Wits changing society for good

‘Wits for Good’ is about advancing social change and innovation, or is it? 

Wits University is using its ‘Wits for Good’ slogan to attempt to change society through innovation and research. In 2019 the slogan was changed from ‘Wits gives you the edge’ to ‘Wits for good’ to represent the university’s achievements over the last century of its existence. 

The university’s head of marketing Ferna Clarkson says: “It differentiates who we are and what we stand for creating new knowledge to advance humanity which ensures that we leave things better than when we found them.”

For Wits to continue playing a leading role in solving global crises and advancing social justice it must find other funding sources, including donations. Peter Maher, the director of the Wits Alumni Relations Office says, “It’s just the reality that we have, we can’t offer free education because then we’re going to bankrupt the university and that’s not going to benefit anyone, and the tax base can’t afford to fund universities fully.”

Peter Bezuidenhout, director of the Wits Advancement, Development and Fundraising Office (DFO) says; “The university creates a vast range of skills for this economy. Sure, these graduates go out and get jobs, but they are doing jobs for good.” 

Dr Neo Lekgotla laga Ramoupi, Dr Thokozani Mathebula, and Dr Sarah Godsell, who are lecturers at the Wits School of Education wrote an article which appeared in the  Daily Maverick in 2021 titled ‘Wits. For Good’ – For whose good, exactly?’. 

In it, they argue that the ‘good’ is not a public good, but rather a market good for those privileged students with easy access to online learning and who are willing to ignore those outside market-oriented universities. 

Chair of Theoretical Particle Cosmology at Wits School of Physics, Professor Vishnu Jejjala, says that teaching and research are public goods since teaching produces an educated middle class, and research lets the university explore the world in new ways. This role is vital for society to understand better where and how they live. 

Therefore, the role of higher education in South Africa is not merely to churn out research that adorns the bookshelves of the intelligentsia, to be proudly displayed during Zoom calls, or to produce jobless graduates. It’s true function is to transform society and create a space for the coming together of classes, generations, and innovative ideas.  

“Wits for Good (stands for) the greater good of society by enriching young minds and helping nurture young African talent, I think that’s important, and we’re proud to be a part of that legacy,” says Constant Beckrling, a Wits alumnus 

Wits university boasts a proud legacy of producing some of Africa’s most remarkable minds advancing societies globally. According to the latest global university rankings by Cybermetrics Lab Wits is the second highest ranked university on the continent. The university continues to set a high standard for today’s Witsies, ensuring that their excellence inspires future generations. 

“Wits For Good means that it’s something that’s gonna be a part of life, that’s gonna carry me throughout and once a Witsie is always gonna be a Witsie!” says Vidhya Patel, a first-year student studying BSc in Biological Science.  

The university is continuing its eternal legacy as a towering African institution  to transform society for what it perceives as ‘good’.

FEATURED IMAGE: The Wits for Good billboards and posters are plastered on walls and highways across Johannesburg, this one is on the side of the New Commerce Building on West Campus. Photo: Colin Hugo

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Research excellence exemplified in Bt30 study 

A study that lasted so long it saw the transition from pencils and paper to intelligent data and code programming, celebrates a massive feat with the launch of a book.

Africa’s largest and longest running birth cohort, the Birth Till 30 (Bt30) study, has tracked the lives of over 3 000 people born in South Africa for 30 years. Professor Linda Richter, one of its co-founders detailed the fascinating study and its findings in a book released on August 19, 2022.   

Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country We Wanted to Create, is a book that details the intended 10-year study of the health and development of children born in Soweto, Johannesburg during the politically turbulent 1990’s. It has now published over 270 papers, employed several staff members for more than 25 years and collected more than 20 million raw data points on close to 2 000 individuals over 22 data collection waves between birth and adulthood.  

 

Speaking at the launch at the Wits Origins Centre, Richter, a Wits Professor and the director of the Organisational Unit, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development, said: “The study is known throughout the world as a highly valued source of longitudinal social and biological data.”  

Some of the study’s major findings in Richter’s book include only 1% of children in the sample having not witnessed or experienced any form of violence, while close to half experienced or witnessed violence at home, school and in their community. Sexual violence was experienced across all ages in the cohort’s lives. They also found by age 28 that about a third of men and women reported that they either physically abuse or are abused in their intimate relationships. 

According to Richter the most striking scientific findings proved that: “Physical growth, cognitive capacity, and mental health can all be tracked from parents, through to early childhood and into the adult years, as well as inter-generationally.” 

Some of the most prevalent finings were in areas such as unemployment, secondary education, substance use and welfare. Graphic: Elishevah Bome

The study saw that the wellbeing of the Bt30 generation has been boosted during the past 30 years. For example, Bt30 women are taller than their mothers, on average by one centimetre. More than half passed matric, whereas only a quarter of their mothers did, and more Bt30 women live in households with consumer goods such as a car, refrigerator and washing machine. However, Bt30 women unlike their mothers, had their first pregnancy before the age of 18. They also smoke and drink alcohol, feel overwhelmed by debt, and report intimate partner violence and depression.  

Barbra Monyepote, who was with the project since its conception, detailed how many of the research assistants were new to the field and not very familiar with medical research. She told Wits Vuvuzela about the difficulties she faced in missing family events when working long hours and weekends. Complications when it came to language and navigating Soweto, were also common “but at last we got it right” she said.  

Boitumelo Molete, a participant in the study, said “The study was part of my childhood and upbringing.” She has been through countless x-rays, blood tests and questioners. “I discovered the importance of research at a very young age, I ended up taking this as a profession and thoroughly enjoy it.”  

Richter’s main motivation in writing this book is ”to affirm the experiences of the participants, contributing to their memories, and ensure that they, their families and their children know what a significant study Bt30 is”.  

FEATURED IMAGE:  Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country We Wanted to Create, was released on August 19, 2022. The book details the Bt30 study. Photo: Supplied

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EDITORIAL: Enough is enough!

South Africa is in crisis. In a very short space of time, a dense fog of violence has engulfed the country, unleashing countless acts of gender-based violence and xenophobia that have unravelled the rainbow in our nation. At Wits Vuvuzela we have been moved to dedicate this issue to confronting these two ills.

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