Prof leaves the Big Apple for Braamfontein

After an eight year stay in the United States, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena has finally decided to come back to South Africa and has chosen Wits University as her new academic home. 

BACK TO THE MOTHERLAND: After many years abroad educating and learning, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena will touch home in June. Photo: John Harris

BACK HOME: After many years abroad educating and learning, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena will make a permanent move to South Africa in June.                        Photo: John R. Harris

In June, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) will welcome South African Professor Hlonipha Mokoena back home.

Mokoena, 38, originally from Soweto but left for KwaZulu-Natal at the age of 12 to go to boarding school, took on her first job as an associate professor in anthropology at the Columbia University in New York a few years after graduating with her PhD from UCT (University of Cape Town), in 2005.

Her move to Wiser comes after three years of planning and describing this new challenge, Mokoena said, “I mustn’t disappoint.”

Mokoena hopes to have the intellectual space and time in which to complete a new book. No stranger to publishing, she wrote her first book titled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual in 2011.

“Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”

After 8 years of teaching at Columbia University, Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”, and she describes some of the innovative ways in which students are taught in the US as viable options in South Africa.

“I think in South Africa we tend to argue about eurocentrism as if [it’s] sort of widespread, whereas really the world currently is dominated by the American approach to creating knowledge, including African studies. It’s really American-centric,” Mokoena said.

Mokoena spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the differences between universities in the States and those here at home, “American private universities [such as] Columbia University are very different from South African universities at the basic level of competition.”

According to Mokoena, there is a high degree of competition for staff and students to get into institutions like Columbia.

Former Wits DVC is new Sol Plaatje head

A former Wits deputy Vice-Chancellor has been officially appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Former deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) of Wits University, Professor Yunus Ballim, has been appointed the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the 2-year-old Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Ballim who officially started as VC of Sol Plaatje University (SPU) yesterday, said the position is both “exciting and scary”.

As a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits, he was requested by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), in 2013, to set up the SPU. This decision was supported by Wits University.

Unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things

During this time Ballim’s title was ‘Interim Head’ at SPU but he retained a teaching and research relationship with Wits.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela about SPU, Ballim said, “As the first truly South African university, unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things in higher education, particularly around high quality and successful intellectual development of students from traditionally marginalised communities.”

Despite moving on to a new university, Ballim says he hasn’t fully left Wits: “Wits has kindly agreed to allow me to retain my professorship in civil engineering (with no salary) to continue my research, supervision of postgraduate students and occasional teaching at postgraduate and undergraduate levels.”

With the task of being a VC of a very young university, Ballim said that “…developing the institutional, academic and infrastructure capacity of a new SPU is a very big challenge for me. As I indicated, I am nervously excited about my new task.”



SA professor speaks outside French university after ban

A University of Johannesburg professor addressed an audience outside the gates of a French university after he was banned from speaking at the institution yesterday.

Despite being banned from speaking at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in France yesterday, Professor Farid Esack still managed to deliver a lecture on “Israel as an Apartheid State” at the main gates of the institution.

Esack is a professor in the Study of Islam, and Head of the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and also chairs the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa board. He was due to speak at the public research university in Paris as part of the Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) but was not able to after complaints were received by the institution.

“A pretty sad sight for France which turned out in their hundreds of thousands to defend ‘freedom of speech’ only a few months ago,” said Esack.

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?”

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?” asks Esack

According to Esack, allegations of violence against BDS supporters during the Boycott Woolworths campaign were ascribed to him as the chair of the organisation. “This was the sum of the Israeli lobby’s petition to French universities,” Esack continues.

Esack also addressed allegations that he is anti-Semitic by saying, “believe it or not, it all started with Dubula-i-Juda story that was first printed in Vuvuzela!” he exclaims.

According to Esack, BDS South Africa’s (through coordinator Mohammed Desai), attempts to explain the Wits incident “in the context of larger liberation struggle songs was presented as proof that I am anti-Semitic.”

“The BDS Board, which I chair and of which Desai is a member as the organization’s director, concurred with, unambiguously condemned that incident and BDS reaffirms its commitment to non-violence as its way of responding to the crimes of occupation and dispossession committed against the Palestinian people.”


Zero tolerance for staff or student plagiarism

A former Wits professor was dismissed because of plagiarism in nine of his publications according to recent reports.

Professor Abebe Zegeye was the director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) for about two months but was dismissed after Wits was informed of his plagiarism.

Asked about the Zegeye case, deputy vice-chancellor: advancement Professor Rob Moore said on Monday there are three measures in place when academics are employed.

The first measure is testimonials from reliable individuals which the academic provides. The university then contacts those individuals and thirdly they assess the publications of the academic.

“The assumption is that these testimonials are not the applicant’s brother,” said Moore.

The applicant provides a list of their publications and a written assessment and analysis are done by the university. Moore added that there are rigorous examinations into the publications.

“Whether it’s foolproof, that is the question,” he said.

Elaine Milton, the director of employee relations, also attended the meeting.

“There have only been three cases of plagiarism in seven years,” Milton said.

When asked why the dismissal of Zegeye was kept quiet, Milton said the process of dismissal is confidential and not published to protect the reputation of the academic.

“The report [Zegeye’s dismissal] had a limited circulation,” said Moore.

Milton added that only seven or eight people saw the report and that it must have been leaked by one of the people, but that it definitely didn’t leak from the university.

Milton said the only time the university would make the reason for dismissal known is if someone asks for a reference. If further enquiries were to be made they would always be truthful about dismissals.

Moore said Wits was the only institution Zegeye worked at that investigated and prosecuted him for plagiarising.

Zegeye went to work at the University of South Australia as the director of the Hawke Research Institute after his dismissal. He resigned after the Mail & Guardian article on April 15 which exposed his plagiarism.

Moore said the university’s stance on plagiarism doesn’t change and they are “strongly against it”.

Alex Rilgour and Panashe Paradza, 1st year BA law students, said their opinion on the matter was that it was “ridiculous”.

“Especially since we are nailed so hard for it,” said Rilgour.

Paradza added, “There is no need for a double standard.”

They didn’t know about the link to the Wits plagiarism document but said it gets drilled into them, which is a good step towards eliminating it.