA mines from across the region – many more immigrants have come since 1994 – with their rural women still super-exploited.

[pullquote] Women bear the brunt of extractivism’s environmental and social costs[/pullquote]The women visiting us are from places such as Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Ecuador and Canada, where both social and environmental devastation also accompany extractivism. We visited communities in Witbank and Carolina, where people are ill from the acid-poisoned waters and where farming lands are sterile after decades of coal mining. We spent time with communities in Ekurhuleni where children suffer from respiratory health problems and eye disorders, and communities live in shacks bordering onto slimes dams, the toxic waste repositories of mining companies and other industries.

This environmental destruction leaves women most susceptible, because of the division of labour which makes them primarily responsible for provisioning safe water for their households (and who endure great stress and worry when they cannot do so) and exposes them to the poisoned waters as they wash, take care of family members and process and cook foods.  Peasant and working class women bear the brunt of extractivism’s environmental and social costs – the companies ‘externalise’ these – and yet they enjoy none of the promised benefits of jobs and ‘development’.

WoMin, which is hosting the dialogue and strategy meeting, is housed in a regional alliance of organisations working on land and natural resource issues, and is closed allied to the Wits Sociology Department’s Society Work and Development Institute (SWOP). SWOP has a rich history of support and solidarity to workers and their struggles and continues this fine tradition in its work alongside WoMin. Together they provide a research platform that considers extractivism, especially its gendered features.

The planet and our continent need us to turn away from destructive extractivism. The route beyond requires knowledge gained from, and in support of, the grassroots and coal-face women now building a movement to force society to consider the alternatives!