Wits VC taken to task over photo tweet

Habib was attacked for sharing a photo that he said was from Gaza, when it was actually from Syria, earlier this year. Photo: Twitter

Habib was attacked for sharing a photo that he said was from Gaza, when it was actually from Syria, earlier this year. Photo: Twitter

Unverified photos and information often don’t get very far on social media platforms as networks of people around the world are quick to react to and correct any improper use.

This is exactly what Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib realised this past Sunday as one of his tweets, containing an incorrectly attributed photograph, attracted close to 60 responses in less than an  hour.

Habib used a picture from the Syrian conflict that was taken in February this year and incorrectly atrributed it to the current conflict in Gaza.

The photo that shows the legs of a corpse sticking out from underneath rubble had been mistakenly used on social media several times in the last few weeks.

“The consequences of Obama’s defense of Israel’s war in Gaza. How could we have allowed him to talk at Madiba’s funeral,” Habib tweeted.

Following the reponses to Habib’s tweet, he apologised and later tweeted, “the photo was copied from an earlier tweet.”

But he remained resolute in his point, tweeting that he “could find another photo to demonstrate this but what would be the point.”

“Let’s deal with the substance -children are dying,” Habib tweeted.

The incident happened at a time when the circulation of false information, and in particular, photos, is occurring more frequently via social media platforms.

But coupled with the ease of sharing information, is the ability to share unverified information which can be damaging.

In the case of Malaysia Airlines flights 17 and 370, a story about a Dutch cyclist who was booked to go on both flights (but at the last minute changed his mind) was widely circulated a week ago.

However, it was soon discovered that there was no proof that 29-year-old Maarten de Jonge ever bought a ticket.

In these instances, fiction becomes fact very quickly as information is taken out of context or passed off as the truth. The impact and consequences of sharing fale information can be dangerous, especially because information can reach more people, in a shorter amount of time.

Wits tops Africa

Wits has been ranked the top university in Africa and 114th in the world. Photo: Wits Communications
Wits has been ranked the top university in Africa and 114th in the world. Photo: Wits Communications

By Percy Matshoba and Roxanne Joseph

Wits University has been ranked the top university in Africa and among the best in the world by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR). 

The CWUR looked at 1000 universities around the world and ranked Wits at 114 overall. University of Cape Town is ranked 267, Stellenbosch 311, the University of KwaZulu-Natal 459 and the University of Pretoria 609. 

The criteria include the quality of education, alumni employment, quality of faculty, publications and research papers, influence, citations, broad impact and patents. Wits scored highly in alumni employment (29th) and quality of education (79th).

“It makes me feel like I am in a world class institution.”

The CWUR previously compiled a list of the top 100 universities in 2013, and has now extended the ranking to 1000 universities in the world.  The group claims to be the only ranking system that includes in its research the quality of education and skills development of students without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

Third-year law student Lerato Maviya said she was not quite convinced by the CWUR ranking system in terms of the quality of education. “I still find flaws in the way we are taught [at Wits],” she said.

BA Law student, Dimpho Bendile said the rankings made her proud to be a Witsie. “It makes me feel like I am in a world class institution.”

Approach ranking systems with caution

Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib discounted the rankings and said they should be looked at with caution.  Different ranking systems used different criteria for universities. 

“We believe that as a university we should not be distracted by such ranking systems,” he said.  

Habib said the university’s focus should be to build a “nationally responsive and globally competitive institution, one that is both demographically diverse and cosmopolitan.” He said that if the university focuses on these qualities it will surely build a strong accreditation which will be acknowledged by more “established and relevant ranking systems”.

Proud to be a Witsie

Wits university alumnus Simiso Ndlovu said, in terms of graduate employment, the university had gone out of its way to find employment for graduates. “I got my current job through my honours lecturer,” she said. 

Ndlovu said the university’s top ranking gave her a sense of honour and prestige among competing graduates. “I can go anywhere in the world and proudly proclaim that I am a Witsie,” she said.

Director of Alumni Relations Peter Maher said the CWUR ranking was a confirmation of previous reports that had ranked Wits highly.  He said Wits has produced high achieving graduates when compared to other universities in Africa. 

“The overall ranking is good news for Wits graduates,” Maher said. Harvard was ranked as the best university by the CWUR, scoring the highest in seven of eight categories.

The top 10 universities on the list were shared between the United States, represented by eight universities, and the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Japanese universities were also heavily represented in the top 20 with the University of Tokyo at 13th and Kyoto University in the 16th spot.  The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology took the 18th spot and other US institutions completed the list.

Nehawu Wits re-elects former chairperson

Despite the apparent discontent with the leadership of the Wits branch of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), the former chairperson was re-elected at a meeting yesterday.

Richard Sadiki retains his position, along with four other former executive committee members, after an election in Wits Senate House on Tuesday.

In a meeting last week, regional chairman Lulamile Sibanda said, “the workers will never be happy with their salaries … the leadership must be driven by the interest of the members of the congress.”

He called for elections that were democratic, open and frank. “[We] must seek to unite membership of the union.”

The former executive committee, with re-elected chairperson, Richard Sadiki. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The former executive committee, with re-elected chairperson, Richard Sadiki. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The former executive have achieved a lot, according to Nehawu members. These include having increased branch membership from 470 at the start of their term to 700, the compensation of workers who were not being paid overtime and the renovation of the female security officers change rooms (from toilets to proper bathroom facilities).

The new executive, which consists of 14 members (of which only three are women) in total, has its work cut out for it, according to the congress. “But we, the congress, have faith in our new leaders and expect continued success,” one member said at the close of the meeting.

The new committee will serve a four-year term, ending in mid-2018.

OPINION: Mandela Day is more than 67 minutes and selfies

Seven months since the death of iconic former president, Nelson Rolihahla Mandela, South Africans gear up to spend 67 minutes of their day giving back to their country.

Nelson Mandela International Day was launched in recognition of the late statesman’s birthday, July 18, in 2009, by the UN (United Nations) General Assembly. It was in response to a call Madiba made a year earlier, when he asked the youth to “take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices”, according to the official Mandela Day website. “It is in your hands now,” he said.

South Africans have come to see Mandela Day as a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. The name attached to the day helps to promote the idea of serving society and doing charity work, which, for many of the more privileged is not an everyday reality. But it has also been condensed to a mere 67 minutes, as if all one needs to do is fulfil a quota to be a good person.

Mandela Day is about giving at least 67 minutes of your time to give back. Photo: Provided

Mandela Day is about giving at least 67 minutes of your time to give back. Photo: Shutterstock

The official website and social media have helped to market it well. Filled with inspiring images, videos and the hashtag “#time2serve”, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are filled with selfies of people doing charity work, essentially showing off how much good they are doing for the world, as they play with sick children, hand out sandwiches on the side of the road and donate 67 of whatever it is their company produces.

White-washing of Mandela’s legacy

This shows the “depoliticisation and white-washing of Mandela’s legacy” (to quote a status seen on Facebook early this morning), as a day that is meant to honour the memory of a great man has become a corporate event. A chance for people to tick off their annual charity work off a list and carry on about their day, their lives, their normally selfish lives.  As if everyday should not be a Mandela day.

The positive effects of the day are clear: each one us has the potential and responsibility to do something good, for someone in need and if this is what takes for that to happen, then so be it. At least some of the individuals standing on street corners will get a meal today, terminally-ill children will have someone pay them more attention than usual, communities will receive the tools and utensils needed to create a self-sustaining vegetable garden and old age homes will be filled with smiling, happy children, looking to make a difference. This is all good and well, but then tomorrow will come and everything will go back to the way it was.

The poor will be no less poor

The poor will be no less poor than they were before, the terminally ill will not be better, the unemployment rate will have remained the same (or even increased), nothing more will have been done to try and fix the standard of education and schools around the country and South Africa will still be known as one of the most unequal countries in the world.

It feels good to make a difference or change someone’s life, even if it only for a short amount of time, but it should not stop there.

Mandela Day is a good thing, it is encouraging and inspiring for all those who participate (whether they are giving or receiving) and the message is that giving back your time, money or resources should continue for the rest of today and every single day after that.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead,” Madiba once said. So make every day a day about giving back, a day that truly represents his great legacy.

Confusion about new cycle lane in Braamfontein

Cars parked on part of the bicycle lane on Jorrisen Street, outside Senate House. Photo: Roxanne Joseph
THINK BIKE: Cars parked on part of the bicycle lane on Jorrisen Street, outside Senate House. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The new lane dedicated to cyclists on Jorrisen Street in Braamfontein, has been launched with minimal regulation and enforcement causing some confusion among road users.

The introduction of the lane has led to a number of problems for drivers, including traffic congestion. The demarcation of the lane as a cycle-only space means that there are now only two lanes for drivers (instead of the previous three) and if you want to go into Wits University, the University Corner parking lot or turn left onto Bertha Road, you will be stopping traffic as you wait to turn safely.

There are no signs along the lane as yet and people are using it as a pedestrian lane, which puts them at risk of being hit by cars that ignore the cycles-only rule at various times.

The cycle lanes are part of a network that will link Melville, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Wits and the Johannesburg CDB, according to Gail Jennings, a transportation researcher.

“It will be easier to see the value and function once the full route has been built,” she said. “The network was designed in consultation with the universities and various residents associations … and [was] extensively mapped.”

Without signage, people have been using it as a pedestrian lane. Photo: Roxanne Joseph
Without signage, people have been using the new cycle lane as a pedestrian lane. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

According to Jennings there is currently no proper by-law in place to ensure the lane is exclusive to cyclists. The regulations of such a by-law would ensure that cars do not drive or park in a zone demarcated for bicycles, buses or pedestrians exclusively.

The lane runs along the left-hand side of Jorrisen Street and is painted in green to distinguish it from the regular, driving lanes.

Jennings said that while cyclists would probably have preferred a segregated bike lane, these are difficult to create in such a dense city centre environment, where there are lots of pedestrians.

However, according to Thomas Coggin, a lecturer in Property Law at Wits University, the City should have made more of an effort to separate them from the rest of the road. The City of Johannesburg was not available for comment.

As a member of the Urban Joburg team, Coggin has done extensive research on urban spaces and the law.

“I think the City should firstly have ensured the lanes are essentially elevated above the roadway, aside from simply delineating the lane with a separate colour,” he said. “ In this way, there would have been a physical barrier to drivers illegally using the lane.”

“It will be critical that the City fines drivers illegally using the lane so that, in time to come, we can inculcate a culture of respect for non-motorised transport in the city,” Coggin said.

He believes that the concept is a positive change. “Joburgers need to move away from their usage of one-occupant motor vehicles, and learn how to walk, cycle and use public transport,” he said.

Wits University is lending its support to the initiative, “as part of promoting non-motorised transport alternatives in our city, in addition to ongoing investment in improving public transport options,” according to Emmanuel Prinsloo, director of campus planning and development. 

Nehawu chairpersons divided over leadership question

The Wits branch of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) is unhappy with the current leadership, according to regional chairperson, Lulamile Sibanda.

Sibanda was speaking at the branch congress in Senate House earlier today which was convened to elect new leaders but his sentiments were not echoed by the branch chairperson.

“The leadership has not optimally represented the members’ interests related to collective bargaining,” Sibanda said. Concerns raised by members included unhappiness with wages, being looked over for promotions and contractual issues.

The members who were in attendance though expressed their satisfaction with the current leadership and applauded loudly when “Prince”, the branch chairperson who refused to give his full name, spoke about how successful the union had been thus far this year. “Our members are happy, we are doing good things, they feel supported here at Wits,” he said.

NEHAWU members singing and dancing at the start of the meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

NEHAWU members singing and dancing at the start of the meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

“Whether or not our members are really happy will de determined by the vote,” said Sibanda. “If they vote in the current leadership, then this will show faith in them, otherwise new leadership must take over and make things right.”

127 of the total 685 members of the branch attended the meeting but the number fell short of the 50 percent required to conduct the elections. The election has been postponed to next Tuesday, July 22.

Seven percent of undergrads at Wits attending lectures without food

The Wits Food Bank is appealing to Witsies to assist students in need through donations. Photo: Wits Communications.

The Wits Food Bank is appealing to Witsies to assist students in need through donations. Photo: Wits Communications.

Seven percent of undergraduate students go to lectures without food each day, according to Wits Dean of Students, Dr Pamela Dube.

This figure is based on a study conducted in 2012 by Wits medical school students and on research by the Wits Student Affairs Office and campus security after students were found to be sleeping in university buildings.

The study, conducted by the Siyakhana Initiative for Ecological Health and Food Security, based its research on 387 undergraduate students and looked at 22 campus food points. Its aim was to “assess the food environment on campus, establish the food security status of undergraduate students and investigate the relationship between these two issues.”

“Usually, students who don’t have accommodation and sleep on campus also don’t have something to eat,” said Dube.

According to Dube, the numbers that they got were not as high as initially anticipated, but this was just “one intervention.”

“Some people will take away their blankets where they’re sleeping in the bathroom … or in the seminar rooms … or sometimes only blankets will be found and the person will never be tracked. People tend to also be watchful,” she said.

Seven percent of the students were either “severely or moderately vulnerable to food insecurity”

Seven percent of the students were either “severely or moderately vulnerable to food insecurity” and in some groups, a number of students experienced hunger.

27% of them knew of a fellow student who experienced hunger and more than half had personally experienced some impact on their academic performance, due to hunger.

Initiatives to assist hungry Wits students

The Wits Food Bank, started just over a year ago, is a campaign of the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach centre (WCCO) and is aimed at curbing food insecurity among students.

It provides students in need with toiletries, clothes, food and if need be, a place to sleep, according to WCCO manager, Karuna Singh.

This year, the WCCO is using Mandela Day (18 July) as a way to encourage larger donations from the Wits community, with the theme: “charity begins at home.”

“We are asking staff members and students to donate food, toiletries and clothes to the Food Bank,” said Singh.

The division of Students Affairs, a partner in the Food Bank project, also works closely with a number of departments, schools and faculties to support students in need. “People do actually come, as much as they fear the stigma,” Dube said. “Our interest is that people perform well and are supported, which means providing them with balanced, nutritious meals.”

As part of a solution, there have been changes in meals catered for at residences, “as this is not just an issue for students in need.”

Students can receive food cards for the Matrix and the university has plans to create a day house where meals can be provided and healthy, mobile food stands around campus.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) is also assisting hungry students as it recognises the impact on student performance.

The SRC are continously helping students with food security issues

“[We are] committed to ensuring that all our students are given the best possible environment to perform academically. For some students their poor performance is due to a lack of food and the SRC has interventions available to assist these students,” said SRC president, Shafee Verachia.

According to Verachia, the problem is so prevalent because of the sacrifice students make to come to Wits.

“Some are faced with horrendous circumstances which they try and deal with to make a success of life.” He also feels there is a lack of understanding by some students, who think everything will be provided for them when they get to university. “Nonetheless, the SRC is committed to assisting all of our students.”

The SRC has two ongoing processes available to students. The first is catering for students who have not had a meal in two or more days. The SRC uploads money onto their student card so that they can go to res and get a meal, just like any other student. The second is through the provision of food packs for students who can prepare meals for themselves.

Wits sexual harassment office dealing with 25 complaints, including an alleged student rape

Despite the dismissal and resignation of four staff members from Wits University over various issues of sexual harassment last year, the Wits sexual harassment office (SHO) continues to deal with a range of complaints.

“We don’t expect complaints to just go away overnight,” says SHO director Jackie Dugard, who confirmed that her team are currently dealing with 25 complaints in total, including a case of rape.

“We suspected that there might be quite a few complaints coming through in the wake of the dust that was unsettled during last year’s processes.”

The 25 complaints mostly involve the student-on-student category, followed by incidences of sexism among male staff members towards female staff members.

Some complaints, says Dugard, even relate to student relationships with their husbands or partners.

Professor Jackie Dugard has been appointed the Director of the Sexual Harassment Office at Wits. Photo: Wits University.

Professor Jackie Dugard is the director of the Sexual Harassment Office (SH)) at Wits. Photo: Wits University.

Disciplinary for alleged rape of a student by a student 

One of the disciplinary inquiries that is underway relates to a formal complaint from last year and involves the alleged rape of a student at a party, by another student. Dugard was not able to provide any details about the disciplinary as the case has not gone to court as yet. She added that the work of the SHO is not on the “public record.”

Dugard says that it is too early to say what their successes have been, as the office only opened in February this year. “[But] I would like to think that if we’ve achieved something so far, it’s to start to make complainants aware that we’re here to support them through providing a safe, effective space for sharing and resolving issues, whether informally or formally.”

Although Wits defines sexual harassment as the “unwelcome conduct of sexual nature,” Dugard recognises that it can be “tricky and slippery” to define.

“Precisely because much depends on whether the words or actions are welcome or unwelcome. However, while on paper this may seem fuzzy, in practice (in most cases) it is clear whether or not the conduct is welcome.”

A lot of the work the SHO has done this year has been reactive, as the team try to get on top of existing complaints, but now they are starting to work proactively. According to Dugard, they have set up a website on the Wits intranet, created a  protocol for serious assault and rape, and are working on ways to effectively communicate with the various university communities about the SHO’s work and relevant policies.

“Our biggest challenge is finding effective ways to communicate to the various university communities, including students and staff members,” says Dugard. “We can’t claim to have reached everyone, but we are working towards ensuring that everyone in the university knows where our office is, that we provide support … including counselling … we will investigate and if relevant prosecute such through disciplinary inquiries.”



Wits Vuvuzela: ‘Minor’ violations of sexual harassment continue at Wits, June 11, 2014

Wits Vuvuzela: Former Witsie is new sexual harassment office head, February 6, 2014

Wits Vuvuzela: Wits academic resigns amid sexual harassment investigationsOctober 31, 2013

Wits Vuvuzela: Wits sexual harassment inquiry complete, September 4, 2013

Wits announces revised health sciences admissions policy increasing access for previously disadvantaged students

The faculty of health sciences at Wits University has released a statement outlining a revised admissions policy which will take effect from 2015.

It is not clear whether the new policy will affect students who have already submitted their applications to study next year.

The revisions are based on recommendations made by a task team consisting of deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Prof Andrew Crouch and deputy vice-chancellor (research) Prof Zeblon Vilakazi. 

Previously, only 25% of top performing candidates were accepted and this has been increased to 40%. The remaining 60% of places will be allocated to different categories of previously disadvantaged students.

 Key new points from the policy include:

  • 40% of places will be allocated to top performing candidates based on academic merit
  • The remaining 60% will be split as follows:
  • 20% of places will be offered to top performing rural learners
  • 20% of places will be allocated to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools
  • Approximately 20% of places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners


Read the full statement below:

Wits University has revised its admissions policy for all programmes offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences. This follows the recommendations of a task team commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor.

Applicants who are currently applying for entrance in 2015 will not be required to complete a Biographical Questionnaire (BQ). Their matric results will carry a 50% weighting and the results of their National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) will make up the other 50%. This weighting may change for 2016 entry with the introduction of an online BQ.

Selection will be made according to the following broad categories: 40% of the places will be offered to the top performing candidates based on academic merit. The remaining 60% will be offered as follows: approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing rural learners; approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools; and approximately 20% of the places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners.


The new admissions policy is based on recommendations by a Wits University task team, consisting of members of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Student Representative Council, other Faculties and the Senior Executive Team, that was commissioned to review the admissions policy for the MBBCh, or medicine, degree. The activities of the task team included a public meeting that was held in April 2014 to discuss the current and future admissions criteria and policies for entry into the degree. Wits University is committed to being a demographically diverse and cosmopolitan world class institution furthering the Constitutional vision of a democratic and non-racial South Africa. We will continue to research and review admissions policies in line with the realisation of this goal.



Wits Vuvuzela: Medicine admission criteria to change, April 11

Wits student returns stolen textbooks to UJ student

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Gideon Chitanga, Prof Catherine Burns and Emery Kalema the day the stolen textbooks were returned. Photo: Provided

Gideon Chatanga lost three years of his doctoral thesis and personal belongings in a robbery two weeks ago but thanks to Witsie Emery Kalema, he now has some of his textbooks back.

Last Monday, Kalema, a doctoral (PhD) candidate, discovered a pile of textbooks lying in a dustbin in Braamfontein. Although he already had all of his own textbooks to carry, he picked them up, took them home and with the help of his supervisor, managed to track down their owner, Chatanga.

“They are really incredible people. If the world had so many people of that nature life would be so much easier.”

The week before, Chitanga, who is reading towards a PhD in politics and international studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), discovered his textbooks, laptop, entire PhD thesis, camera and recorder had been stolen from his flat in Laborie Village.

Kalema who found the books by chance, took them to his supervisor at Wiser, Dr Catherine Burns, and together they tracked them down to the UJ library. Librarian Tyson Mabunda contacted Chatanga and returned most of the books that had been stolen.

 Chitanga, who now has to redo three years worth of thesis work in a few months, is very grateful for what Kalema and Burns did. “They are really incredible people. If the world had so many people of that nature life would be so much easier,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

Despite being happy that his books were returned to him, he feels that “cases of students are not taken seriously by the police” and has little to no hope that they will help locate the missing laptop, camera and recorder.

“There is a need for vigilance and diligence when protecting students,” he said.

Kalema says he is still trying to work through what happened and says it is extremely difficult for him to talk about the good he has done for someone else.

“I am not sure if I would have even one word to express myself,” he told Wits Vuvuzela. “For me, it’s normal and that’s [sic] how we (people) should live in our world.”