Activist and inspiration: Yusuf Talia dies due to illness

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy through his short life.

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy in his 25 years of life. Photo: Facebook

An activist. A leader. An inspiration. Those are some of the words used to describe Witsie Yusuf Talia who passed away today at the age of 25.

The wheelchair-bound Talia, who battled with muscular dystrophy, was a familiar face around campus where he actively involved in politics and societies. He was part of the Disabled Students Movement and the president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).  He was also an energetic activist for Palestine.

Talia was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) under the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) banner and served as deputy president on the council in 2010.

“Today is a sad day for everybody who knew the gentle soul that was Yusuf but also for Wits in general,” said outgoing SRC president Shafee Verachia.

Verachia said Talia had dedicated his life to service and was a role model for others.

“He was the perfect example of what it means to serve humanity,” Verachia said.

The 2013 SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa, said Talia was someone who always had time to help his fellow students.

“One thing which sticks out about Yusuf is the ability he had to avail himself whenever he could to assist students and give of his time, despite his physical condition and pressing academic commitments,” Mgudlwa said.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,” said Mgudlwa, “We will miss him.”

Talia was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at an early age though very few people knew about his life-threatening disease because of his work ethic.

Talia was named as one of the top 200 young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian in 2013 for his contribution the higher education system and his work to improve conditions for disabled students.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,”

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela at the time, Talia said of the recognition, with his trademark humility, “I feel so honoured. It was so unexpected.

He told Wits Vuvuzela that the youth should work towards improving society: “The youth need to adopt an attitude of helping those in need in their societies. We can do anything we put our minds to.”

Talia was studying towards an honours degree in Physiology and hoped to be a doctor one day. He had already earned a BSc and a degree in Actuarial Science.

On behalf of the outgoing SRC, Verachia wished “the Almighty to grant strength to his parents, brother Waseem and to all those touched by this amazing human being”.


Vandalism marks Israel Apartheid Week at Wits

DEFACED: A student looks at the Israel Apartheid Week wall that was defaced. The words “Propaganda” and Brain-washed” were scrawled on the wall. Event co-ordinator Tasneem Essop said she was disappointed about the vandalism. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

DEFACED: A student looks at the Israel Apartheid Week wall that was defaced. The words “Propaganda” and Brain-washed” were scrawled on the wall. Event co-ordinator Tasneem Essop said she was disappointed about the vandalism. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

A STUDENT wall announcing Israel Apartheid Week events was discovered to have been vandalised on Thursday morning.

The words “Propaganda” and “Brain Washing” were spray-painted across the wall in large, black letters. The phrase “Realise, Real Eyes, Real Lies” was also written into a corner of the wall.

The wall is used by different student groups to announce events and messages. Vandalism against the wall when its subject is the Israel-Palestine conflict is a regular occurrence.

Last week, the same wall, this time painted by the SA Union of Jewish Students, was also vandalised. A depiction of Israel on a map of the Middle East was blackened out and part of a written message was also blackened out.

On Tuesday, students sympathetic to Palestine protested against a performance by Israel-born pianist Yossi Reshef in the SW Engineering block.

Members of the Student Representative Council (SRC), Muslim Students Association (MSA), Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) gathered outside the Atrium ready to bring the concert to a stop.

SRC secretary Tasneem Essop said: “We heard of plans to host an Israeli pianist brought to South Africa by the Israeli embassy. We then immediately wrote to the relevant university staff calling for them to cancel the event as it is a direct violation of the cultural boycott of Israel as adopted by the SRC last year.”

“Protest was our last resort.”

Israel Apartheid Week is hosted annually across the world by pro-Palestinian activists.  As part of their involvement, Wits PSC hosted a series of events throughout the week, which were open to students on campus such as an exhibition at the library lawns.

“We have some photos up as well as a mock prison which represents Palestinians who have been detained illegally,” Essop said.

There was also a discussion on Tuesday evening and a film screening on Wednesday.

A balloon release, silent protest and panel discussion were planned for Thursday. An open mic session is planned for Friday.

Essop said that they had faced some challenges with regards to planning their events.  They wanted to have a photo exhibition and film screening in a residence but university officials said no political events were allowed in there.

Essop said usually society events were organised through the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo and Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) however this year they were requested to submit their information and list of events they planned to both Coopoo and university Registrar Kirti Menon.

Coopoo denied that Israel Apartheid Week had been treated unfairly as this was not the first time that a club or society event was reviewed by the vice chancellor’s office.

“Events hosted by SAUJS and Wits PSC have to be approved by my office. This has been the practice for the past eight years. Tasneem and Tokelo Nhlapo objected to this six weeks ago in a discussion with me. I explained that all policies and practices are subject to evaluation and review,” said Coopoo.

She suggested they submit a proposal to review the policies but they had not taken this up.

Coopoo said that when she had doubts about an event she seeks advice of other members of management.

Ex-Witsie dies in motorbike accident

Nazeer-Ahmed Ballim, a prominent ex-Witsie, died on August 25 after a motorcycle accident.

Ballim matriculated from St John’s in 2004, served on the SRC in 2006 and was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).

Nazeer left Wits to study Information Technology and worked for Oracle, an online financing system that Wits uses.

Fatima Mukkadam, head of the MSA and SRC member, said, “The legacy he leaves behind is one of love, happiness and kindness. A gentleman, loved by his family, peers and colleagues.

Mukkadam said the SRC, MSA and the Wits community would like to offer their condolences to the Ballim family. “It’s always difficult for the people left behind. We pray that Allah Ta’ala (God) helps his family and loved ones through this difficult time and that Nazeer reaches the highest stage in Jannah (Paradise), Aameen.”

His uncle, Deputy Vice Chancellor Yunus Ballim said that, in Nazeer’s short time at Wits, he had touched many lives through his passion for the community. “His death has been a blow to young and old in our family and he is sorely missed.”

It’s an amazing race at Wits

While Wits freshers who sign up to play in the Muslim Students Association’s (MSA) Amazing Race won’t be in line to bag a million dollars, they are guaranteed to have loads of fun and learn about the campus.

The game is set up to help first years find their way around campus and to make new friends says MSA vice chairperson, Aslam Bulbulia.

“We’ll form them into teams so they get know one another and then run around Wits so they get to know the University because it’s more fun than a tour. They’ll have to solve little clues along the way and sometimes be challenged with getting around Wits or finding a building,” says Bulbulia.

The race kicks off at 10am from the Library Lawns on East campus, after students are split into groups of three, and is expected to be over by 1pm.

It will be followed by the mid-day afternoon Jummah prayer at the Musalla and a talk by Abdurrahman Laily. Students can then look forward to pizzas and an informal get together.

Events that have taken place so far during O-Week are the Silly Buggers Party which was held on Tuesday 7 February, the Alley Party which ran after Monday night’s rugby match.

Ramadan project packs up

THE annual Ramadan Humanitarian Project packed its last box on campus this week. The Wits’ Muslim Students Association (MSA) project has grown every year since it began in 2005.

It is ending because of logistical reasons said MSA medical school committee member, Yaaseen Cassim. Ramadaan – the Islamic fasting month – falls 10 days earlier every year according to the lunar calendar.

Next year it will fall during the holidays and exam period and running the project then would mean less student involvement and disrupt the project’s week of packing food hampers.

“That takes away from the objectives of the project [which is] to teach social responsibility and make students aware of the underprivileged,” said Cassim.

The project saw its seventh and final year end with the usual “packing week” on the Wit’s library lawns .

RHP – which was initiated by two Wits MSA committee members – has been a joint project with MSAs from the University of Pretoria and the University of Johannesburg who ran their “packing week” at the same time.

Cassim said collectively they aimed to reach a target of R2-million. By Thursday the universities had packed 2600 hampers with a variety of foods in a total of 5200 boxes.

MSA main campus treasurer, Alia Kajee, said the project still gets alumni pupils involved and she was sad to see it end. Like Cassim, she said the end of the RHP does not mean the end of the project entirely.

The committee is thinking of new project ideas to generate support of this nature for next year’s fasting month as well. “In a couple of years when logistics and time permit, the MSA members of that time might revive the project,”said Cassim.

Students who volunteered to pack boxes this week said they did it because it was fun, they were able to meet new people and it was their way of giving back to the community.


Students protest at French Embassy against niqab ban

Muslim students from Gauteng are set to march in protest to the French embassy in Pretoria this morning to submit a petition against a law enacted to ban Muslim females wearing the niqab in public.

The protest action comes at the heels of reports that countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands are now considering following the French government law enacted just over a month ago.

The Wits Muslim Students Association (MSA) began rallying the support of fellow students on Tuesday to protest against what they call a violation not only of the freedom to express their religious affiliation but also an infringement of women’s rights.

Chairman of Wits MSA, Abubakr Osma, says: “No one is oppressed by wearing it [the niqab] and no one is forced to wear it. We need to break the stereotype so that if a Muslim lady wants to wear it she should be allowed to do so.”

Witsies from various religious affiliations wrote comments reflecting their stance on the ban on a banner that will be taken to the protest march.

“We know the ban has already been introduced into French law and we can’t do anything about that but we don’t want it to spread to other European countries and we stand here in solidarity to show that it is a human rights violation and to discourage the countries considering implementing it,” says Fatima Mukkamad, 3rd year BA politics major.

The French government cites security reasons as part of their reasons for banning the niqab, a reason members of the MSA say is quite unfounded.

“I know that every woman who wears the veil feels the same as me in that if a security person has to ask us to remove our veil for security purposes we will never say ‘No!’. We would remove our veil and show our face,” Mukkamad says.

Students taking part in the march are from Wits, the University of Johannesburg and the University of Pretoria, forming an umbrella body – the Muslim Students Association Gauteng.