Not even personal phone calls to Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi stopped the screening of the documentary that focuses on the state of India’s democracy under current prime minister.
The screening of India: The Modi Question at Wits on Friday, May 12, was a powerful example of the importance of media freedom and open discussions in exercising democracy.
Difficult conversations about nationalism, police brutality, media freedom and command responsibility – the idea that a commanding officer is responsible for atrocities committed by their subordinates – are very often shied away from in postcolonial contexts.
The Humanities Graduate Centre (HGC) hosted the screening and panel discussion of the two-part documentary about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his relationship with the Muslim minority in the country. It was released by the BBC in January 2023 and subsequently got banned by the Indian government as “anti-Indian propaganda”.
The first part follows Modi’s early political life, extending into his time as chief minister of Gujarat province, when in 2002 deadly violence shook the province, with Muslim populations targeted by extremists following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.
Among many accusations that followed was that direct orders from Modi had allowed for the violence to play out – an accusation that Modi was acquitted of by India’s Supreme Court in 2021.
The second part of the documentary follows Modi’s career after the riots, focusing on his re-election as prime minister of the country in 2019 for a second five-year term. This is when he presided over a controversial policy changing the status of the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and the Citizen Act which revoked the citizenship of many Muslim Indians.
The documentary also covers the ever-increasing suppression of media in the country, with Reporters Without Borders stating that press freedom in the country has declined.
Sociology professor Srila Roy and Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, Professor Dilip Menon, made up the panel at the screening, with more than 30 people from diverse backgrounds in the audience. The discussion began by highlighting the fact that students at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university were arrested for hosting a screening not unlike the one that was held at Wits.
The state of India’s democracy came under the spotlight. A group of four individuals in the audience voiced their anger at the BBC during the discussion, labelling the documentary “propaganda” and “hypocritical from colonial Britain” – responses very similar to those made by the Indian government.
Roy rebuked these comments, stating that it was in bad faith to have a debate of “what ifs” when the subject matter was about the loss of human lives during a time of ethnic violence. The real question, she said, was, “Why is there a ban and why are university students being arrested for watching [the documentary]?”
The screening was championed by the director of the HGC, Professor Lorena Núñez Carrasco, following weeks of external pressure from pro-Modi supporters for it not to go ahead. Not even personal phone calls made to Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi stopped the screening.
Menon alluded to the possibility of the pressure stemming from not wanting to ruffle any feathers ahead of the Brics summit being held in Durban later this year. He highlighted the contradiction of India being the world’s largest democracy due to the largest population actively taking part in voting, and yet having the documentary being banned where there “should be free, open discussion”.
The full documentary is no longer available on YouTube, with the site saying this was for copyright reasons. Menon suspects the Indian government could have played a role in its removal.
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits hosted a screening of the documentary, India: The Modi Question, which is banned in India. Graphic: Seth Thorne
Prince Mashele’s latest book focuses South African citizens’ gaze on their next political leader
UPDATE: On Monday May 22, Jonathan Ball Publishers withdrew The Outsider from retailers, effectively pulling the book from shelves. The publishers of the supposed “unauthorised” biography, did so in reaction to allegations made by Brutus Malada, ActionSA member and a researcher on the book project, that a sum of R12,5 million was paid to the author, Prince Mashele by the book’s subject, Herman Mashaba.
In a statement, Jonathan Ball publishers said they were “left with no option but to withdraw The Outsider from the market” as they see Mashaba’s involvement as “a material non-disclosure…and as a breach of trust.”
Mashele has since appeared in a number of broadcast interviews, attempting but failing to dispute the allegations. His utterances include pointing the finger at the publishers for the book’s title, calling the payment a loan and routinely and inconsistently citing ‘binding contracts’ when asked relevant questions.
Former Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba visited the Wits Business School to help launch the book, ‘The Outsider’ written by well-known political analyst and author Prince Mashele. The launch took place at the Donald Gordan Hall earlier this week.
The book follows the personal, financial and political life of Mashaba, from his development as an entrepreneur to the formation of his own political party, ActionSA.
This is the second book written by Mashele, the first being, The Fall of the ANC, What Next? , which outlined the problems and failures that currently plague the ANC’s leadership. Mashele explained that he wrote his latest book because he felt he had not answered the question of who is next to lead South Africa – but he realised that maybe the answer lies outside of the ANC.
Mashele identified a global trend of non-politicians entering politics, “outsiders”, using examples such as the banker Emmanuel Macron in France and Donald Trump in the United States of America. In South Africa’s case, Mashele pustulates in his book that Mashaba is one such outsider.
The former mayor was primarily a businessman, having founded the successful company, Black Like Me in 1985 at the height of apartheid. Mashaba joined the DA after losing faith in the ANC and became mayor of Johannesburg as representative of the DA in 2016. He resigned from the party in 2019, after disagreements with other members. It is after this experience that he formed Action SA in 2020.
The fall of the ANC, according to Prince Mashele, began with the election of Jacob Zuma as president in 2009. Since then, support for the party has waned, as the country battles with corruption, load shedding and unemployment. After losing control of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016, coalition governments took over which caused further chaos as disagreements between parties arose. Mashaba was one of few mayors to successfully balance the interests of the coalition in Johannesburg between the EFF and the DA.
However, instead of solely focusing on the contents of the book, the audience members shifted the focus of the panel to the shaky political landscape field of South Africa, questioning Mashaba on what he will bring to the table if he becomes the next president.
Not all impressions of the book were positive. Professor Themba Maseko another panelist, said that the book “does not give the reader [Herman Mashaba’s] vision for the future” adding, “I now know what the problems are but not the solutions.”
The audience further emphasised this critique, asking Mashaba to provide specific points of action that he would take to improve the country’s political and economic situation. Mashaba ambiguously responded by saying, “watch this space.”
Mashaba told Wits Vuvuzela that young readers of the book can learn “personal responsibility and independence” from his career as a businessman and as a politician. “I have been invited to speak at many business schools over the years and I say the same thing; don’t tell me about role models. If Herman Mashaba is my role model, others will follow.” Mashaba encourages young people to take charge of their own lives and work to being their own role models.
The biography was written without any input from Mashaba himself. Aside from the facts, Mashele had full artistic license with the text. This is why he calls it an “unauthorized biography.” Nicole Duncan, one of the book’s editors from Jonathan Ball Publishers, said that the editors did their best to “keep Prince’s voice Prince’s voice.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The discussion panel for the book launch of The Outsider held at the Donald Gordon Hall at Wits Business School on Tuesday, May 9. From left to right: Professor Themba Maseko, Herman Mashaba, Prince Mashele, Stephen Grootes. Photo: Kimberley Kersten.
After nearly two weeks without one, Joburg has its fifth mayor in just 18 months.
Al Jama-ah’s Kabelo Gwamanda has been voted in as Johannesburg’s new executive mayor by councillors in a secret ballot at the City Council sitting on May 5, 2023.
Out of the 266 ballots cast Gwamanda received 139 votes, while the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse got 68 votes and ActionSA’s Gauteng chairperson Funzi Ngobeni, got 59 votes.
This was the council’s fifth attempt at voting in a mayor since the resignation of Al Jama-ah’s Thapelo Amad on April 24. A sitting on Tuesday, May 3 was postponed due to squabbles amongst coalition partners.
Messy horse trading
Failed negotiations among those in the former ‘multi-party coalition,’ saw the DA unable to come to an agreement with ActionSA, IFP, VF+, ACDP, UIM and PA.
In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela DA Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse said that the reason negotiations failed is because the DA could not come to terms with the proposition by the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to nominate Kenny Kunene as mayor. “[We] could not fathom how such could be allowed,” she said.
The PA, the swing vote in council, then put their weight behind Gwamanda, alongside the ANC, EFF, Al Jama-ah, AIC, AHC, ATM, Good, PAC, Cope and APC. In return, Kenny Kunene received an executive position and now has control over the city’s transport portfolio.
Gwamanda labels this coalition as “one of national unity” which will continue to “prioritize service delivery,” arguing that regime change in the city will not negatively impact service delivery.
Former mayor Thapelo Amad said that the election of his Al Jama-ah colleague is a good thing for the city, stating that “the city is in capable hands”.
ActionSA mayoral candidate Funzi Ngobeni says that his party is happy with the working relationship with the ACDP, IFP, UIM and VF+, however it is “unfortunate that we could not get DA on board.” He says that the aims of the partners now are to be “a constructive opposition”.
FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne
The youth wing of Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa has a vision to do away with fees.
A new political society has been registered at Wits, with its sights set on changing the dynamic of the university’s current representation of young people in decision making processes.
The Young Builders Movement (YBM), launched at the university on April 13, hopes to fill the gaps that it says other political societies on campus have fallen short of. Wits YBM chairperson Nikilitha Mxinwa says that these gaps include the choices that young South Africans have had in terms of representation – that have ultimately not allowed for their own voices to be heard.
Mxinwa says that decisions which affect the youth are made by those who do not understand or are not affected by the issues. These decisions pertain to issues of financial exclusion, fees and accommodation. YBM argues that this is because these decisions come from a “top-down” approach. He describes the society as one which takes a bottom-up approach. “Young leaders on the ground” make decisions about issues that affect them, not “from the top”, he says.
YBM national leader and Wits alumnus Henry Masuku and Mxinwa describe the society as one which can prepare students for life outside of university.
In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Masuku said that it does so by bringing in experts to teach its members entrepreneurial, business and leadership skills. This is aimed at “alleviating graduate unemployment”.
Like most political societies on campus, Masuku says Bosa aims to address the unsolved legacy of #FeesMustFall.
These are systemic issues of higher education that have been widely debated at Wits over many years. Yet the YBM claims that their solutions for these issues are the ones which are “practical”. Masuku only discussed one with Wits Vuvuzela – which is a plan to implement free education, by introducing a system which taxes 1% of graduate’s monthly income once they have found employment.
The YBM is the youth wing of independent political party Build One South Africa (Bosa), formed by former DA leader Mmusi Maimane. It is inviting South African students, job seekers, and employed professionals between the ages of 18 and 35 to sign-up in person or online.
In discussions with various students engaging with the YBM on campus, many cited Maimane for their interest. First-year actuarial science student Patrick Nemasea said he prefers “Mmusi’s vision of South Africa [as compared to other political leaders]”, as it builds a country “that stays true to values”.
YBM national leader Henry Masuku sells their vision to Wits students near the Matrix on April 19, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne
After discovering the root of my depression and anxiety, it became clear why stress is referred to as “the silent killer”.
At only 20 years old, I found myself sitting on my bed with a handful of pills ready to take my own life. I was tired of how I was feeling, and I wanted it to end.
Two years earlier, in 2016, I had taken a gap year after I did not get accepted into any university I had applied to. I was embarrassed because in my community there is a stigma attached to taking a gap year.
I was constantly being asked: “What are you doing with your life now?” and “Doing nothing this year will make you lazy.” While at a funeral, grieving, someone said, “Your brother didn’t take a gap year, so why are you?”
This constant comparisons to my brother who went to university straight out of school hit me hard. So did seeing my peers move forward while I felt stagnant, and constantly feeling as if I was disappointing my parents. I started doing admin work at our church office and applied again. I eventually got accepted in 2017 for a higher certificate in journalism.
I could have gone on to work as a journalist, but my plan was always to get an undergraduate degree first. When I received a rejection letter from UCT, I remember feeling embarrassed and like a failure again. Fortunately, I was admitted for an undergraduate degree in copywriting at Vega.
Within the first two weeks I knew the course was not for me, but I decided to complete the year and switch to a different university or degree programme the following year. As time went on, I found myself feeling sad and angry all the time and going to class made me feel so anxious, I would cry every day.
My breaking point came the day I received my mark for an assignment that I had worked on day and night – 37%. After that soul-crushing moment, I left campus early without telling anyone, and stopped at two different pharmacies to get as many pills as I could.
As I sat on my bed later, the stress of dropping out was too much. So was the stress of continuing with the programme. I was ready to end my life. At that very moment, a friend messaged me: “Are you okay?” I am alive today because of that message.
Since then, there have been a few more instances when I have felt the only way out was to take my own life. In 2022 I started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist. What came out of these sessions was not only an ADHD diagnosis, but the fact that I have clinical depression and general anxiety disorder.
The root cause of my mental illnesses was revealed as stress. In the sessions with my therapist, we found a pattern. Whenever life became what felt like unbearably stressful, I would reach such a low that I would only see suicide as the only way out. This discovery is what saved me.
The constant stress I had been under since 2016 had taken its toll on me mentally. I realised that I had suppressed my emotions because life was stressful for everyone, and I thought not being able to handle the pressure would make me seem weak.
Looking back, there are many things I would do differently. I would pay attention to the feelings of hopelessness and the lows that were not just a bad day but would stay constantly with me.
Africa’s Gold Mafia made up of self-proclaimed prophets, diplomats and gangsters caught in 4K smuggling gold and ‘washing money’.
A four-part investigative documentary produced and aired on news channel, Al Jazeera, has blown the lid on a syndicate that facilitates well-orchestrated money laundering services for criminals. The first episode, The Laundry Service, aired on March 23, 2023 and new episodes have come out every week since.
The documentary took two years of investigation and much of it hinged on the undercover work of three reporters, who relied on hidden cameras and microphones to catch those implicated red-handed.
Leading the investigative unit (iUnit) is ‘Mr Stanley’, a Chinese gangster in search of money laundering services. Then there’s ‘Jonny’ (or the Hawala Man) a black-market trader who moves money across borders without using banks. And lastly, ‘Ms. Sin’, Mr Stanley’s financial advisor.
The first episode profiles Kamlesh Pattni, a pastor who classifies himself as Brother Paul, and the founder of Hope International. Using his pious cover, Pattni manages to get close to several African presidents and ‘work with them’ on a number of shady deals.
Pattni’s greed is bolstered by his political connections, which enable him to get exceptional licenses to export gold from country to country. Just when it seemed the authorities might be onto him and prosecute him for his crimes, particularly stealing taxpayers’ money, he relocated to Zimbabwe from Kenya.
Pattni does not work alone, his accomplices include Ewan Macmillan and Alistair Mathias. Macmillan has been in and out of prison countless times from the age of 21. He stands accused of smuggling gold worth R436 million through an untraceable bank account in Dubai.
The more unassuming of the two, Mathias, earned his gold smuggling stripes in Ghana and as the group’s ‘financial architect’, builds money laundering schemes for corrupt politicians and criminals.
What stays with the viewer beyond the shocking revelations, is the lengths the iUnit journalists went to, to expose all of the things done behind closed doors. It successfully tracks the illicit and seemingly commonplace way corruption robs resource rich nations of their riches.
The documentary comes to show how even people who claim to be prophets cannot be trusted, as seen through Pattni and Prophet Uebert Angel, a Zimbabwean diplomat who uses his government post to facilitate gold smuggling.
Investigative journalism of this kind clearly still has a place and purpose in exposing wrongdoing and holding people to account. All the episodes are free to stream on Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel.
Vuvu rating: 7/10
FEATURED IMAGE: Al Jazeera Gold Mafia Cover. Photo: Screenshot/AlJazeera YouTube
Wits Vuvuzela, REVIEW: /review-top-gun-sequels-triumph-is-less-reliance-on-computer-gimmicks. June 2022
Wits Vuvuzela, REVIEW: I am all girls, May 2021
Wits Vuvuzela, REVIEW: Dead places- not all ghosts are dead, May 2021
Immersing myself in nature around Johannesburg boosts my mental and physical wellbeing.
Midway through my second year at Wits I was struggling with mental health issues. It became difficult to set goals, meet deadlines, and to attend crucial lectures. This caused my academic work to suffer, and my marks to drop. I also lost interest in things that I had once loved.
As overwhelming and isolating as my depression felt, it is not an uncommon occurrence. According to a 2022 paper by the Wits/Medical Research Council developmental pathways for health research unit (DPHRU), just over one-quarter of South Africans have probable depression. This fluctuates from province to province – with the highest rates in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
One day, my friends called me to come on a walk with them. Not really understanding why people would walk for fun, I hesitantly went along.
Important to note is that, at the time, I was not able to see much good about what was around me. My mindset was extremely negative towards Joburg – the bad clouded the good.
We drove to a hill near Bedfordview, Ekurhuleni, to get an unobstructed view of the city. I remember sitting on a rock watching the sun set over Joburg. I was in awe of the City of Gold. We sat there well into the evening – chatting, listening to music, and most importantly, enjoying the view of the city.
The Sandton skyline glows in the sunset from the viewpoint of Harvey’s Nature Reserve on Linksfield Ridge. Photo: Seth Thorne
I wanted to do this more often. I wanted to see more of this beautiful city again. I remembered it being beautiful when I was a kid. What I am generally told now is that Joburg is a bad city, so everything about it must be bad… right?
I realised that I had lived in the city for my entire life but had not really seen Joburg.
I decided to set time aside to go on walks and hikes to see Jozi from different perspectives with my friends. It was a big decision because it meant I had to cut into my Netflix time. However, it changed my life forever.
The more I went out to see the city with my friends, the happier I found myself. From watching the sun set on Northcliff Hill, The Wilds in Houghton, and Harvey’s Nature Reserve on Linksfield Ridge, to spending a Saturday at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. Seeing Joburg made me mentally and physically healthier. Taking care of your own well-being is known as “personal counselling”. This refers to nurturing one’s own mental health by making use of self-help resources and activities that a person would enjoy.
Techniques can also be learnt, with the Wits Careers Counselling and Development Unit offering some suggestions, which can be accessed by clicking here.
Walks around the city have made me more optimistic about Joburg, and life in general. It is an unbelievably diverse, complex, and misunderstood city that radiates a lot of beauty – if you allow yourself to see it. I also became enthusiastic about university, and my academic performance improved as a result. My suggestion to everyone is to go out and experience the beauty of the world around you. It just may change your life.
‘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
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.”
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
In this episode we take a look at the work of Joburg Theatre, through the eyes of the people that work at there. Justine, who has been at the theatre for more than 20 years, walks us through its history, and Mbongeni, a ballet dancer, tells us how he came to make this beautiful theatre […]