Wits students raise concerns about transformation

Wits University students are the latest to join a campaign calling for transformation at campuses around the country.

Political science postgraduate students have initiated a discussion about transformation at Wits University. At a meeting in the Central Block building earlier today, the postgrads addressed a room full of fellow Witsies about their aim to make Wits a “black-friendly” environment.

#TransformWits, as the initiative is referred to, was started by the postgrads who saw the need to prioritise transformation within their own department.

“With recent public event in South African universities like Rhodes, UCT (University of Cape Town) and now UKZN (University of KwaZulu-Natal), I think it inspired us that now it is our time,” said Fatima Mukaddam, one of the leaders of the initiative.

Today’s discussion focused on “an afro-centric curriculum, the number of black academics within the institution and the development of black thought”, but the meeting also gave students the opportunity to raise their concerns about transformation.

“We faced with reading Afrikaans cases, but the lecture have not produced and translation”
Student voice out transformation concerns

A final year law student raised her concern that a number of the cases studied at the Wits Law School are only available in Afrikaans.

“We faced with reading Afrikaans cases, but the lecturers have not produced a translation”, she said.

“And this has been going on for a number of years, yet there has been no effort to translate or take out these cases,” she added.

Another of the many things that emerged from the discussion is the university’s emphasis on creating a cosmopolitan institution when it comes to transformation.

Panashe, an honours student said, “I’m a bit worried when Prof Habib continues to speak about this “cosmopolitan idea” of the university. Within that cosmopolitanism comes the justification for saying we are going to reserve an x, y z number of beds in res for white students.”

See photos from today’s meeting on Facebook

SRC (Student Representatives Council), deputy chairperson Shaeera Kalla believed that transformation starts with making students aware of the issue, before expecting them to take any form of action.

“What are we doing to conscientise white students about white privilege? What are we doing to educate black students?” she asked the audience.

“It’s about changing the way we think, before everything,” Kalla added.

Wits EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) leader Vuyani Pambo said he did not want to focus on transformation but rather on change that more accurately reflects the demographics of South Africa, on campus.

“When you walk or direct your friends to the library you say Sobukwe not Wartenweiler, and that is the change we’ve been calling for as the EFF,” said Pambo.

“When are we celebrating Sobukwe? When are we celebrating Vilakazi? One of Wits’ first black lecturers, the first contestation is not to change whiteness but let’s have blackness.”

Some of the broader suggestions that came from the discussions at the meeting was a move to rename buildings on campus, to make fees more affordable and to improve the First Year Experience (FYE) so it focuses on developing African students. A more specific suggestion was made change the name of Jan Smuts House on campus.

The discussion ended with a walk to the Great Hall, in solidarity with the transformation initiatives currently underway at the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students.