Witsies respond to report on quality of maths and science education in South Africa

There have been mixed reactions to a report released this week which suggests that the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education is extremely poor by global standards.

Academics and students at Wits University are split between those that believe there are firm reasons for the poor quality of education and others who reject the report itself, known as the “Global Information Technology Report 2014.”

Released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the report ranked South Africa’s quality of maths and science education last out of 148 countries including Kenya, Chad, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Lesotho.

Reacting to the report Professor Eunice Mphako-Banda, a mathematics lecturer at Wits, believes that a key problem is the introduction of calculators in maths education. “The biggest problem I see is this introduction of calculators in primary school,” says Mphako-Banda. “You don’t learn anything by using calculators.”

Students must “think and use [their] brain,” said Mphako-Banda.

Professor Gillian Drennan, assistant dean of undergraduate affairs in the faculty of sciences at Wits, agrees that students battle to apply what they have learnt, saying that pupils in high school have been taught “how not to think”.

“We [South Africa] need students who know how to think.”

Lagging behind

Dr Gideon Fareo, a computational and applied mathematics (CAM) lecturer, questions the validity and authenticity of the report, claiming that the report is “not a scientific comment … based on scientific deductions.”

Fareo does, however, believe that the results of these findings should not be de-bunked.

“In light of the facilities available in [South Africa], we shouldn’t be having this problem,” stated Fareo. “Why are [countries like] Nigeria and Haiti ahead [of us]?”

Both Mphako-Banda and Fareo believe that the problem lies in the lack of attention paid to primary schools.

“[Government] spends so much money on tertiary education but what about the foundations?” asked Fareo. “[Without basic education], how are [students] supposed to cope in high school and university?”

Mphako-Banda, who hails from Malawi, says she doesn’t “trust this system [of South African education]”, and believes that the “political will,” to improve South Africa’s education is non-existent.

“We are not looking at the standard [of education], [just at] how do we make people pass.”

“This whole system makes me angry,” she says.

Fareo, however, believes that the government “has a good ambition”, but just does not apply its policies well enough.

“I believe we can do better than we are now.”

Inadequately prepared for university

An honours student in CAM, who has asked not to be named, is currently doing her research on matric pass rates for mathematics, dealing with Model C public schools in particular.

Her preliminary results show that pass rates are “quite bad” and believes this is due to “bad teaching facilities and bad teachers”. She also said that she felt under-prepared for her tertiary education.

A PhD student in CAM, who spoke to Wits Vuvuzela on condition of anonymity, believes that maths in high school “has been made a joke”, and students are “inadequately prepared for university”.

He also said that “language is [one of the] main issues” he has to deal with when teaching CAM students, stating that they understand the maths but reading textbooks and notes in English presents a challenge.

Solutions at Wits

Mphako-Banda also believes that students are “very, very unprepared” for tertiary-level education, but adds that Wits has had to offer a two-week pre-university course to registered engineering students, because lecturers “know [the students] are not prepared” to cope with the level of maths and science at the university.

According to Brennan, Wits has received a government grant and specialists will be employed in the faculty of sciences to help students who are struggling with the curriculum.

Brennan believes that the decline in educational standards is “not just a South African problem.”

“The decline in education is a global phenomenon … and at a global level, [we need to] tackle head-on these challenges.”

WITH INFOGRAPHIC: Health science students in HIV exposure frustrated by ARV treatment protocols

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FOLLOWING PROTOCOL IS IMPORTANT: A Wits student gets her blood tested for HIV at a testing campaign on Wits Education Campus earlier this year. Photo: Tracey Ruff

From lost blood test results to a lack of guidance about antiretroviral treatment (ARVs), the protocol after exposure to a potential HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) threat is both frustrating and time-consuming for some students.

Students at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences are required to follow a strict protocol when accessing ARVs after an exposure to the virus in the course of their practical work.

“[Students] have to come to Campus Health for reporting purposes,”  explained Sister Yvonne Matimba of Campus Health. While students can access an ARV starter pack immediately after an exposure from the hospital in which they are working, further treatment can only be accessed through Campus Health located in the Matrix building on main campus.

The alternative is to pay for the treatment through a private health care provider.

“She didn’t really know what the protocol was and just gave me the pills and told me I had to make the decision”

However, as Krystle Moodley, a Wits dentistry graduate currently completing her community service year in Mpumulanga, said, “It sucks [going to Campus Health] if you’re at med school because you have to go all the way to [main] campus. How does that make sense?”

Moodley has been on ARVs twice. Her first time was in fourth year after she pricked herself with a needle.

Once she had reported the incident to Campus Health, her bloods were taken immediately and she was put on a 28-day ARV treatment regime. She then had to go back for a six-week, and three-month, blood test.

Missing results

After not receiving her results from her three-month blood test, Moodley phoned Campus Health and was informed her results had been lost. She then decided to go to a private doctor and had to pay about R150 to get her bloods done.

“No one [at Campus Health] bothered to tell me or bring me in to retake [my bloods].”

Counselling is also provided by Campus Health to the affected students.  However, according to Moodley, she feels that what she was told was information she had studied and already knew about.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The Wits ARV treatment protocol. Graphic Tracy Ruff.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: What does ARV treatment involve? Graphic: Tracy Ruff.

A sixth-year medical student who did not want to be named, who has been on ARVs twice, has also expressed difficulties with the Campus Health process. “In terms of waiting times, [Campus Health] was good, but the sister (who was a new employee at the time) couldn’t give me advice on whether or not to take the ARVs, she said.

She didn’t really know what the protocol was and just gave me the pills and told me I had to make the decision.”

However, according to Matimba, all staff at Campus Health are adequately trained to deal with the protocol.

A Wits postgraduate student, who also did not want to be identified, said dealing with Campus Health after she received a needle-stick injury was “a  pleasure.”

“The nurses are friendly and extremely professional. They help you every step of the way.”

In need of more guidance

Students who fail to follow the protocol strictly are exempt from making any insurance claims according to the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Student Protection and Insurance booklet.

The booklet directs students to contact any of a number of doctors and staff members if an exposure occurs. There are also two additional emergency numbers provided. Wits Vuvuzela tried to reach an adviser via one of the numbers provided but was told that the staff member in question had left a few years ago.

The sixth-year medical student feels that students need to be given a card with the relevant protocol information that they can carry with them at all times. She also believes students should be informed about the ARV protocol properly at the beginning of their studies.

“They (lectures and doctors) should sit you down and tell you what to do.”

Protocol in the working world also frustrating

A Wits occupational therapy graduate, who asked not to be named, has recently completed her ARV treatment for HIV exposure outside of Wits.

“I had problems with the workman compensation procedures … so I went about paying for everything and thought I could claim back but turned out I couldn’t,” explained the graduate.

Moodley, who is now working for a public hospital, has just completed her 28-day ARV treatment. Describing her experience with the ARV protocol in the hospital she said, “it was kind of haphazard and no one knew what to do.”

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WITH INFOGRAPHIC: Chewing the same flavour of bubble-gum and other tips for getting through exams

EXAM PIKTO

CLICK TO ZOOM IN

Packed libraries, late nights, panic attacks and last-minute cram sessions. Yes, that dreaded time of the year has arrived once again and exams have crept up upon us quicker than a leopard pouncing on its prey.

There are no two ways about it: the stress of the exams are upon us again.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some Witsies about their exam-preparation techniques and what they do to remain calm and get through the work.

Tips and tricks

Njabulo Mkhize, honours in Applied Drama, shared a very handy and unique trick. He reads his notes out aloud while recording himself on his cellphone. This way, he can “listen to himself [and his study notes] anywhere and anytime”.

Don’t cram and give yourself enough time to study,” says Kea Malebye, 3rd year law. Malebye says she tries not to study the night before her exam. She also makes sure she chews the same flavour bubble-gum when studying and in the exam. This helps her to remember her work as she associates the flavours with her notes.

“Keep a positive mentality and do your best.”

Leané Meiring, honours in Drama Therapy, also suggests linking studying and writing the exam with something that will trigger your memory. “Work at a desk so that you’re mimicking the exam sessions ... And get eight hours of sleep!”

Other students in Drama Therapy say that self-care, taking time to reflect and knowing if you are a morning, afternoon or night person are pivotal in helping you cope with the exams.

Mpumi Skhosana, 4th year BA, says she exercises and prefers to watch academic videos than write out notes.

Lots of sleep and jelly-beans, both while studying and in the exam” is what keeps Palesa Mopeli, honours in Fine Arts, calm. Mopeli advises Witsies to “keep a positive mentality and do your best”.

Give it your best shot

Finally, Simone Vasques, BA graduate, says “university life is really what you make of it”.

“This is one of those times in life where you’re in a situation with lecturers who are extremely knowledgeable [and] classmates are super interesting … so ask as many questions as you can”.

And as Mopeli told Wits Vuvuzela, what’s the worst that could happen with exams? Even if you fail, there will always be another chance.

For students wanting to speak to someone professional about coping with exams, the Counselling, Careers and Development Unit (CCDU) can be contacted on 011 717 9136.

OPINION: Why I stopped being a dangerous driver

DRIVE FINAL

DON’T BE A DANGEROUS DRIVER: As a driver, you are not only responsible for your life; but for the lives of those around you too. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Crossing over barrier lines. Not stopping at traffic lights or stop streets. Doing 180 kilometres per hour in a 120 kilometre zone. We all know this driver and he’s (or she’s, for gender equality) the dangerous one.

I’ll be the first to admit it (with much shame): I’m a dangerous driver.

For the first time since I was a scared and nervous first-time-teenage-driver shaking behind the steering wheel, I didn’t try and race the clock to see how quickly I could get home after a late-night at university this last Thursday.

Why? Because I’d had a huge wake-up call earlier that day.

Close call

I was leaving Wits via the Enoch Sontonga gate and saw the traffic light turn amber. I was already in such a panicked state because I was running behind time for a group project. In a desperate attempt to make up for lost time, I thought I was Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari and I put foot to try and get through the traffic light before it was red.

Big mistake. 

“I can be rather reckless at times on the road”

I was so focused on saving time and making the amber traffic light that I didn’t see the car that came flying through the intersection until we missed hitting each other by hair’s breath.

Thankfully, nothing happened to either of us or our cars, but (although it is such a cliché) what a lesson I have learned from this incident.

I was pretty shaken up and when I finally got home later that night, I was extremely grateful for being safe and alive. It could have easily been a serious accident. I was plagued by guilt afterwards. I was in such a hurry, selfishly worrying about my life and meeting deadlines. I could have been the cause of something serious. I don’t know who the driver of that car is. I don’t know the driver’s story or if there was perhaps even a child in the car at the time. Worst is, I will never get to meet that driver and apologise for my mistake.

I can be rather reckless at times on the road. I am perpetually stressed-out, super busy and always on the go, which oftentimes leads me to driving faster (and more dangerously) than I should to make meetings, deadlines and lectures.

As students (young and full of spirit and adventure), I often fear that we make the mistake of feeling invincible. I don’t believe that we take driving that seriously anymore.

We don’t realise just HOW easy it is to have an accident and just HOW drastic the repercussions of an accident may be. Driving home after a “few” drinks, constantly texting and driving to keep up with our demanding social lives, not stopping at that stop sign because there’s seemingly no one coming – we’ve heard it (and done it) all before.

As a born and bred Jo’burg lass, I like to consider myself as a “traffic-avoider connoisseur” of sorts. I weave in and out, speed up and slow down, fight with countless cars, push my luck at traffic lights and send the occasional text when I’m “mindlessly bored” in traffic.

[pullquote]As of this very moment, I am taking a pledge to become a better driver.[/pullquote]

As of this very moment, I am taking a pledge to become a better driver. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of all those on the road around me. Every time we mindlessly step into our vehicles, we become responsible for a life – be it ours or that of another.

There have been plenty times when I’ve crossed “inconvenient” barrier lines and raced to gym to make that 17.30 spinning class. But at what cost?

Rules and responsibility

Those “inconvenient” barrier lines and “annoying red traffic lights” are there to help us, guide us and ultimately protect us. Being on the road is risky business. That’s why there are rules in place. And these rules are actually quite simple when you think about them.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you have the power to decide, consciously, how you’re going to drive. No appointment, no deadline, no lecture and no status update or Instagram is more important than your life.

Drive for your safety and for the safety of others around you.

Be the difference on our scary South African roads.

 

ANC comfortably on top according to votes from stations at Wits

By Ilanit Chernick and Tracey Ruff

According to the latest national poll results from the two voting stations at Wits University, the ANC is sitting comfortably at the top with a 58.0% lead from the Old Mutual Sports Hall station and a 49.47% lead from the Education Campus station.

The provincial vote sees no change in the ranking order, with the ANC obtaining 50.36% from the Old Mutual Sports Hall station (DA at 28.17%) and a lower 42.97% from the Education Campus station with the DA following closely behind at 37.93%.

Nationally and provincially, the EFF has come in third each time, obtaining roughly 11% of the vote from the Wits voting stations. The party’s highest voting percentage of 11.1% came from Old Mutual Sports Hall, which is for the provincial elections.

Jarrod Delport, supporter of the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO), says he’s “overjoyed and elated” with the mark the DA has made both provincially and nationally.

“[The results] show that many South Africans, one in four to be precise, are rejecting corruption and choosing the policies of the DA. The party is the only party that has consistently grown since 1994 and will continue to do so.”

National results from the University of Johannesburg’s Auckland Park Campus in Westdene put the ANC firmly on top with 63.84% of the vote. With 483 valid votes, the DA comes in second with 18.02% and the EFF is third with 9.01%. Agang and Cope have made no impact.

Students have taken to Twitter to express their feelings about the results. Wits student Mothusi Mothopeng tweeted the following: “Just realized that by the time the national election comes along I will be a Wits graduate #ThankYouANC”.

Results from feeder areas around Wits University show a slightly different order of things. Voters at Holy Family College in Parktown put the DA on top nationally with 50.9%. ANC came in second with 31.58% and the EFF third with 7.21%.

National results from the Braamfontein Metropolitan Centre show the ANC leading by a large gap with 62.24%. The EFF is in second position with 16.09%.

A Wits student tweeting from the account of @Tebza808 said that the results from Rosebank Primary School where the DA is leading with 69.21% “seem legit”.

Referring to the ANC’s lead from votes at the Wits Education Campus, Witsie Tebogo Thothela tweeted: “We thank all students at education campus, we came out and voted ANC”.

Zareef Minty, Wits student and member of the Patrotic Alliance (PA), spoke about the top three parties. He believes the ANC has campaigned really well and says “it’s great to see the ANC taking initiative”.

Minty added that the DA has seen an upliftment in its campaign and believes DA’s Mmusi Maimane has done a “great job”.

Commenting on the EFF, Minty says the EFF is definitely a “dark horse” and has done well considering the party only was formed a mere 8 months ago.

Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) president Shafee Verachia says he is “more happy that students voted,” but he declined to comment on the elections results.

Final confirmation of results is expected on Saturday, May 10.

Medical students face threat of HIV

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DIFFICULT TEST: A Wits student gets tested on Wits Education Campus for HIV. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Dedicating their lives to the health and well-being of their patients comes at a great personal and health risk for students in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

With the prevalence of HIV in South Africa, exposure to HIV-positive patients is an everyday occurrence for students in the medical field.

Wits Vuvuzela recently spoke to a number of health sciences students who have had to go on antiretroviral medication (ARVs) after accidents – such as needle stick injuries – have occurred.

Suffering from side-effects

Krystle Moodley, a Wits dentistry graduate who is currently doing her community service year, has been on ARVs twice. Her first time was in fourth year when she got a needle stick injury.

“I was unscrewing the needle from the syringe and the cap fell off and I got pricked,” explained Moodley. She is currently on ARVs for a recent scare she had while cleaning a dry socket – a condition that develops after a patient’s tooth has been extracted.

The side-effects she is presently experiencing from the ARVs include nausea and vomiting. Moodley adds she has heard of people who stop taking the ARVs because of the side-effects, which can include fatigue, migraines, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

“I [would] rather suffer a month than my whole life personally (sic),” says Moodley.

A sixth year MBBCh student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, went on ARVs in 2012. Describing her experience, the student said it was “terrible” and “horrible”.

[pullquote]“You think it’s just taking your ARVs, but it’s an emotional thing … It’s just really a heart-wrenching experience.”[/pullquote]

“You think it’s just taking your ARVs, but it’s an emotional thing … It’s just really a heart-wrenching experience. You feel like you’ll be stigmatised. It was literally the worst three weeks [taking ARVs] of my life”.

Stacey Fourie, 6th year MBBCh, has, like Moodley, been on ARVs twice. Both incidents occurred in the early hours of the morning while she was stitching trauma patients.

Fourie describes the second incident where she was stitching a man who had been stabbed all over with a broken bottle. She stitched him for three hours without a break and due to sheer exhaustion; she tried to re-cap a needle and pricked herself. The man was HIV positive.

While on the ARVs, Fourie experienced severe fatigue and struggled to study because of this.

Fourie said anybody would be “very hard-pressed to find an intern (a doctor-in-training) who hasn’t been on ARVs at some stage”.

Muhammed Makda, another sixth-year MBBCh student, describes his 28-day ARV experience as both depressing and emotional. Makda was accidentally pricked by a doctor performing a lumbar puncture on an HIV-positive patient.

Makda was on one of the “older ARV regiments” and, as a result, he suffered from severe fatigue and lethargy for the entire 28 days. He said his body felt quite weak and he experienced severe nausea which was worse in the mornings when he would occasionally experience vomiting.

He says that although “the risk of contracting HIV through this kind of exposure (needle-stick injuries etc.) is [statistically] minimal, one cannot truly rest at ease knowing that it is still possible and may just happen to you”.

A constant threat

Another sixth-year medical student, who hasn’t been on ARVs, said that as a medical doctor living in South Africa, there is a “very real danger that one morning you might wake up HIV free (sic), go to hospital and come back HIV positive”. He says he finds this “really scary” and with being tired, overworked and hungry, the ability to concentrate and work cautiously becomes difficult.

Makda said students who have had an HIV scare need to make the decision to go on ARVs “fast”, as the sooner one takes them, the less the chance of infection.

When asked if the threat of HIV has made them think twice about their choice of their profession, the students interviewed all echoed the same sentiments. They love what they do and as Moodley said, “I love seeing the smile on my patients’ faces, and that is reward enough”.

A modern day medieval fighter

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MEDIEVAL MAN: Wits Masters student Griff Gigler participates in a sport known as Full Contact Medieval Combat. (No puppies were harmed in the making of this photo). Photo: Provided

A real-life knight in shining armour has arrived on campus.

Okay, so the shining armour might be a slight exaggeration. Welsh exchange student Griff Gigler’s armour isn’t that shiny. And he isn’t exactly a knight. But he does participate in Full Contact Medieval Combat (FCMC), which beats being a knight any day.

Currently completing his Masters in Geology at Wits, 22-year-old Gigler is a force to be reckoned with. Actually, don’t reckon with him – unless you have armour made out of steel and are prepared to battle it out with blunted weapons and pure strength.

Super sport of steel

FCMC – abbreviated because, according to Gigler, the full name is “a bit of a mouthful” – is a full combat sport in which participants suit up in steel armour and proceed to take down the opposition with blunted weaponry and a series of wrestling moves.

Based on medieval history, FCMC is not scripted battle re-enactment, which is common in the United Kingdom. The sport involves real fighting, real steel weapons and is governed by a set of rules and regulations.

FCMC involves “a lot of wrestling” and “whacking people on the head”, says Gigler. The sport makes use of weapons like swords and axes and, although “it’s not actually anywhere in the rules that you can’t kill somebody, [that’s] not the idea” of the sport. Good to know.

Rules state that participants can only aim for “accepted zones” on the body, which exclude open face areas, back part of the neck, feet and back of the knees.

[pullquote]“He tore the ligaments in his knee when his teammate accidentally hit him with a two-handed sword.”[/pullquote]

Participants need to be fully armoured, with a cushioning of sorts underneath. The main manufacturers of the uniforms are in Eastern Europe. However, Gigler says “there are a few guys who make the kit here [South Africa]” but the concept is still “very new here” and so the kits and the sport aren’t yet up to international standard.

 

There are different divisions in FCMC, and there can be solo or group fights.

“In the group categories, it’s just basically the team that’s left on their feet at the end that wins. Once you get knocked down, you’re out, you’re not allowed to get back up.”

Gigler was at one stage the vice-captain of the UK team and has participated in numerous competitions. At a competition in France, he tore the ligaments in his knee when his teammate accidentally hit him with a two-handed sword.

Although there are no requirements for the sport, it’s not for the faint-hearted. If “you’re tough and can fight”, then go for it, says Gigler.

However, don’t be fooled by what seems like a “manly” sport. An increasing number of women have  taken an interest in FCMC and there are now ladies’ divisions. Who says women can’t do the knight in shining armour thing for themselves?

Castles aren’t just for royals

When it comes to locations for tournaments, castles are often “pretty keen” to host these events as the tournaments attract a number of visitors. Speaking “medieval English” isn’t a prerequisite at competitions, but Gigler says you’re welcome to do so if you like.

Gigler only started participating in the sport, which is a relatively recent development itself, at the end of 2012. He met the guy who was putting together the UK team and he (Gigler) took a “why not” approach and decided to go along to a training session.

The rest, you could say, is (medieval) history.

 

 

 

Young people ambivalent about the vote

SERIOUS TALK: Andrew Gasnolar (Agang), Dali Mpofu (EFF), Mmusi Maimane (DA) and Fikile Mbalula (ANC) (from left to right) answer questions at a youth debate that focused on the theme, "Why do you deserve my vote?". Photo: Tracey Ruff

SERIOUS TALK: Political party representatives Andrew Gasnolar (Agang), Dali Mpofu (EFF), Mmusi Maimane (DA) and Mawethu Rune (ANC) (from left to right) answer questions at a youth debate that focused on the theme, “Why do you deserve my vote?” Photo: Tracey Ruff

 by Ilanit Chernick and Tracey Ruff

Young voters had a chance to question political heavy-hitters at a debate on Tuesday but many of the youth still expressed ambivalence about who they would vote for.

The debate, called “Why, do you deserve my vote?”, was held at Jozi Hub at 44 Stanley on Tuesday afternoon and gave young people the chance to ask questions to candidates from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang.

Musician Simon Tshukudu voiced the opinion of many of the young people present when he said he was uncertain about who to vote for because “none of the political parties running keep their promises” and he was concerned about “corruption within the parties.”

[pullquote]“No one has been that impressive or awe-inspiring,”[/pullquote]

However, despite his ambivalence, Tshukudu said he attended the debate because he wanted to “voice his opinion about issues in the country”.

Tuesday’s debate focused on addressing the youth’s lack of participation in the upcoming election and the great amount of voter apathy among the youth. In addition to being held at Jozi Hub, six students from across the country were chosen to participate in the debate via Google Hangout.

DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane said was encouraging the youth to vote because “it’s a South African’s right” to do so.

“We would like to build a country that is inclusive of all, including young people, especially the 1.6 million youth [in Gauteng] who can’t find work.”

The EFF’s Dali Mpofu said there was a “problem with the youth” and he hoped to “interest young people who are undecided to get involved and participate”.

 POLITICS OF FUN: The EFF's Dali Mpofu and the DA's Mmusi Maimane share a lighthearted moment at a youth debate held on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Tracey Ruff

POLITICS OF FUN: The EFF’s Dali Mpofu and the DA’s Mmusi Maimane share a lighthearted moment at a youth debate held on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Tracey Ruff

ANC representative Mawethu Rune said he did not agree that the youth were apathetic because ANC Youth League members were winning SRC elections in universities. “[This] shows more young people are getting involved in mainstream politics”.

Following the debate, many students were still ambivalent about the election. Student entrepreneur Tebogo Photoane told Wits Vuzuzela that he was still unsure who to vote for.

“No one has been that impressive or awe-inspiring,” Photoane said.

Former Wits student Mashokane Mahlo, however, said she had done a lot of thinking about her vote and had decided on what party to support.

“I know who I’m voting for, but my decision was changed recently because of new information I received,” said Mahlo. “It took a long time for me to decide.”

 

Wits bus drivers driven to exhaustion over long hours

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A LONG AND TIRING ROAD: Wits campus bus drivers have recently voiced their concerns about working overtime (often without pay) and feeling extremely tired, which has resulted in two drivers saying this compromises students’ safety. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Wits is losing bus drivers, who are complaining about their long working hours which result in exhaustion compromising students’ safety. At least seven drivers have left the university recently.

Benjamin*, who has been working as a driver at Wits for three years, has often worked from 6am to past 1am: “We, as drivers, are not happy at all”.

James*, a campus bus driver, expressed his concerns about the safety of students transported by Wits buses: “The students, they are not safe the way we are working”, said James.

“The main problem is that students are not safe. If my body is tired, everything is tired,” he added. He had been working for six days without leave, and did the night shift for 11 days without a break.

Long hours with no pay

A total of five campus bus drivers told Wits Vuvuzela that working long shifts and overtime – often without pay – has become a recurring problem.

James said that campus bus drivers are “ not happy” and are “tired”.

One said: “We don’t have time to rest and have no time for family”.

“I stay in Soweto. [After] I finish my shift, sometimes it’s hard to go home because I’m so tired.”

[pullquote]”We love working here, but it is the [working] conditions that can push us away.”[/pullquote]

“We love working here, but it is the [working] conditions that can push us away.”

Both James and Benjamin say they work overtime but do not get paid for it. At least seven drivers have left in the past few months because of these conditions, said James. This alleged shortage in drivers has led to Benjamin having to take on more hours.

“I sometimes have to double the shift because there are no drivers.”

A further three bus drivers were interviewed, with two stating that although they are only required to work 45 hours a week, they work much longer hours because of the shortage of manpower.

Of these two drivers, one said: “We are working by force, we don’t have a choice. You see, this week I’m doing 11 hours, Monday to Friday. Next week, I’m going to do 8 hours, Monday to Saturday”.

Differing perspectives

Only two of the five bus drivers interviewed said that they do get paid for working overtime, with one saying he has been working at Wits “for a long time” and “doesn’t mind” working long shifts because it is “part of his job”.

A supervisor for Luxliner coaches said that overtime was “not forced” and drivers were paid for this.

Meanwhile, Nicki McGee, Deputy Director of Transport Services at Wits University, says she had “discussed the concerns with Luxliner Management” and denied that drivers were working outside of their contract agreement in terms of working hours or working conditions.

McGee emphasised that Wits did “not conduct business with any companies” who did not comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

According to McGee, any employee of Luxliner coaches has “adequate grievance procedures which facilitate the management of such issues [as those mentioned in this article]”. In addition, “the engagement between staff, the unions and their management has been confirmed as very interactive and productive”.

Please hear us

The drivers said this was not the case.

Another bus driver, Andreas*, said the drivers are talking with management but are having continual problems with them. “They are not listening [to us],” said Andreas.

*Names have been changed as drivers are fearful of disciplinary action

Bravado for a R100 Skhotado?

father coffee

R100 TO SPARE?: Father Coffee in Braamfontein serves the Skhotado, a mixture of custard, an energy drink and coffee, for a whopping R100. This drink isn’t for the faint-hearted (or broke!). Photo: Tracey Ruff

This drink, called the Skhotado, consists of Ultra Mel custard, Red Bull and Ristretto and is one of Father Coffee’s signature drinks. The Skhotado even has its own Instagram hashtag. Now that’s pretty cool.

 [pullquote]”The idea for the drink is based on the Izikhotane youth culture whereby members burn money, destroy expensive clothes and pour alcohol on the ground – all in the name of being cool.”[/pullquote]

One of the four owners of 73 Juta Street’s Father Coffee, Chad Goddard, said the Skhotado started off as “a bit of a joke”. The idea for the drink is based on the Izikhotane youth culture whereby members burn money, destroy expensive clothes and pour alcohol on the ground – all in the name of being cool.

Goddard says buying the drink is essentially a cheeky way of “showing off how rich you are” – and yes folks, there are those who have bought this drink and wasted it by either pouring it on the table or passing it on to someone else.

A few weeks ago, Wits Vuvuzela ran an article on what you can do with R100 in Braam. Well, here’s another thing to add to your list – if you’re brave enough of course. If you’re looking for a way to stay awake for a long day of lectures, well the Skhotado may just be the answer.

(Cheaper) Drinks with a difference

However, we at Wits Vuvuzela know that a drink for R100 is not everyone’s cup-of-tea (or cup-of-Skhotado) and thankfully, Father Coffee has a menu of other coffees and drinks to choose from – all costing a lot less than R100.

From a Lindt hot chocolate for R25 to cappuccinos (starting at R15) and fresh ice tea (R15), Father Coffee is an ideal place for a quick coffee break, some rest and relaxation or a date-with-a-difference.

Goddard highly recommends the cappuccinos and flat-whites (a cappuccino with less foam). The drinks are served in cute mugs, making your coffee-drinking experience just that extra bit cooler.

According to Goddard, the second most popular drink after the cappuccino is the Cortado, which will set you back around R20. An espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk, this drink is sure to awaken your senses and help you complete those last-minute assignments.

The “Father” of all coffees

Located directly opposite Kitchener’s Carvery and next to the Neighbourgoods Market, Father Coffee is a quaint and cosy spot. With its wood-panelled walls and sociable staff, the atmosphere is welcoming, intimate and homely.

If you’re looking for some down-time, then it’s best to avoid Saturdays when Father Coffee and its surroundings are hustling and bustling with the Neighbourgoods crowds. It is much quieter during the week and you’ll be able to enjoy a selection of gourmet sandwiches and baked treats from the Black Forest Bakery with your coffee.

Father Coffee is open weekdays from 8am to 4pm (perfect for that one-hour lunch-break between lectures) and on Saturdays from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

So whether you have the cash to try a Skhotado or just want a good old fashioned cappuccino, Father Coffee is a definite must.

tracey@witsvuvuzela.com