Posh self catering Wits Student Residence not fire safe

The Wits Junction, the newest student residence in Parktown, has been termed the “Sandton” of Wits by students. With state of the art facilities and fully furnished, self-catering apartments, it is astonishing that Junction apartments and passages are not equipped with any smoke detectors.

Mhumelela Qolohle and Buhle Mquku, 3rd year medical students, often team up in the kitchen. This is their second year at Junction, however they experienced a ‘smokey’ issue last July.

“We use the oven all the time,” Qolohle said, “we were sitting outside while the chips were cooking and all of a sudden the room was steamy and there was smoke everywhere.”

“If there was a smoke detector, it would have stopped almost immediately after picking up the smoke” Mquku said. Feeling helpless and unaware of who to call, they switched the oven off and fanned the smoke away.

Unfortunately for their friend, Lindelwa Thumbathi, 4th year medical student, there was a fire at her apartment two years ago.

“My room was surrounded by my neighbours and a security guard” Thumbathi said. “The security guard could not do much himself and was acting like everyone else”. Thumbathi arrived and unlocked the room door, after the security had broken down her window to disperse the flames with the fire extinguisher.

“The security was helpless,” Thumbathi said, “he did not know what to do or who to call”. This is Thumbathi’s third year at Junction and in all three years she said there have not been practice fire drills.

Some Junction residents were unaware of the absence of smoke detectors in their rooms, while others were upset and thought it irresponsible on behalf of Junction, like 2nd year BA student, Nomhle Mncwango.

Other students highlighted incidents they witnessed of neighbours and nearby friends, like Msimisi Sacolo, 2nd year BCom Accounting student.

 

The Wits Junction, valued at R490 million, comprises of 700 bachelor units, as well as two-bedroom, three-bedroom and four bedroom units, which can host a maximum of 1 200 students. The cluster manager, accommodation officer, head of security and head of residence life could all not be reached for comment.

Wits’ luxury Res over poor management ‘snafu’

Wits junction

HOMELESS: Wits Junction Res management has been accused of maladministration after students were left homeless. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela.

Wits’ most luxurious residence has been accused of maladministration after failing to accommodate its returning and international students leaving them homeless.

The Wits Junction House Committee released a statement on Facebook regarding the perceived difficulties of student accommodation, describing them as “serious gross irregularities” blaming poor management for the problem.

The new cluster manager Thokozani Manyange has been accused of mismanagement after a number of  students were left without accommodation. “I propose that the new manager of Junction be changed to Esselen residences so that he can gain experience – because Junction is too big,”said Student Representative Council (SRC) president and former Junction House Committee chairperson, Mcebo Dlamini.

Wits Vuvuzela tried to contact Manyange who directed inquiries to the Director of Campus Housing and Life Rob Sharman. While Sharman said he would not comment “on the allegations about staff,” he disputed the contents of the statement suggesting that it was released to serve the interests of certain committee members who were still on the accommodation waiting list.

“It seems one individual person is pushing very hard for his friends to get it”. Certain people have certain interests”, said Sharman.

According to Sharman there were three individuals behind the release of the statement with the application of two of those applicants was eventually successful because they had followed the normal course of waiting list processes, but the third, because he was a non-applicant is still on the waiting list.

Wits Junction House Committee chairperson Ntando Mndawe confirms that they were two returning students on the waiting list who were members of House Committee, but insists that this was not an issue of self-interest “We weren’t saying they should prioritise the two members… management likes to twist things but they said they would be investigating the issue,” said Mndawe.

“I propose that the new manager of Junction be changed to Esselen residences so that he can gain experience – because junction is too big,”

Sharman explained that there are two different accommodation waiting lists concerning Wits Junction students. The first consists of 234 students who are not at the res but have inquired and requested accommodation. The second is a list of 33 returning students who are “waiting to write supplementary exams, funding issues are unable to pay fees or appealing.”

Although he admits to a “hierarchy” with the student waiting list system but insists that the criterion set out by the university has to be “applied consistently”.

“There is a difficulty, students do not understand the complexity of dealing with tens and thousands of applications where each applicant has different need, different financial and academic circumstances. Every application has to be considered on its merits,” said Sharman.

“It’s (Wits Junction) the cream of Wits… everything is there so poorly managed and that’s the fact,” said Dlamini.

When Wits Vuvuzela visited the office, there were at least 10 students sitting at reception, all waiting to be placed in accommodation. After Wits Vuvuzela asked a student a question about the lack of accommodation, a receptionist told the reporter: “you are a trouble maker”.

The receptionist called another staff member who told Wits Vuvuzela that it “wasn’t proper etiquette” to interview students waiting at Wits Junction. However Sharman blatantly denies that there is an accommodation crisis – but insists that there are still many students seeking accommodation “as it is typical at this time of year.”

 

 

A splashin’ good time

SPLASH OUT:  Members of Mens Res take rivalry to a new level as they start a water fight between Sunnyside and Wits Junction residences.  Photo: Ilanit Chernick

SPLASH OUT: Members of Mens Res take rivalry to a new level as they start a water fight between Sunnyside and Wits Junction residences. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Wits University was the place to be this week as new and first-time students were treated to the best the campus has to offer.
With the choice of attending a number of campus parties like the Sports Party which introduces students to the different sporting options available on campus, the Silly Buggers party for the wild and wonderful or the Fresher’s Bash this evening. There is a place and home for any student who wants to experience the Wits vibe and meet new people.
Wits Welcome Day (last Sunday) was introduced with rivalry, dancing and chanting between the different Wits Residences. A water fight ensued between Mens Res and members of Sunnyside and Wits Junction early on Sunday morning.
One Mens Res resident said they want to “teach” the other residences “who is boss on campus”.
“We are management!” He shouted to his fellow comrades.
This year’s beer garden kept students entertained and excited with a number of DJ’s keeping the music pumping. Students had the opportunity to enjoy a selection of imported craft beers and usual locals favourites. .
Society sign-ups by the Great Hall gave students a taste of the social and cultural opportunities which lie ahead. With the Venda and Zulu societies show-casing their talent as dancers and singers drew onlookers by the dozen.
The Wits Choir even showcased their talents during a number of performances taking place around campus.
Overall, both new and returning students had a great time with a relaxed ban that allowed alcohol to flow, filling the campus with noise and laughter. It’s no wonder Wits O-week is one of the best on South African campuses.
After all the fun, it’s going to be hard for students to get back into the mundane tasks of student life.

Student formerly known as a Sisulu says “surnames don’t define you”

WHAT'S IN A NAME?: Mcebo Dlamini says the #Sisulu controversy did not affect his political standing.  Photo: Luca Kotton

WHAT’S IN A NAME?: Mcebo Dlamini says the #Sisulu controversy did not affect his political standing. Photo: Luca Kotton

Wits student Mcebo Dlamini, who falsely claimed to be a member of the prestigious Sisulu family, does not believe the controversy will affect his campaign for SRC.

Dlamini, who is the chair of the Wits Junction house committee, claimed to be “Mcebo Freedom Sisulu”, the lovechild of renowned journalist Zwelakhe Sisulu and a Swazi princess but later admitted to Wits Vuvuzela that this was a lie.

Credible campaigning
Dlamini is now running for SRC as a member of the Progressive Youth Alliance. When asked if he would be campaigning as “Dlamini” or “Sisulu” he replied: “I am campaigning as Mcebo!”
“Some of us are not made by our surnames. Your surname does not define you,” Dlamini told Wits Vuvuzela.
However, Dlamini continues to namecheck the Sisulu family. During a Wits Townhall on August 4, Dlamini asked a question from the audience identifying himself as “Mcebo #Sisulu”.
He told Wits Vuvuzela that his credibility is not affected.
“I’m defined by my character. Only Vuvuzela defined me by my surname,” Dlamini said. “My leadership is not defined by my name.”

“I am always with the marginalised”

He told Wits Vuvuzela that he was a “humble” and “open” person who engaged with all kinds of people. He said he did not hang out with people based on “class” or how important their family is.
“I am always with the marginalised,” Dlamini said.

Confident leadership
The PYA is a coalition of student organisations including the ANC Youth League, SA Student Congress, Young Communist League and Muslim Students Association.
Dlamini said it was not his ambition to be on the SRC and he was asked to run by the PYA. This showed the organisation had “confidence” in his ability to lead.
“It is not my choice to run. It is the confidence of the students who say, ‘you can lead us’,” he said.
Dlamini had also claimed to be studying a “secret” nuclear physics degree at the University of Pretoria. When contacted by Wits Vuvuzela, the university said no such degree existed.
Dlamini said he would not contest statements that he was studying toward a nuclear physics degree. He said Wits Vuvuzela journalists did not have proof to dispute his academic records.
“It’s the people who decide who must be the leader … We can’t deprive students from the opportunity to vote for a leader based on an article that hasn’t been tested,” Dlamini said.
He said the revelations about his deception published in Wits Vuvuzela had not affected his political standing.
“It has had no impact on me,” Dlamini said.
“Mcebo the person still lives … I know who I am, I don’t need a newspaper to define me.”

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Let it burn

Puff and Pass, Wits Junction residents are using incense to cover up the smell of cigarettes and weed By Liesl Frankson

Puff and Pass: Wits Junction residents are using incense to disguise the smell of cigarettes and weed. Photo: Liesl Frankson

After receiving information that Wit Junction residents are irritated by the smell of incense in their corridors, Wits Vuvuzela investigated and found that students believe they have a drug problem more than a cultural intolerance to incense.

Neo Sekgobela, 3rd year politics, said the smell of incense is irritating but not overbearing, and is not reason enough to lay a formal complaint.

Pretty Mapaita, 4th year medicine, said she doesn’t mind incense as the students who burn it, do so in their rooms. Her issue is the students who smoke weed outside on the lawns. Her window faces the garden and when she opens her windows, the smell comes directly through.

“It’s annoying and disturbing. When you’re studying and open a window, you have the strong smell of weed. Weed happens often but incense once in a week or so.”

[pullquote align=”right”]“It’s annoying and disturbing. When you’re studying and open a window, you have the strong smell of weed. Weed happens often but incense once in a week or so.”[/pullquote]

Tawada Chisa, 2nd year BComm said he was first introduced to incense by his mother. She burns it around the house to chase away bad spirits. Chisa said the smell of incense is common on his floor.

“The majority of people in my corridor burn incense. The guy opposite my room is Indian so I get mine from him. “It’s like deodorant or oils or cologne.” Chisa said while incense can be used for its “soothing smell” and for cultural reasons, some students use it to mask the smell of cigarettes in their rooms.

Students are not allowed to smoke in their room, but the rule book doesn’t have any specific rules on burning incense, Chisa said.

Mcebo Olyate, chair of Wits Junction House Committee, said there haven’t been any formal complaints about the smell of incense but students do complain amongst each other in their corridors.

Olyate said Junction has some cases of people smoking in their rooms and few have been charged. He would not confirm what cases are being investigated and what was smoked but he said it would be difficult to stop the use of incense in residence rooms.

“People will say it’s their culture and religion. What we do is promote cultural tolerance.”

 

When professional intimacy is betrayed …

The story of senior Wits drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu allegedly fondling and sexually harassing students, and even raping one of them, has focused many people’s attention on what constitutes as an improper relationship between a lecturer and a student.

On Twitter particularly, former students of the accomplished actor, director and playwright have spoken about how wa Mamatu allegedly used his position as lecturer to pressure students into sexual acts under the guise that it was for the benefit of their education.

Tweets from the account of former Wits student Mary Straub (@merrystrwberry) have been frequent and detail her experiences in the Drama department.

Yesterday a tweet from the account read: “We were told we are brilliant, but our unwillingness ‘to go all the way’ would cost us marks.”

In reply to Straub’s question  as to whether sexual abuse at Wits had become institutionalized among lecturers, a tweet from journalist Katherine Child (@katthechild), read: “Yes, and a history of turning a blind eye. And re-hiring perpetrators students had spoken out about”.

Wits’ Head of Communications, Shirona Patel (@shirona37), defended the university’s efforts to protect students, saying in a tweet: “Wits is doing all it can- it never covers up these issues- need as much evidence as possible”.

In a speech he gave at the Wits Great Hall last year, Nobel Laureate and celebrated author, JM Coetzee urged more male students to become teachers, and said that “it will be good for society in general, particularly at this time in history when men who enjoy working with children are suddenly under so much suspicion.”

What the tweets have not answered, and a question Coetzee implies, is whether an emotional connection between teacher and student is possible in the times we live in, especially between male lecturer and female student?

Wa Mamatu, as a lecturer in a small department, had the opportunity to shape the development of his students on an individual basis, a type of impact rarely found in larger departments.

The close interaction between lecturers and students in smaller settings creates an ideal environment for highly focused monitoring of student development. It’s an environment that has the ability to remove the power imbalances between students and lecturers. It’s what could be called a professional intimacy, one where the teacher can positively influence the student. A beautiful paradox when done right, a shame when done wrong.  But how are students ever to know when it’s wrong?

Like many others who misuse their power against students, wa Mamatu seems to have blurred the boundaries and used that intimacy for personal gain, turning what could have been a fruitful partnership into a show of power and dominance.

However, a stronger inter-student relationship between female students spanning generations, able to warn and protect each other from sex pests, seems to have emerged ‘organically’ on Twitter and is filtering onto campus as a result. Could this be social media’s answer to violent patriarchy?

 

USEFUL RESOURCES:

Student robbed at Wits Junction

A first year student was robbed in her Wits Junction room in the dead of night by a man who made off with her cell phone and laptop last Thursday.

Head of campus control, Rob Kemp, said: “Access to the room was gained either by use of a key or the door was not locked.” He said the victim was taken to report the incident at Hillbrow station of the SA Police Service.

According to the first year’s floor mate, Aphelele Mpunzana, the robber entered the resident’s room at around 3am and strangled her to keep her quiet.

Most of the residents were made aware of the robbery through an email that was circulated detailing rumours about incident. The email was sent by one of the residents and said a master key was used to gain access to four rooms. The claim was denied by a Wits Junction security official that said there was no evidence to suggest that a master key was used.

Mpunzana also does not believe a master key was used.

“Everyone in this building heard the banging of the doors,” said Mpunzana. “The guy tried to get into everyone’s room. If [the robber] had a master key he would have opened all the doors and not just hers.”

However, she said the main door to the building was unlocked because some student cards for new residents had not been activated.

Kemp said often students create a “serious breach of their own safety” by pressing the emergency release button in order to access their buildings without swiping cards. This is problematic because the door is left unlocked after the emergency button is pressed until security adjusts it back to normal.

Another resident of Block 7 said their student cards still do not work and they have to call security to open the main door for them. He said it was easier to keep the door open.

Both Mpunzana and  Thabo*, who lives in the next building admitted to pressing the emergency button and using coins and papers to prevent the door from closing.

“I don’t live [in this building] but I just walk in,” said Thabo. “Which means anyone can take a bus from main campus to Junction, come in here and take a shower.”

Mpunzana said she felt security at Junction was “generally good” but that this incident has made her more wary of her safety. “I’m definitely surprised that something like this can happen in what’s supposed to be the best res on campus.”

All rooms in the building were searched by security but none of the stolen items were recovered.

No arrests have been made and the first year has since moved to another building in Wits Junction.

Kemp said investigations into the robbery are ongoing and urged students not to bypass the security system for their own safety.

*not his real name

Accommodation woes continue

The start of a new academic year invariably means the beginning of new chapter for most of us, and for first years, the beginning of a totally different book. Thinking back (very far) to my first year, nothing could match the excitement of not wearing school uniform and being able to chew gum in class. And then when they told me lectures were not compulsory! It was the best of times.

However for many first years the excitement of making it into Wits is short-lived as the woes of trying to find accommodation set in. The sad reality is that Wits simply does not have the capacity to accommodate every student. The accommodation office has repeatedly said that they are doing the best they can with what they have. But is it enough?

Surely an institution as world class as Wits University should be able to deal with this recurring problem. Wits Vuvuzela has religiously reported on accommodation problems at the beginning of each year. Could the elusive solution be as simple as building more residences? But the university did build another residence: Wits Junction in Parktown.

Unfortunately, this newly erected residence fast became known as a place for the elite where few students could afford the residence’s high annual fees ranging from R45000- R50000. Is it any wonder that in its first year of operating Junction only managed to fill only 30% of the spaces available?

The queues outside the accommodations office every year are filled with desperate students and parents and this is testament that we are doing things wrong. Students are then forced into the private accommodation system in Braamfontein that has its own long arm of problems.

On Page 1 we report on students from Central Johannesburg College who were unceremoniously kicked out of their residence in an Aengus Property building in Braamfontein because their financial aid was too little to cover them for the year.  The students’ beds were thrown out of the building, while the students sang resistance songs and scuffled with the muscled bouncers. The scene resembled something out of the forced removals of the 1950s.

The new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, has said while Wits is a world class institution it must service our country by becoming a symbol of hope for aspiring poor students. “We must be able to send a symbolic message that we believe in this country and we are prepared to address the challenges of all of our people, poor and rich,” said Habib.

It is a great sentiment, however, when we present Wits as the land of milk and honey, a place where you can change your life through quality education and still cannot provide our students with a roof over their heads, we do the country a great disservice. And as Professor Habib puts it, when the poor have no hope the society will burn.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 1st edition, 6th February 2013

Wits Junction building under investigation

Authorities at Wits are investigating the circumstances that allowed water to pour through the ceilings in some rooms at Wits Junction last weekend.

One of the tenants at the Shosholoza building said his ceiling collapsed on Sunday after turbulent weather conditions affected parts of Johannesburg on Saturday night.

Two other students from the Kum Saan building had a similar problem, where water was reported to be coming through their lights in the ceiling.

Tshidiso Mogale said he had been experiencing problems with a leaking ceiling earlier in the year. The second-year law student said he reported this to Wits Junction maintenance.

WHEN IT FALLS APART: The collapsed roof in the room of a Witsie at the student residence Wits Junction. The ceiling fell down last Sunday, while the student was in the room, due to the turbulent wetaher conditions and started to leak water. Photo: Lebogang Mdlankomo

 

“The problem started in May and Martha, the housekeeper, came and assessed the situation and they patched it,” Mogale said, indicating an area in the ceiling that had been plastered by maintenance.

Mogale said that last week Thursday however another leak happened in a different part of the ceiling. After it was inspected by maintenance he was promised it would be taken care of the following day but it wasn’t.

When it started raining on Saturday night Mogale said he waited to see if there was going to be a leak. At first there was nothing.

Then, “After 10 minutes, I started hearing a sound as if a tap was left open,” he said.

To prevent damage to his belongings he used a dustbin and towels to catch the leaking water.Mogale then moved to a room in another block for the night.

When he went back to his room the following morning Mogale said he heard a creaking sound from the ceiling while taking shoes from under his bed.

“I moved away from the bed and in a split second the ceiling just caved in.” 

Clifford Chauke, the warden on duty that night, said he had called the manager and told him the matter needed to be attended to.

“While I was busy assisting Tshidiso, two students came from Kum Saan [another Junction building] with the same problem,” Chauke said.

He said their situation was “far worse” than Mogale’s because water “was coming from all over, even through the lights”.

Junction’s manager, Nazime Randera said the matter had been dealt with and Wits’ capital development project office was carrying out an investigation.

“They are calling for reports from Tri-Star,” which was the main contractor of the project, said Randera.

He said the weekend’s incident could have been caused by the build up of hail which prevented the flow of water to the gutters which resulted in the water moving through the slabs.

He added that “the problems occurred in some of the isolated rooms on the top floors”, however the investigation will look at defects to see if there were any “corners cut”.

The Wits Junction project was part of a plan to address the shortfall in student accommodation and increase capacity by housing 30 000 students in all residences in 2012.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 25th edition, 21 September 2012

Almost bitten twice

A Wits student has fallen prey to car thieves at Wits Junction twice in two months. 

A series of thefts have occurred at the residence where two cars were stolen in February this year. The previous incidents involved cars with Botswana registration plates but Vuvuzela was unable to establish if this represented a trend.

Vuvuzela received a tweet from one of the residents, @stretchdj: “@vuvuzelanews looks like sum1s car was broken into at Wits Junction. Rob Sharman, Campus Control and Hillbrow police at the scene.”

The car that was broken into over the weekend belonged to 4th year medical student, Gayathri Raveendran (20), whose previous car was stolen on February 10. 

Security Upped: One of the security measures that were put in place after the first car theft in February at Wits Junction. Photo: Lebogang Mdlankomo

 

Raveendran said she went downstairs to the parking lot when she saw two men in her new car, a Toyota Rav4, and one standing outside it.

“After they left the scene I went to check my car and they had dismantled my gear and cut the wires to the indicator, my car was five minutes away from being stolen,” she said.

Raveendran said after her first car was stolen she was incredibly paranoid and felt unsafe and it did not help that she was now a victim for the second time.

Junction Security supervisor Enoch Mdunge said, “The people broke into the car but my colleagues managed to stop the theft but the suspects managed to escape”.

Mdunge asserted that new security systems were put in place at the residence and that gaining entry into the residence premises will be much stricter.

Student grapples with accommodation fees

A 3rd year student is struggling to pay the “expensive” accommodation fee at Wits Junction.

Lefentse Pululu blames Wits Junction and David Webster residences for “messing with her application”. Webster apparently accepted Pululu’s application last year but Junction advised them to cancel her application as they had a room reserved for her.

“The Junction is expensive compared to Webster, I am frustrated, angry and disappointed at [Wits Junction] for not informing me about this”, she says.

She says her parents cannot afford to pay R49000, which excludes meals annually, and she is clueless as to how she will pay.

Since she had to spend R3200 on transport monthly, Pululu decided to stay at the Junction despite it being expensive.

Henry Masuko, a 1st year BA education student could not afford to pay the R750 confirmation fee and now stays “in unbearable conditions” in Hillbrow.

He says the place is not study friendly as they share a one bedroom flat with four people.

“I think this will negatively impact on my studies, I don’t know anyone who can help with the money”, he says

Masuko received a NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) package that covers tuition and residence fees but not the confirmation fee. His mother does not have the R750 fee, as she is unemployed.

Vuvuzela was unable to get Robert Sharman, director of campus housing and residence life to confirm the allegations.

 

 

Parktown residence to open doors

A NEW residence opening at Wits will enable students to “graduate into a higher level of campus living”.

This is the tag line in the brochure for the Wits Junction residence in Parktown, next to the Wits Education Campus.

“This is going to be the nuance of the university residences,” says Nazime Randera, acting manager of Wits Junction.

It is part of the university’s strategy to increase the residence stock to 6000 beds, especially increasing the number of postgraduate students registered with the university.

“This will be important in our endeavour to increase our capacity in terms of increasing our research output and enhancing the generation of new knowledge,” says Randera.

Most postgraduates are spread across three residences, namely West Campus Village, International House and Campus Lodge.

The name of the residence was derived from the idea that historically Johannesburg has always been a place where people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures have converged – the ‘Junction’ component of the name symbolises that idea.

Some of the attractions will be a gymnasium, a coffee/snack bar and a retail grocery store. There will also be generators on standby that will kick in during power failures.

Sidwel Saso, a master’s student from Kenya, says the residence sounds interesting. “This sounds like a place I could enjoy living in as a student…one needs all the help they can get you know,” he says.

Wits Junction will house 1209 students. The types of units available will be studio apartments, which are self contained and involve no sharing of any facilities, two bedroom-units sharing certain facilities, and three and four-bedroom units with the sharing of facilities such as showers, kitchens and bathrooms.

Felicia Ndzudzo, a first year PHD student from Zambia, says she would be interested in moving into the new residence. “This is a welcome development for us non-South Africans. The hotels around here can be pricey… This Wits Junction place will be good for us. I hope the services will match the high rents though,” she says.

The first phase of occupation starts on July 2 and 3.