Palaeosciences accelerator programme launched to promote women in science

A new programme has been launched by the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) with the goal of transforming the demographic space in palaeosciences and promoting women in science.

Students in the School of Geosciences who performed well in their second year or showed a keen interest in palaeontology were invited to join the inaugural Palaeosciences Accelerator Programme.

Master’s student at the ESI who conceptualised the program, Viktor Radermacher, said the aim of the program was geared around, “Not letting keen and diligent students slip through the cracks and losing future scientists.”

Radermacher added that, “Science has many colonial and patriarchal fossils in the closet and changing its status quo means actively facilitating the introduction of previously underrepresented groups.”  The programme is aimed specifically at women and people of colour.

The programme teaches students a wide range of transferrable skills and critical thinking during independent tutoring time. This will be reinforced through field trips which the students will be undertaking throughout the course of the year through funding made available by the National Research Foundation and the Department of Science and Technology’s Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences (CoE Palaeo) in South Africa.

Students are exposed to networking and are encouraged to work with the ESI during their third year independent study which would be a good set-up for an honours project. Furthermore, the students will be encouraged to apply for honours, master’s and PhD bursaries offered by the CoE Palaeo.

Third-year BSc Animal Plant and Environment Science and Physiology student, Nothemba Belle, is one of three full-time students on the accelerator programme. “It’s developing me into a young lady that is really confident and successful and determined.” According to Belle this program will “definitely open up a lot of doors” for the students involved.

Professor Jonah Choiniere of the ESI describes this programme as an “active step in the right direction.” He added that the idea was not to limit the programme to one branch of the discipline but to expand it to larger groups of paleaoscientists as the programme grows successfully.

Parktown Head girl leads at SRC luncheon

Parktown Head Girl Neha Prag recieved two rounds of applause after her speech.

Parktown Girls High School head girl Neha Prag stole the show with her speech which received two rounds of applause at Wits’ Student Representative Council’s (SRC’s) women’s luncheon on Saturday, August 26.

Prag encouraged sisterhood and explained that young people’s quest for transformation should not always be viewed in a negative way.

Her speech set the tone for a panel discussion that included singer and former Witsie, Simphiwe Dana, actress and former Wits lecturer Kgomotso Christopher, leadership and organisational development consultant Dr Zukiswa Mthimunye and director of the Wits Transformation Office, Lindiwe Manyika.

Prag also said that the interest of the youth lies in transformation and questioning the system. “Just because the youth are interrogating the system, does not mean that youth and the system cannot coexist. And just because the methods of interrogation differ, does not mean that neither party does not want a better society,” she said.

She further added that the gradient of “wokeness”- which refers to being aware of oppression in society and challenging the status quo – should be less commodified and less exclusive. “We should be calling people into these conversations instead of calling them out.”

Panelists from left to right Simphiwe Dana, Kgomotso Christopher, Dr Zukiswa Mthimunye and director of the Wits Transformation Office, Lindiwe Manyika.

Panellist Mthimunye emphasized this point during the discussion. She said that it is important to invite men and boys into the conversation because, though it alerts them to their wrongdoing, calling them out is not a solution.

Christopher said it is good to have such dialogues but, “There needs to be a point where we move beyond talking. It’s time that conversations become actions in domestic spaces, at work and even in the jokes that we laugh at.”

Prag used two Indian feminist movements to show that women can lead in different ways: one gentle and lady-like as depicted in the movie Lipstick or aggressive and confrontational like the Gulabi Gang. (See video)

Prag said that women can lead as they please, whether aggressive or gentle. Dana agreed, saying that while women are fighting patriarchy, they need to invest in self-care as well. “Be strict about the ideas that you allow to populate your space, practise self-care, know that you are enough, your dreams are valid and don’t become confrontational. It’s okay to pursue your dreams quietly,” she said.

Prag encouraged women to build and maintain a sisterhood that is courageous and stands up for one another regardless of what leadership style they choose to condemn patriarchy with.


Wits Vuvuzela, April 2017, Witsie is a woman of stature

Wits Vuvuzela, April 2017, Wits Woman of the Year in Healthcare

An open letter in support #PretoriaGirlsHigh from its Old Girls

We, alumni of Pretoria High School for Girls stand in solidarity with the bold and courageous learners of the school, who have spoken out about rank racial discrimination at our old school.

We are emboldened and inspired by their brave and principled stance in upholding the values the school was established on. These are encompassed in the mission statement of the founding headmistress, Ms Edith Aitken, who established the school with the honourable goal of educating young women so that we may leave our mark on the world, shape agendas and fight for equitable change when called upon. Many of the school’s alumni have answered this call over the years. Ms Aitken’s values are self-evident in many of the esteemed public figures, big and small, which spent their formative years at the school. Among these are educationists, public interest lawyers, the public health system’s doctors and nurses, and other professionals.

So, whilst many of us were familiar with some of the school’s more archaic practices in our day, it is with dismay that the country’s attention was drawn yesterday (Monday 29 August) to present-day racism, bullying and patently race-based shaming of black women’s bodies by staff at the school. Some accounts point to black staff members being demeaned as well, and so we level our dissatisfaction at the school’s poor track record with regard to transformation of the staff-body that is not commensurate to the changing body politic of the school.

We pledge our support to the crop of young women-leaders who have brought national attention to issues we are sorely aware are rampant not only at PHSG, but across the country’s Model C schools.

Girls, we are with you in spirit, minds and bodies, and we assure you that as Old Girls you have all of our support. We are here to share with you our experiences of the school and situation you find yourselves in, and are a call away should you seek any guidance, assistance and other practical services. Among us are lawyers, student activists, psychologists, doctors and members of the media. We are also academics at tertiary institutions, teachers and nurses. Call on us if you need to, but remember also: you have inspired us. There is much we’d like to learn from you, too.

Signed: (more names to follow)

1. Sibongile Hill (Class of 2002) – Medical Doctor 2.

Tidimalo Ngakane (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

3. Katy Hindle (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

4. Akhona Pearl Mehlo (Class 2002) – Lawyer

5. Janet Jobson (Class of 2002) – Civil Society

6. Angelique Terblanche (Class of 2002) – Manager

7. Letebele Tsebe (Class of 2004) – Scientist

8. Shanti Aboobaker (Class of 2004) – Journalist

9. Jocelyn Evans (Class of 2004) – Engineer

10. Nqobile Simelane (Class of 2004) – Economic Development Manager

11. Christine Emmett (Class of 2004) – Academic/Commonwealth scholar

12. Yonda Siwisa (Class of 2004) – Advertising Executive

13. Ncumisa Sakawuli (Class of 2004) – Banker

14. Anushka Singh Bhima (Class of 2004) – Lawyer

15. Linda Lesu (Class of 2004)

16. Tali Cassidy (Class of 2005) – Epidemiologist

17. Lindelwa Skenjana (Class of 2005) – Marketing

18. Nadia Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Scientist and Teacher

19. Leila Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Dentist

20. Diale Maepa (Class of 2007) – Medical Doctor

21. Lerissa Govender (Class of 2004) – Lawyer, Civil Society

22. Moipone Moloantoa (Class of 2004) – Advertising and Marketing

23. Carla Dennis (Class of 2002) – Actress

24. Thuli Zuma (Class of 2003)

25. Katie Miller Beyers (Class of 2002)

26. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

27. Pilani Bubu (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur, Singer-Songwriter

28. Leila Badsha (Class of 2005) – Entrepreneur

29. Thabisile Tilo (Class of 2006) – Teacher

30. Danielle Kriel (Class of 2004) – Lawyer

31. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer

32. Dina Lamb (Class of 2002)

33. Tessa Kerrich – Walker (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur

34. Myna Pindeni (Class of 2004) – Women Empowerment Programmes Officer

35. Julia Eccles, (Class of 2003) – Advertising professional

36. Jenni Myburgh (Class of 2004) – Author and app founder

37. Erin Hommes (Class of 2004) – Activist and senior researcher

38. Jessica Schnehage (Class of 2004) – Entertainment consultant/Business Owner

39. Nuraan Muller (Class of 2000) – Director

40. Refilwe Tilo (Class of 2002) –

41. Chantelle Gilbert (Class of 2002) Restaurant owner/chef

42. Laura Ilunga (Class of 2003) – Pilot

43. Princess Magopane (class of 2002) Lawyer

44. Desré Khanyisa Barnard, 2003, Master’s student, ad hoc lecturer

45. Tshegofatso Phala, 2004, Pro Bono Attorney and Human rights activist

46. Lethabo Maboi (Class of 2003) Creative Director at Styled By Boogy

47. Sanja Bornman (Class of 2000) Lawyer

48. Dieketseng Boshielo (Mokake) (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur, supply chain & logistics

49. Palesa Motau (Class of 2004) Stakeholder Manager

50. Zimkhitha Malgas (class of 2005) procurement/logistics coordinator

51. Trish Stewart (class of 2004) advertising

52. Jessica Schnehage – (Class of 2004) Entertainment Consultant / Business Owner

53. Leila Badsha (Class of 2005) Entrepreneur

54. Maropeng Ralenala, 2003, Clinical Psychologist

55. Renée Hlozek, 2001, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Toronto

56. Kopano Marumo, 2003, Writer

57. Nobantu Nhantsi (Class of 2004) – Community Programme Co-ordinator

58. Shiluba Mawela (Class of 2004) – Impact Investor

59. Dr Francoise L.Y Goga (Class of 2006) – Medical doctor

60. Marli Roode (Class of 2001) – Author and journalist

61. Kuraisha Patel (Class of 2010) – Lawyer

62. Meka Ravenhill (Class of 2002) – Partner/Owner of Ravenhill Productions SA

63. Caileigh Pentz (Class of 2005) Industrial Designer

64. Katie-Lynne Roebert (Class of 2004) Lecturer in Higher Education

65. Amy Schoeman (Class of 2002) – Product developer

66. Dr Francoise L.Y Goga (class of 2006)- medical doctor

67. Oreratile Mogoai (Class of 2006) Research Specialist

68. Karin Heijboer ( Class of 1998)

69. Estee Burger (Class 2002) Brand Manager – South African Breweries

70. Fikile Nkosi (Class of 1998) HR Consultant – Archway Consulting

71. Ingrid Cloete (Class of 2005) – Lawyer

72. Larissa Meckelburg nee Focke (Class of 2001) MA student at Freie Universität Berlin

73. Jana van den Munckhof (Class of 2002) – Minister

74. Sithabile Mokgokong (Class of 1998) – Interior Architect

75. Meg Hendry (Class of 1998) Reflexologist

76. Sarah Richmond (Class of 2002) – University Lecturer

77. Bridget Corrigan (Class of 2002) Conservation Manager

78. Jane-Anne Kokkinn (Class of 2003) Film Producer

79. Lusanda Shimange (Class of 1998) OBGYN

80. Makosha Maja, (Class of 2000) Head of Insight (M&C Saatchi Abel)

81. Pamela Ilunga (Class of 1999) HR Director

82. Lebogang Mahlare Chemical Engineer

83. Jade Perumal (class of 2005), Operations Manager

84. Sanja Bornman (Class of 2000) Gender Rights Lawyer at Lawyers For Human Rights.

85. Genevieve Cator (Class of 1984) Former staff member at PHSG and Publisher


Medics demand transformation

Wits medical students protest over transformation

Wits medical students protest over transformation on Wednesday                Photo: Ayanda Mgede

Wits medical students staged a protest on Wednesday afternoon, calling the Faculty of Health Sciences out on illegal student exclusions and delayed processes of transformation.

The students complained about the slow rate of transformation at Medical School and some students falling victim to what they say are illegal exclusions.

“Management failed to give students a criteria to even begin with so how are they now telling them that they failed to meet a criteria?” said Nkosinathi Maluleke who led the protest and currently sits in the Student Transformation Committee.

The students raised concerns about the processes of dealing with students who had not been attending compulsory activities in their field, which is part of their course.  The compulsory activities include field experience, such as working in a hospital, to gain real world experience.

The protesting students say that the faculty forced them to deregister for the course this year and come back next year because of failure to meet their due performance scores.

This was, however, overturned this morning when the faculty announced that its decision would be withdrawn. Martin Veller, the dean of health sciences, told Wits Vuvuzela that “The reason why we withdrew that was because the process was not according to the rules of the university and we will address that as it was not correct.”

But Veller said he was concerned about students not wanting to take responsibility for what they came to Medical School to do, he said that it did not look good to have medical professionals who were not seen in their skills environments. “We can’t guarantee if you really acquired those skills and that was our contention,” said Veller

Veller added that they were committed to a broad transformation project but that it is always limited by resources that are available to the faculty. “We’re in the process of addressing transformation and many other issues they raised but no transformation is ever fast enough,” he said.

The students read out a memorandum with their tabled demands and gave management seven days to respond in writing. Veller that the protest showed a level of impatience that he admires from the students but said a lot of the demands were already being addressed by the faculty

Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice-President Motheo Brodie said that the SRC was aware of the demands by students and that they have been engaging with the Student Transformation Committee in the Medical School Council.

“I hope that management will respond because if they don’t, this might not have a pretty ending,” he said.

Social science students vote for transformation

A new student council has been voted into The School of Social Sciences and are acting for managerial transformation in the faculty.

LET'S TRANSFORM: Electoral groups are looking to transform management in The School of Social Sciences Photo: File

LET’S TRANSFORM: Electoral groups are looking to transform management in The School of Social Sciences                                                                                                                            Photo: File


Suspended student “escorted off the campus”


A Wits student and audience member get into a physical altercation at transformation panel hosted by the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences on Thursday night. Photo: Nokuthula Zwane

A physical altercation between a suspended Wits student and an audience member was just one of the many disruptions at a discussion about transformation at Wits University last night.

The discussion hosted by the Faculty of Health Sciences for their annual Ethics Alive Symposium included the Vice-Chancellors Adam Habib (Wits University), Max Price (University of Cape Town – UCT), Dan Kgwadi (North West University – NWU) and Mvuyo Tom (University of Fort Hare), along with struggle veteran and Wits alumnus George Bizos. Suspended student, Zama Mthunzi, who came into the venue wearing a t-shirt that read: Habib, Price kill Black lives,” was later removed by private security guards.

The unidentified man that he got into an altercation with was not removed leading to calls for his eviction from some remaining students who proceeded to interrupt the presentations of the speakers. 


T-shirt says it all: During Prof. Kgwadi’s talk Wits student stands up and raises concerns

Habib then intervened and told the audience that “nobody is going anywhere”, and if the students could not let the speakers finish then they could leave.

Matters further escalated when another member in the audience said to the students “if you don’t want to be here then f**k off.”

In a statement released earlier today, Wits University confirmed that a suspended student had been “escorted off the campus.” Furthermore, the student was “reported to the police for violating a court order”. An audience member, who identified herself as an alumni of the university raised her concerns about the caustic relationship between the students, the vice chancellor and administration. “This policing of students, security and private militarisation is heart-breaking and only aggravates the relationship between the students and this administration,” she said.

Medical student, Nyabinghi Ngobeni, reminded Habib that last night’s event was the first time since last year’s protests that he has met with the students. “It’s disrespectful,” she said because the event should have been a student platform and everyone else there should have be disregarded.”

The gathering eventually concluded with an address by Wits alumnus and struggle stalwart Advocate George Bizos.

“Pamberi ne Chimurenga” – Forward with the revolution

Decolonising Wits is a documentary that was filmed last year at Wits by independent filmmaker Aryan Kaganof. In the documentary he follows Wits EFF students as they navigate their way through student politics and questions of black alienation at the university. 

THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: Decolonising Wits follows a group of students who raise a number of concerns regarding matters of racial transformation at Wits.                                          Photo: Aryan Kaganof/Kagablog

A year has passed since the filming of the documentary, Decolonising Wits by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof. It was filmed around the time of the SRC elections at Wits, and the hot debate at the time was the residence admissions policy.

One of the first scenes is of a passionate Wits Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) Chairperson Vuyani Pambo surrounded by a group of students, speaking in an almost preacher-like tone, “But it is not only about us, we are creating an epoch here!” This sets the tone for the film.

In the documentary, Kaganof follows a group of Wits (EFF) members as they navigate through the messy conundrum of student politics and questions of black alienation at historically white institutions. We see students from different political parties – EFF, Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Project W, fighting amongst each other, and then working together to “fight” management.

Next we see students discussing the prioritisation of white students at Wits. We see Wits EFF members sombrely singing the well-known struggle song – Senzeni Na? while one of the members says, “Comrades, we must never celebrate being at Wits, and think that you are a better Black. You must never celebrate assimilation comrades.”

Later Pambo says, “I’m saying for the mere fact that there is no consequence for messing around or playing with a black body, racism is perpetuated… I want to be able to speak my mind without having to reference or align myself to whiteness.”

A prominent theme in the documentary is the plight of black service workers at Wits. The students speak about the poor treatment of workers, highlighting the segregation of service worker toilets as a signal of Wits’ disinterest in creating a holistically fair environment.

“The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon”

Extracts from Frantz Fanon’s influential books The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks, are generously sprinkled throughout the documentary. The most quoted chapter though is, Concerning Violence, a chapter from The Wretched of the Earth which has caused much contention and debate around academic circles about what Fanon meant by “revolutionary violence.”

The lines “The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… ” from the introduction of Black Skin, White Masks are repeated throughout the film, Kaganof seems to be alluding to the nascent anger  bubbling under in South Africa. An anger that is infused with militant and revolutionary rhetoric.

A short appearance by former EFF MP Andile Mngxitama brings home the message of black assimilation in white institutions.

Mngxitama speaks to a point also raised by Panashe Chigumadzi at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture last Monday. He says, “Over the years black people have come to understand that to be civil, to be acceptable, to make progress within the system you cannot raise the black question. We are policing ourselves very well.”

Decolonising Wits should not be viewed as a formulaic documentary with a beginning, middle and an end. It should rather be viewed as an important piece of history. A living archive.

The film cannot be explained, but should rather be experienced. It documents a moment when students of the radical tradition are at the forefront of racial discussions around the country. At the forefront of what others would call ‘transformation’.

Kaganof, a white male, moves as if wearing an invisible cloak between the majority black students. The same Black students that have centred their experiences of blackness at the core of their political discourse. It begs the question, who can document the black struggle?