An activist vice chancellor for Wits

THE NEW vice chancellor of Wits, Professor Adam Habib, said Witsies are in for “one hell of a ride” when he officially takes up the university’s top job in June 2013.

Habib was offered the position in December of last year and takes over from Professor Loyiso Nongxa, who is ending a 10-year tenure.

Growing up in Pietermaritzburg, Kwa- Zulu Natal, Habib was imprisoned for his political activism in the labour movement in the 1980s. He said he had not lost his activist roots just because he was now in a nice office in management.

“I see management as part of my activism,” said Habib.

Habib outlined his vital goals as transforming Wits to create critical citizens that are both African and cosmopolitan, achieving cutting-edge research and providing a way out of poverty for the country’s brightest students.

“Those are for me activist goals, they’re not managerial and administrative goals,” said Habib.

Habib is currently the deputy vice-chancellor for research, postgraduate studies and the library at the University of Johannesburg. Often appearing in the media commenting on a range of issues, Habib has become a recognisable face in South Africa.

During the selection process for Wits vice chancellor, Habib became a favourite among the three short-listed candidates with various media predicting his triumph.

Last year the Mail & Guardian reported that a source close to the process said the delegation was leaning towards Habib because the university needed “a new lease on life” and had faith that he could bring change to the university.

Habib emphasised that for change to happen he needs the help of the whole Wits community. He said Wits is a great institution that has the capacity to go world-class but he could not single-handedly make the necessary changes to achieve this goal.

Habib arrives at Wits after numerous showdowns between management, staff and students that culminated in many strikes in the last couple of years. Habib said he was aware of some of the “huge tensions” at Wits. He plans to prioritise meetings in the Wits community so he can get a better understanding of the issues.

Speaking at Wits in November, Habib said he wanted to focus on increasing incentives in order for Wits to retain its staff and to make Wits into an institution that was “global but not foreign”.

Habib emphasised the need for a “university pact” that can encourage “a shared vision and sacrifice but for shared gains”.

The Chairperson of  Wits Council, Sakumzi Macozoma, who also chaired the selection committee, said in a press release: “We believe [Habib] has the capacity, professionalism, and credentials to lead Wits into the future.”

After a three month transitional period that starts in March 2013, Habib will take over formally from Nongxa, who was the university’s first black vice-chancellor, in June 2013.

Nongxa said he believed Habib’s goals were in line with the goals that Wits has outlined in the 2020 vision and that he believes he will be a great leader for the university.

A colleague of Habib’s from UJ, Professor Angina Parekh, said she wished him well and affirmed Habib had an ingrained activism.

Parekh said although Habib had a caring side he  was a “tough debator” and those in discussions with him would have to stand their ground.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 1st edition, 6th February 2013

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Wits academic and support staff unions have planned a rally through Braamfontein on July 19 and a one-day strike next month over long-standing grievances with Wits management.

The three unions jointly declared a dispute after annual wage negotiations faltered last month. Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff (Grades 5-9). But the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9%increase.

They received a certificate of dispute from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which provides legal protection for protest and strike action.

The two unions, along with the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management, including a child care facility for Wits employees.

The unions began their protest action with a picket on Jorissen Street outside Senate House in June, coinciding with a scheduled meeting of the Wits Council. About 150 staff members lined the entrance of the basement parking in freezing weather, calling for support as Council officials and members of the public arrived.



Catherine Dryden, a librarian, told Vuvuzela that she has worked at Wits for over 20 years and earns less than R20,000.

“With my experience and my qualifications, I think it’s an absolute disgrace, and I think if I were a member of Council, I would hang my head in shame”, she said.

Deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, Prof Patrick FitzGerald, said the university provides extensive information about its financial sustainability during negotiations. Last year, ASAWU’s proposed salary increase would have cost the university around R60m to implement.

“Enough is enough”.

According to the unions, this is the third year they have been in dispute with management. Advocate Liz Picarra, an executive committee member of ASAWU, said “enough is enough”.

“We care about this university, we are this university, and unless they start engaging with us, we are actually doing our students and the entire university community a disservice”, she said.

Nomasonto Baloyi, a data administrator at the Wits Arts Museum, said she has not moved to a job that could pay better because of the experience and benefits Wits offers.

ASAWU president David Dickinson asked Sakumzi Macozoma, Wits Council chair, for his views on the picket as he drove in. He responded, “I hope you’ve told them that we’re speaking to you, have you?”

Wits Council chair, Sakumzi Macozoma (left) in conversation with ASAWU president David Dickinson (right).

Wits Communications manager, Shirona Patel, said management may not respond directly to the memorandum, but will continue with talks until next week.

Related articles

Unions reject salary increase

Wits academics plan wage protest – TimesLive

Letter – Academics take stand – BusinessDay