The name change was delayed by the covid-19 pandemic, but the home of the Wits Art Museum is now linked to the ‘illustrious author of two autobiographies, more than 30 short stories, two verse plays and a fair number of poems’.
Wits University has officially renamed University Corner as the Es’kia Mphahlele Building in honour of the late legendary journalist, author and academic, on Thursday, June 1, 2023.
Officiating at the ceremony that took place on the ground floor of the building at the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets, Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi said that this gesture was “long overdue” and believed that there were many more [legendary African pioneers] yet to be recognised. “Personally, to have the privilege of having the [Mphahlele family] here to witness this historic occasion is truly humbling,” he said.
Mphahlele was the first black professor at Wits University in the 1980s and founded the one-of-a-kind department of African Literature in 1983, which explores aspects of history, politics, indigenous knowledge, traditions and cultural heritage. He was also one of the founders of the first black independent publishing house, Skotaville in 1982.
The building houses some of the literature- and culture-related departments associated with Mphahlele’s work, such as the Wits Art Museum, the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, Voice of Wits FM (Vow FM), Drama for Life and the Wits Centre for Journalism.
“Soft-spoken, humble, urbane, cosmopolitan, erudite and exuding ubuntu, Es’kia Mphahlele embodied in his person and in his work what he described as ‘the personification of the African paradox – detribalised, westernised but still African’,” wrote Jordan, who also described him as the “illustrious author of two autobiographies, more than thirty short stories, two verse plays and a fair number of poems”.
The statement continued: “’Add to these, two anthologies edited, essay collections, innumerable single essays, addresses, awards and a Nobel Prize nomination for literature and what emerges is to many the Dean of African Letters,’ writes Peter Thuynsma, a leading Mphahlele scholar, in Perspectives on South African English Literature (1992: 221).”
Rorisang Maruatona-Mphahlele, Mphahlele’s grandson, said, “I am actually overjoyed because [Wits University] was my first choice of university but I didn’t get in; I went to University of Johannesburg instead where I found [The Es’kia Mphahlele Room] and was overjoyed to find that at U.” He feels thrilled that “Wits University is doing the same.”
Acting SRC president Kabelo Phungwayo said that the change of name for the building was proposed in 2020 by former SRC president, Mpendulo Mfeka, and championed by former SRC transformation officer, Luci Khofi. As the year 2019 marked a century since the birth of Mphahlele, this motivated the plan to change the name of University Corner.
Phungwayo told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The SRC sees [Mphahlele] as a revolutionary scholar who shaped the [African] discourses in literature, and it teaches us African humanism as students.” He added that the SRC would like to encourage students to look into Mphahlele’s educational journey for inspiration as they undergo their studies as well.
Wits head of communications Shirona Patel said that the delay of the name change was caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
The name change ceremony concluded with Vilakazi unveiling the name plaque to applause by the guests bearing witness to this occasion.
FEATURED IMAGE: The Es’kia Mphahlele Building at the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets is one of the tallest buildings in Braamfontein. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya
FRESH INPUT: Jackie Dugard plans to bring change to Wits in her new position as director of the sexual harassment office. Photo: Nqobile Dludla
Upright, tall and tough Jackie Dugard, the new director of the Wits’ sexual harassment office, intends to “fight fights” against sexual abuse on campus.
The academic and activist, who formerly worked as director of the Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI) has her dark hair in a tight bun, indicative of her no-nonsense approach. [pullquote align=”right”]“Myself and quite a few of my female friends encountered highly inappropriate actions from male staff members and lecturers.”[/pullquote]
Law and order
“I bring an understanding of social change,” said the academic and activist. “One of my strengths is that I am strong and like to fight”. Dugard, a former researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, was hired in November to lead the division dedicated to issues of sexual harassment and abuse on all other levels. Her appointment follows widespread revelations of sexual harassment on campus last year, which led to a full inquiry by the vice chancellor’s office and the dismissal of three lecturers for improper conduct and the resignation of a fourth.
Enter Dugard. An understanding of how class, gender and race intersect and influence abuses of power is not all she can offer.
Dugard herself has been a victim of harassment. She told Wits Vuvuzela that as a PhD student during her fellowship at University of Cambridge she suffered sexual harassment and abuse.
“Myself and quite a few of my female friends encountered highly inappropriate actions from male staff members and lecturers. There I was a tiny little student feeling like I don’t wanna rock the boat,” Dugard recalled.
She said the experience made her realise just how pervasive sexual harassment was, even at institutions that “people looked up to”. [pullquote]“We have to be realistic. This is not Moses parting the waves. It will take time,” [/pullquote]
“As with most institutions, it wasn’t immune [to sexual harassment]. And as with many institutions it was largely swept under the rug and tolerated,” Dugard said.
She said the experience taught her to have empathy and understanding for people who don’t report sexual harassment out of fear.
“I didn’t [report the harassment]. I regret it. I feel I really should have. It gave me a sense of why people do not report it,” she said.
Dugard explained that her office would empower students to deal with sexual harassment in whatever way they needed, ranging from counselling, medical treatment and legal assistance to fact sheets, educational drives and even “holding students hands” through the daunting prospect of tackling the institution and systemic issues. The sexual harassment office and its approach to harassment, however, remain a work in progress.
Dugard explained that the office was still in its formative stages, having recently moved into premises on the sixth floor of University Corner, dealing with a backlog of on-going cases, as well as trying to bring together all of university’s existing policies and networks.
“We have to be realistic. This is not Moses parting the waves. It will take time,” Dugard said.
With only Maria Wanyane, sexual harassment advisor at the CCDU, as part of the team, Dugard explained that the office still had to hire a lawyer and an administrator before it gets down to real work.
She described this as an important period of thinking through and understanding what had been done previously in order to map out the future.
“We don’t wanna rush it. But also, we don’t want to be in limbo. We have to make sure we have analysed everything. We are asking ourselves ‘how can we do better?’”
Dugard said confusion around what constituted sexual harassment made this period of analysis necessary, but in broad terms she described it as an insidious form of prejudice akin to racism.
Dugard’s activist background, her academic qualifications especially in law, and her own experience of harassment, place her in a good position to clear up the confusion.
Wits Vuvuzela journalist Mfuneko Toyana was one of two students who were trapped inside a lift in University Corner Building for nearly three hours on Monday night. He recounts his experience here:
UNDER CONTROL: Service supervisor, Dylan Gibson was on duty today sorting out the “teething problem” that saw, Wits Vuvuzela journalist Mfuneko Toyana stuck in the lift for close to three hours yesterday. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
University Corner’s notoriously unreliable elevators struck again on Monday.
This time the newest lift, installed in a building that was almost condemned to demolition a few years ago, trapped two students inside for close to 3 hours.
The unexpected malfunction of the ultra-modern lift, a far cry compared to the two other battered lifts that service building, was compounded by a human malfunction.
[pullquote align=”right”]The emergency phone button and emergency bell inside the lift yielded no results[/pullquote]
The lift technician called in to perform the straight-forward rescue told Wits Vuvuzela that he was twice given the wrong address, arriving at Braamfontein Centre two times before eventually finding his way to University Corner after 7pm.
Campus Control officers who were on the scene blamed Property Infrastructure and Management (PIMD) for the mix-up resulting in almost a 2 hour delay in reaching the lift.
Mkhacani Maluleke of Campus Control said that after the students had phoned Campus Control the matter was handed over to PIMD, who interacted with lift company Schindler from there on.
Maluleke and two other Campus Control officers arrived at the scene about 40 minutes after Wits Vuvuzela journalist Mfuneko Toyana and Drama for Life student Thoriso Moseneke used a cell phone to report the lift had become stuck on the 20th floor.
The emergency phone button and emergency bell inside the lift yielded no results, and the students resorted to calling from a cellphone as well tweeting about their plight, spawning the hashtag #freefuni in support of the two marooned Witsies.
It was nearly three hours later at 7. 10pm when Toyana and Moseneke where finally freed and thankfully driven home by Campus Control.
It will be 5 more months before the new lift in University Corner is operational. Photo: Andries Sibanyoni.
The problem of faulty and sometimes dysfunctional elevators at the Wits University Corner Building is far from over. Staff, students and tenants will continue to experience the inconvenience of dysfunctional lifts for at least another year.
According to Dirk Vanden Eynde, Project Manager at Wits Campus Development and Planning, work to install new lifts began in the middle of last month. The installation of the first lift which is already decommissioned is expected to take about 5 months to complete. Work on the second lift will start after the new one is operational.
The project has been structured to ensure that all work takes place inside the existing lift shafts and that there are no disturbances to the daily operation of the building and staff.
Marcus Toerien, a Masters student at Wits Journalism and a regular user of these lifts complained that he has been coming into the building for the past four years and the situation has not improved.
“More often than not we become frustrated and we have to walk up the stairs …we do not get clear time lines as to when things will be normalised as there is no open communication between those responsible for this building and the people who use the building,” says Toerien. He emphasised that there are people who have to walk up and down the University Corner building (a 20 floor building) and it is difficult for them.
Another student, Mbongeni Mbingo explained that his experience with the lift situation has been frightening as the buttons on lifts are simply not working properly. “My experience has not been good and it’s sort of frightening when you are in there alone and the lift cannot stop at a selected floor,” says Mbingo. But, he added jokingly that the stairs on the other hand are good for fitness, but felt sorry for people going to the 20th floor using the stairs.
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 […]