Wits mountain club invites public to chalk up

The club launched an open climbing event to attract climbers and non-climbers alike, to try their hand at indoor rock climbing.

On Tuesday, May 2, the mountain club opened the indoor-climbing wall to all in the launch of a tournament that is open to the public, but the public didn’t show.

The bouldering league is taking place for the first time in three years at the multi-purpose sports hall on Wits main campus. According to Uwais Khan (22), the administrative head of the club, the event used to be an annual occurrence. This changed at the onset of the pandemic of 2020, preventing large events from happening by law.

Wits Mountain club members and alumni climb the indoor rock-climbing wall in the open boulder league on May 2 at the multi-purpose sports hall. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

The turnout for the event was dismal, with only a handful of Wits alumni joining the club in facing the wall. Khan said it is to be expected, “It’s the first event after the long weekend,” but he is optimistic that the numbers will improve as the tournament goes on. The league will continue twice a week for four weeks, entries remain will reopen until the 11th of May for those who want to win prizes (vouchers to City Rock climbing center).

The event costs visitors R50 to enter per evening, funds raised will go to the Dawson fund, a Wits fund which pays for expenses for those interested in climbing but who cannot afford it. “The major goal is to increase the diversity of climbing” said Jonothan Faller (21), chair of the club.

The club also opened the event up to everyone to build back the support for the sport which has been waning for a few years now. Faller said that the club hopes to hold a national university competition at the end of 2023, which would be the first in “a very long time”.

Bouldering is climbing which does not use protective gear. Faller told Wits Vuvuzela that this type of climbing is made up of complicated courses that don’t reach dizzying heights, but rely on problem solving skills as well as creativity in scaling the wall.

Lea Timmermans (22), a climber from the mountain club, said, “I entered to see how much I’ve improved [since joining the club this year]” and added that it’s an interesting challenge.

A climber prepares to take on the sixth course of the league on Tuesday May 2 at the multi-purpose sports hall. Photo: Kimberley Kersten.

FEATURED IMAGE: A climber chalks up her hands before climbing the indoor wall on May 2 at the multi-purpose sports hall. Photo: Kimberley Kersten.


Cool but costly

It may look cool, but graffiti is costing Wits University tens of thousands of rands every year.

The removal of graffiti cost the university R88 000 in 2011, up from R38 000 the previous year.

According to Grounds Manager Andries Norval, American films glamorising graffiti have influenced Wits students.

Norval said it is easy to paint over graffiti on a white wall. But with a lot of Wits buildings, the colour is in the plaster, so painting doesn’t work and the patchwork can always be seen.

“You can sandblast if off… using sand that is sprayed under pressure…but if you do it on surfaces like wood and marble, you actually damage the building.”

Visible patchwork where painters have tried to cover unauthorised tags on the walls of the Umthombo Building. Photo: Hazel Meda


“Proper graffiti is a work of art.”

Norval made a distinction betweengraffiti and “the squiggles they call tagging”.

“Proper graffiti is a work of art. If it’s done with the proper permission and in the right places, I’ve got no problem with it.”

He pointed out that Wits has a few designated graffiti zones, such as the pedestrian tunnel between East and West Campus, where students can paint without consequences as long as the material is not offensive to anyone.

Clarifying what is and is not allowed, Norval said: “Definitely not political. Definitely not religious. And definitely not contentious.”

Vuvuzela asked Norval what he would say to taggers who argue that the university is curtailing their freedom of expression by restricting them to designated areas.

He replied: “Ask him: if I paint on his car that is parked in a public space…would he like that? Yes or no? And does he not think this money could be better spent on better teaching facilities or fixing lecture venues or even library books?”

Campus Control officer Aaron Ngcongolo agreed: “It’s not good, because this thing is making the place untidy.”

Sharni Hart, an honours marketing student, said: “It’s a campus and it should be kept neat and clean. You can express yourself in another way. You don’t need to write all over campus.”

Graffiti depicting President Jacob Zuma. The tunnel between East and West Campus is one of the designated graffiti zones at Wits. Photo: Hazel Meda

“A youthful feel”

Several students expressed their appreciation for the graffiti in the designated zones.

As he walked past the colourful murals in the pedestrian tunnel connecting East and West Campus, 1st year economic science student Tarrin Skeepers said: “This is one of my favourite spots at Wits. Period. Because I just love the artwork. I just love the creativity.”

Ngoni Goba, a 1st year LLB student said: “It gives the university a youthful feel.”

Norval could not speak about the situation at other universities in South Africa, except to say that he visited the Soweto Campus of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and saw no graffiti there. The UJ officials he spoke to told them that they do not have a problem with graffiti.

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