Habib talks love, family and Savernake

FIRST LADY: Fatima Habib at her mantle with family photographs at her home in Saxonwold. Photo: Prelene Singh

FIRST LADY OF WITS: Fatima Habib stands at her mantle with family photographs at her home in Saxonwold.        Photo: Prelene Singh

Fatima Habib, the wife of newly installed Wits vice chancellor Adam Habib, proves that behind every powerful man is an equally strong woman.

Fast talking and immaculately presented in a dark blue dress with black stockings and black heels, Habib spoke assertively on the porch of her nine bedroom home in Saxonwold about life since joining the Wits family. “I have a list on my computer that is called ‘Reasons why I will divorce Adam’.  Buying this house is one of them,”she said jokingly.

[pullquote align=”right”]I have a list on my computer that is called ‘Reasons why I will divorce Adam[/pullquote]

“We had bought it at an auction and it was a real mess, but after I renovated it … it turns out Adam was right.” They moved to their home in Saxonwold in 2003 and Mrs Habib spent a lot of time renovating and improving the house. “Our boys grew up here, they love our home.”

“Refugees of love”

Habib met her husband while they were doing their undergraduate degrees at the University of Natal. They were both anti-apartheid activists who were part of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

FAMILY FIRST: Habib explains that everyone in the family have a mutual understanding to agree to disagree, respectfully. Photo: Prelene Singh

FAMILY FIRST: Habib explains that everyone in the family have a mutual understanding to agree to disagree, respectfully.              Photo: Prelene Singh

“Adam was always off doing work in the township so what happened was he used to borrow my notes.”
“We were ‘refugees of love’, as Adam likes to tell people. I think it’s so corny”, she says while her face lights up like someone newly in love.

“My mother didn’t like Adam and his aunts didn’t think I was right for him. So we thought screw all of this and we buggered off to Wits to do our honours.”

From Wits, Habib received her honours in applied psychology and then went on to do her masters in economics and industrial labour studies.

“We said that after we finish our masters we will get married.” she said.  “Since Adam got the VC job at Wits I think hectic is an understatement, the most difficult part is actually, as a family, having dinner together.”

They have two sons in Parktown Boys School. One is in Grade 8 and another in Matric who will be studying astrophysics next year at either UCT or Wits.

The Habib family value the importance of fitness and keeping fit. “Adam and I run in the mornings and on weekends we go for walks. We try to connect with the children by going out to dinner or Saturday brunches and movies because I feel that that is very important to do.”

Working progress

After 10 years the Habib family will now have to move to their next “working progress” of a home. Part of the conditions of being VC of Wits is that the Habib family has to live at the official residence of the vice-chancellor, a heritage house known as Savernake. If not, Wits will lose an asset worth R40 million. “There was a lot of controversy around Savernake.

When we were first told we would have to move out of our home I was appalled. The toilets don’t flush, the electrical and plumbing needs to be fixed and the entire kitchen is shot to hell and gone.”

Wits has started phase one of the three phases of refurbishment at Savernake.

After phase is complete they will relocate from their current home.

Habib plans to take her chef, driver and gardener with them instead of taking Wits up on its offer to supply staff. “My staff have worked for me for ten years and will continue to do so.”

Habib is very involved in the fixing process of Savernake.“The construction team and the architects and myself work together because I am quite rigid about management. Making sure it’s on budget and on time.”

 

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Wits VuvuzelaWits facing R12m cost for VC house. March 15, 2013.

 

Savernake will stay in the hands of Wits

TWO VC’s SPEAK: Incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and outgoing Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa addressed the media on Monday regarding the spending on the VC’s official residence. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

TWO VC’s SPEAK: Incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and outgoing Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa addressed the media on Monday regarding the spending on the VC’s official residence. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

UNCERTAINTY surrounding the refurbishments of Savernake, the house provided for Wits vice chancellor, was the subject of a news briefing held on Monday by incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib.

“The house belongs to the trust of the Price family and was made available for the use of Wit’s vice chancellor some 40 years ago. The terms of the agreement are that it has to be returned to the Price family should the vice chancellor not live in it,” said a statement from the office of the Vice Chancellor.

Habib, who is not yet residing at Savernake, stressed at the media briefing that the house is not only a home for the VC but a venue that is used to host a number of university functions.

However, Savernake, which is still registered under the Price family trust has “not been adequately maintained and has fallen into serious disrepair over the years.”

The cost of refurbishments to the house

was settled at R12 million, but was later cut down to R9 million after a meeting convened by Habib with the representatives of the unions, the SRC and the senate representatives to Wits Council.

The Star recently published an article that criticised the decision to renovate Savernake by stating “[The] University is prepared to spend at least R9 million on renovating the vice-chancellor’s official residence, [when] desperate students sleep on chairs.”

Habib said that the university is aware that there are students without homes and who have financial problems: “We will do our best within our means to help them but we must abide by public laws of heritage too.”

The reason the cost of refurbishment is so high is because the house is a heritage site and there are certain laws surrounding the renovation procedures of it.

“There are explicit rules of how to renovate it and it can only be repaired by a select group of artisans and service providers,” Habib said.

Tawana Kupe, deputy vice chancellor for finance and operations said that it has been agreed with the Price family trust that the property, worth R30 million, will be transferred to Wits University should the renovations proceed.

“We are not paying the Price family a single rand for the house. We will not buy the house,” Kupe said.