For students starting their studies at Wits University, there is no greater convenience than living a walking distance away from campus. However, the price of that convenience is slowly driving students away.
At the beginning of 2023, Wits University’s daily operations were partially stopped by the #WitsShutdown. The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) mobilised students to protest against unaffordable accommodation amongst other issues.
In 2021, the most affordable room at a Wits residence – a four-bedroom flat at Braamfontein Centre – cost R45 966 per annum. Just two years later, the price has gone up by R5 820 and it now costs R51 786 per annum. This fee increase and a R45 000 cap on accommodation allowances by National Student Financial Aid Scheme, have made it difficult for students to find housing in and around Wits.
Living at a Wits residence
As of 2022, there were 41 794 students enrolled at Wits. Of those students, only 15% of them can be accommodated by the 17 Wits residence buildings in and around the Braamfontein and Parktown campuses.
To make matters worse, nine out of the 17 residences give priority to first-year students and other undergraduate students, two are strictly for postgraduate students and the remaining six residences accommodate irrespective of ones year of study.
Before this year’s protests, students were required to pay a compulsory initial installment of R10 000 before moving into a Wits residence. This is separate from the 10-month rental price, ranging from R41 786 for a shared room to R99 077 for a single studio apartment.
There are two types of residences at Wits, catered and self-catered residences. Self-catered students are provided with communal and individual kitchens, while catered students eat at the five dining halls across the Braamfontein and Parktown campuses.
Catered students pay for both accommodation and meals. The meal prices range from R18 720 for ten meals per week, to R34 570 for 19 meals per week. Students have three meals per day during the week and only twice per day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Living at a private residence
To address the 85% shortfall, Wits approved 69 privately owned residences that range from at least 22m to 4.9km away from either Braamfontein or Parktown campus. All private residences are for students that cater for themselves and depending on the ownership, some provide buses that transport students to and from campus.
Rates at a private residence differ from the rates at a Wits residence. For example, living in a Southpoint student accommodation building would cost at least R38 680 for a room shared by three people and up to R97 650 for a single studio apartment, on a 10-month lease. This excludes the once-off R1 100 registration fee.
Some private residences like Apex Studios make students buy their own electricity when their monthly coupons run out. Others don’t have backup generators for loadshedding, this includes Wits residences that are off campus in Braamfontein, namely Noswal Hall, Amani House and Braamfontein Centre.
Private residences accommodate 21 539 students, and most of those are students heavily reliant on bursaries and sponsorships. According to a report by Wits, “More than 27 000 students Wits students are fortunate to receive funding for a portion of their fees and other expenses from a broad base of external funders.”
On December 5, 2022, the CEO of Universities South Africa (USaf), Dr Phethiwe Matutu released a media statement to announce that NSFAS proposed to cap accommodation allowances at R45 000. This was done “to mitigate the escalating cost of student accommodation,” the statement read.
SRC Compliance Officer, Karabo Matloga (20) told Sunday Times that he stays at Apex Studio – which is 22m away from Wits’ main campus. He has his own fridge but shares a kitchen and bathroom with three other people. That costs him R52 500 on a 10-month lease, leaving him having to cover the outstanding R7 500. Fortunately for Matloga, his mother helps him cover the balance. Matloga is one of the 10 000 students covered by NSFAS, but what about the other 9 999?
Moreover, NSFAS has defunded 559 students since the beginning of the second semester in July 2023. Funds were stopped immediately and fees already covered reversed, leaving those students stranded in the middle of the academic year.
Gloria Mokoena (25) *, a third-year Wits physics student told Wits Vuvuzela, “It seems like a lot of people do not know why NSFAS is [defunding us]” because “I was told our household income is more than R350k,” she said. According to Mokoena, this is not true because her father passed on when she was still young, and her mother is the only breadwinner in the house.
Mokoena said that she has now had to resort to camping in the library and showering in the gym. “If I travel every day, I will not have enough money for food during the day because it is just enough for transport,” she said.
Postgraduate students are also affected by this accommodation crisis. Recipients of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Honours funding were only able to move into student accommodations after the academic calendar had already started. While Wits opened on February 21, students only started receiving feedback on the status of their applications on March 8. Students cannot move into a residence without a letter that proves that the student is funded or will be able to afford the fees.
In March of this year, the financial aid scheme promised to intervene when students are denied accommodation over the cap but plans for next year are yet to be known, and no permanent solution has been applied to this crisis.
*Name changed to protect identity
FEATURED IMAGE: Some of the homeless students are squatting at Wits residences and private student accommodation. Photo: File
Concerns for the safety of dating-app users soar after the kidnapping of an 18-year-old student.
A Wits University student is recovering in hospital after being kidnapped by a group of men who had allegedly lured them through online dating app, Grindr.
The victim was found by police, bound and unconscious, on September 20 at the Denver Men’s Hostel and taken to Milpark Hospital for treatment. Seven suspects were arrested and charged with kidnapping and extortion, with police recovering three knives and the student’s belongings in their possession.
Police are investigating if the suspects have links to numerous other cases of a similar nature in Gauteng.
The student is currently staying at one of the university’s residences and on September 19, their roommate reported them missing after not returning from meeting with someone from the app.
“A Wits warden informed [Campus Protection Services (CPS)] that a student was reported missing by his roommate,” said Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel. CPS then immediately alerted the South African Police Department (SAPS). “They worked to track down the student… CPS were a central part of this team and acted swiftly,” added Patel. The university says that this is the first case of this nature that they have been made aware of.
The kidnappers contacted the student’s family and demanded tens of thousands of rands in ransom money.
SAPS Gauteng spokesperson Brenda Muridili said that a large group working together to recover the student were led “to an ATM where one of the suspects was expected to withdraw the ransom money on the M2 Road. The police held an observation and then placed the suspect under arrest [as] soon as he arrived.” The suspect then led the police to the hostel.
Grindr is a popular social networking and online dating app that sees around 3.6 million online daily users worldwide. The app is targeted towards the queer community (mostly men – 69% of users) looking for, as the AfroQueer podcast describes it, “hookups, relationships and love… and some other things in-between.”
However, this app has been an ever increasing medium to facilitate organised crime.
There have been numerous cases where users have been targeted by people who robbed, assaulted, raped, kidnapped and/or murdered them. The app itself issued a warning to its South African users over the rise in kidnapping’s linked to their own platform earlier this year.
Noma Sibanda, who is a representative from LQBTQIA+ rights-oriented society Activate Wits, said that the “app itself is not safe because anyone can open a fake account”. There is no verification process when opening a Grindr account and anonymity is synonymous with most profiles, largely due to stigma, which criminals take advantage of.
“When speaking to someone romantically, people can be misled easily… so when meeting up for the first time with someone on the app, do so in a public place with other people,” said Sibanda.
Activate Wits says that this event “not only causes physical or psychological harm but also perpetuates a culture of silence and fear… [Criminal syndicates] capitalise on this because it is easier in South Africa to be operational because they believe they can get away with it,” added Sibanda.
Sibanda hopes to work closely with the university for victims to come forward and report crimes as “it may be easier for the queer community to speak (and open up) to others in the community”.
FEATURED IMAGE: Student activists pose on the Library Lawns while facing the Wits Great Hall. Photo: File
Scores of Witsies are forced to eat little or nothing at all as they attempt to cross the finish line at Great Hall, where they will obtain their qualification.
Each year, students are burdened with the high costs of university fees, academic pressure and accommodation crisis. Added to this, some students with limited financial resources are forced to choose between studying on an empty stomach, or simply giving up on their dreams to obtain their degrees.
According to a statement released on August 14, 2023, by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), the university has an inherent severe food insecurity crisis, hindering the productivity of students. The communication was released as a response to NSFAS’ failure to provide allowances to some of its beneficiaries – which further deepened the crisis.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines food insecurity as when a person does not have regular access to safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development and a healthy lifestyle. It can be experienced at a mild, moderate or severe level.
What makes matters worse, most Witsies who are experiencing hunger are ashamed or reluctant to say that they are struggling. Wits Vuvuzela also discovered that hunger is not only a reality for financially aided students, but also for those who are self-funded.
Makopa Letsoalo, a postgraduate Bachelor of Education student had to self-fund her degree as efforts to get financial aid bore no fruit. Her parents could not assist her as they juggle odd jobs to stay financially afloat. She disclosed to Wits Vuvuzela that she had to spend days without eating or having very little to eat as she had no means to buy food. She also had to rely on collecting food packages from the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO) or charities and campaigns where food was given out. “We [students] don’t expect people to be dying of hunger at Wits, we have put [the institution] on a pedestal, and we’re forced to carry a false identity,” said Letsoalo.
Senior program advisor of the WCCO, Karuna Singh added that people feel stigmatized when they are poor or hungry because society expects them to be self-sufficient. “People will look at a student in the queue and say why does this person have a weave or long nails but can’t afford food,” said Singh.
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world with high unemployment rates, poverty and rising costs of living, which are the main causes of inaccessibility to good nutrition. According to a study conducted by Wits, one in five South African households are foodinsecure; this also impacts the university as some of these students come from those homes.
Wits has students from different backgrounds – but most of them come from suburbs and townships as opposed to those living in rural areas and farms. However, 70% of the students who come from some of these well-to-do backgrounds are still in need of financial assistance – which slightly impacts their access to food. While 30% come from underdeveloped backgrounds. Under-privileged students are evidently fewer; however, they make up for most of the food insecure population at the institution.
The role of student financial aid
Most students at Wits rely on bursaries, with NSFAS currently aiding 9 950 students according to the SRC treasurer general, Kabelo Phungwayo.
Phungwayo said that “2200 NSFAS beneficiaries did not receive their allowances in August 2023.” However, some students admitted to facing this dilemma since the introduction of Tenet, three months ago. Tenet is a direct payment method into students’ accounts, established to make receiving funds easier as opposed to waiting for the university to send the allowance.
However, the method has received much backlash than praise from students who took to social media to complain about it. In response to the outrage, Phungwayo said the SRC is working on giving out food parcels and toiletries for those in need.
Second year Bachelor of Education student, Nozipho Khumalo recently dropped out because of the inconsistency of the national aid. She explained that for three months, she did not receive her allowance from NSFAS: “I’ve had to eat once a day [and lived] without toiletries. I do not eat on weekends since we don’t get food [from the WCCO] on those days.” She further said she will probably continue with her studies next year “if the situation gets better.”
Another Wits student, Zeldah Merria said that the allowances are not enough because on average, a student receives R1 650, this is after the allocation went up by R150 in 2022. However, a study conducted by Wits (in consideration of essentials such as bread, potatoes, eggs, etc.) it indicated that monthly groceries/meals for one person cost approximately R2000 to R4000. The study was done when the rand was between R14 to R16 against the dollar-it is currently pivoting around the R19 mark, which means the money needed for meals is much higher now.
Attempts at curbing hunger?
The university has six dining halls, 41 food retailers, and the WCCO across its campuses as a way of ensuring that students have adequate access to food, however- the WCCO is the only place where students don’t have to pay for meals.
Eateries such as Olives and Plate, Zesti Lemonz, Vida Café are incredibly expensive and attract students who can afford them, while dining halls cater to students who pay in advance for their meals.
The WCCO consists of the Masidleni daily meal project (which serves lunch), the Wits Food Bank (which distributes meal packs on 3 weekdays between 3 and 4pm) the meals can be taken home, and the food gardens, which has student volunteers who grow vegetables for those in need and for the food bank.
The food bank also relies on donations and therefore risks running out food -which happened in 2016 when former SRC member Thami Pooe encouraged students to find alternative sources of food while the bank waited on donations. In response to this, Singh told Wits Vuvuzela that there is always an anxiety of not having enough food because the demand is high, and they depend on the generosity of others.
Letsoalo has now started collecting her meals on Monday, September 4, at the dining hall after she managed to save up money. “I have been saving for quite some time from the money I made while sewing and altering clothes for students and from my teaching practical,” said Lestsoalo.
She explained that she noticed differences between the WCCO and dining halls. “I realized that you can never fear running out of food at the dining hall because they cater for everyone that paid.” She added that whilst one might feel “embarrassed and anxious” queuing for food at the WCCO, you feel proud collecting it from the dining hall, as it’s an “elite space.”
“Imagine if I lived like this all my academic years, I would do so well, having the WCCO was great, however the university needs to ensure that it’s dependable. I’m starting to enjoy varsity now knowing that someone is cooking for me,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. She added that the WCCO closes during recess “there’s no food and no lunch, what about the students who are still here and need it.”
Creating a food secure future
Although poverty largely contributes to food insecurity, climate change is contributing to the problem. To conscientize people about this, the WCCO held a workshop series from August 14 to September 6, 2023, focusing on climate justice and food sovereignty.
August 14 was an introductory seminar where Professor Vishwas Satgar spoke about the role of the WCCO and its partnership with organizations such as La via Campesina, The Climate Justice Charter Movement, South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre.
Singh said the education program was aimed at teaching students about how weather patterns influence their access to food. “We’re hoping to get people to grow and control their own food, but also understand that the climate crisis doesn’t affect everyone equally, the poor will experience it at a larger scale.”
Students have been attending the program consistently, “I think what I took from this is that there’s nothing we can really do to prevent climate change because its already here, but we need to make sure that we don’t leave people behind when working towards food sovereignty,” said attendee, Leniese Kock who also volunteers at the community gardens.
Food insecurity is a crisis larger than expected at this institution, it is now a question of what can be done to ensure that students do not drop out because of hunger.
FEATURED IMAGE: A graphic showing a frustrated Wits University student that has to choose between eating or studying. Visualization: Sfundo Parakozov
A 20-year-old Wits medical student compiled a poetry album to share the lived experience of a black South African woman that is tired of shrinking herself to be palatable.
The Rainbow Nation is Black by Nonhlanhla Siwela is a poetry anthology which has also been released as a 19-track deluxe album which interrogates identity, race and gender.
The deluxe version was released on September 1, 2023 after the initial release of the 12-track album on September 25, 2021. The deluxe album is an extended version of the first and includes more poems while exploring three themes from the original book.
The first theme – white – includes the poems Our Boys and Cry, Black men, Cry which encourages black men to express themselves in a way that is not guided by patriarchy and social expectations. Siwela articulates this well in Our Boys, “When will somebody tell the elders that our boys are underage, that our boys are exactly that, just boys,” she writes.
A black woman’s trauma in a gender-based violence (GBV)-ridden South Africa was a topic explored in the second theme – grey. Using poems like: Bring Back Our Girls/Uyinene Is Not Dead; Only Love and My Biggest Fear as a guide, Siwela shared how a black woman’s life in South Africa belongs to anybody but herself. She went as far as saying that her biggest fear “is to die because somebody’s son thinks he is God”.
Through a poem titled I Wish, Siwela confronts her blackness as a South African woman. This is the last theme – black. Without wishing to be a part of any other race, she speaks of a blackness as a burden to her existence. As someone that went to St. Johns school for girls, she did not enjoy having to introduce herself by a nickname so it can be easily pronounced, yet children from other races never had to shorten or simplify their names for anyone.
A Young Poets Mind – as she refers to herself, started writing when she was 15 in 2017 at St. Johns Diocesan School for Girls in Pietermaritzburg. As a scholarship learner from grade eight till grade ten, she recalls how her mother would constantly remind her how grateful she had to be for that opportunity and “not be too Zulu [at St. Johns]”.
To her, this was a moment of realisation. “All this time I have had to make myself more palatable to the white system, even at my school. It felt like [the school] was doing me a favour,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. This is when the writing of I Wish began.
When Uyinene Mrwetyana was murdered, she started organising silent protests at her school and wrote a lot of poetry around it, including Uyinene Is Not Dead. “[The poem] was [recited] in assemblies at different schools in KZN, that is how much I saw my poetry impacting people,” Siwela said.
Friend and third year medical student, Paballo Mofokeng (21) described Siwela’s poetry as her introduction to a whole new world of the arts and culture. “I always associated the arts with classical music and all of that stuff, I didn’t think it could apply to modern kids and modern people, until Nonhlanhla,” said Mofokeng. “Also, the poetry that we did in school was not directed to black kids, [it] was not directed to black girls,” she said.
The deluxe album is available on all digital streaming platforms and serves as a multimedia companion to the text.
FEATURED IMAGE: Nonhlanhla Siwela enjoying a page from her poetry anthology, The Rainbow Nation is Black. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe
Wits LGBTQ+ students have proposed accommodations exclusively catering to them, to foster inclusion and safety for the queer community
The Wits University management, consisting of the dean of students, the director of campus housing, and the Board of Residence (BOR) is weighing the feasibility of a queer only residence. This was done following a ‘queer-safe house proposal’ by two transgender students.
The students, Samora Mbambi and Jordan Lee Green, first approached Tish White, programme coordinator at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Projects after encountering difficulties at their respective accommodations.
Mbambi, a transgender woman, came to Wits in her first year in 2020, having already fully transitioned, she was assigned to a men’s only residence, to share a room with two male students.
“Not only did it make me uncomfortable, but it also equally made them uncomfortable, because they would always mabe phuma [when they would leave the room] to go to the kitchen, other boys would laugh at them” explained Mbambi.
Mbambi and Green were initially told by management that a queer safe house would exclude students based on their sexual orientation.
However, White escalated the matter to the dean of student affairs, Jerome September, who took it up to the director of Campus Housing and Residence Life (CHRL) Basil Mugwena. Last month, the pair, together with the students and the BOR met to deliberate on the viability of the proposal.
As part of their proposal, the students conducted a survey through Activate – a queer student society at Wits – asking their peers if they would apply to live in a queer only residence. The survey received a resounding response, with 95.8% of the people surveyed answering yes to the question.
Anele Zulu* said that the bi-gendered system that Wits uses to assign students to residences should be revisited. “It has been triggering me with dysphoria, as I am forced to share a room and unit with men while I’m a woman and in my transitioning phase.”
In August 2018, the institution removed gender prefixes from communication to students to promote inclusion of transgender students. In the statement Wits said, “the University recognizes that it is invalidating and distressing for a person who, for an example, was assigned female at birth but identifies as male to be constantly addressed by a non-affirming title in University correspondence and systems.” However, based on these students’ concerns, more can be done.
Green emphasized: “we know that they strive for inclusion and equality. We would simply like to push this a little further”.
The queer-safe house team told Wits Vuvuzela that the mixed residence option is “integrated on paper”, but because of people’s attitudes and biases, there is still a long way to go to ensure that some queer students in res feel safe.
The name with * was changed to protect the student’s identity.
FEATURED IMAGE: Samora Mbambi, one part of the queer safe house proposal team. Photo by Morongoa Masebe.
The 2022/2023 Wits Student Representative Council assumed office with great ambitions and many promises for students, but did they deliver?
During what was a special year for the University of the Witwatersrand as it turned 100-years-old, the 2021/2022 SRC celebrated a mini milestone of their own by serving a full term without any protest action taking place on campus. A rare occurrence as it has become the norm to expect the annual demonstrations brought on by issues linked to academic and financial exclusion.
Their successors on the other hand – the 2022/2023 cohort – assumed office with a responsibility to maintain this peace on campus while acting on frustrations raised by students like the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s accommodation cap and the registration of students with historical debt. These and the issues below are some of the stumbling blocks the SRC has had to face.
SRC elections take place annually over a space of two consecutive days. The polls open at nine in the morning and close at eight in the evening on both days, with the goal of achieving at least 25% voter turnout. Last year, this was not the case.
The 2022/2023 SRC election failed to meet the 25% threshold by 8pm. Only 24,08% of the 41 794 students at Wits had cast their votes and the deadline had to be extended for an additional hour. An occurrence last seen during the 2020/2021 elections. To make matters worse, by the time the polls closed, the total number of voters had only increased by a percentage point.
What was introduced to the students as a council of 21 members, now only has 18 student representatives. Following the #WitsShutdown, elected President Aphiwe Mnyamana, support officer Lisa Sabaca together with clubs, societies, organisations (CSO) and student governance officer Solami Buthelezi were suspended and are currently still attending their respective disciplinary hearings.
The #WitsShutdown was a call by the SRC to mobilize students to bring all campus activities to a halt through protest action. With issues around financial and academic exclusion at the core of the protest. However, some of the actions taken under this hashtag, like the destruction of public and institutional property were deemed reckless, illegal and lawless – resulting in the suspensions.
Kamogelo Mabe is now the acting President and has delegated the tasks of the CSO and student governance officer to the office of the deputy president.
While there are no set goals for the SRC as a collective, it is important to hold them to the promises made while campaigning. Ten members of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – a SASCO (South African Students Congress) & ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League) alliance – ran for SRC with the same manifesto. All of them made it into the council. In it, they demanded a safe house on campus for victims of gender-based violence (GBV), reducing international students’ 75% upfront payment to 30% and called for allowances to be processed and paid by the first of each month.
Bukisa Boniswa was the only member of the EFFSC (Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command) – that made it into the SRC. Their manifesto was longer and included demands like a 24-hour bus operating beyond Braamfontein, campus health operating 24 hours and a Visa facilitation service office on campus for students’ consultation.
It is worth mentioning that Lesego Makinita and Solami Buthelezi ran as independent candidates, but Makinita was a former longstanding member of the PYA and Buthelezi is a SASCO member.
Buthelezi’s campaign was women centred, demanding free sanitary pads, a GBV safe house like the PYA and the introduction of a rule that will exclude students with sexual offences from staying at Wits residences. Makinita’s campaign focused broadly on improved accommodation, transportation, health services and financial assistance for students.
What was delivered on
The 2022/2023 cohort introduced the century of inclusion fund. These were funds aimed at registering students with debt and bringing back students who faced financial exclusion.
The money for this was raised through several initiatives that brought in a total of R12.6 million. Falling short of the R33 million required to help students in need.
Accommodation in and around campus has always been a challenge. However, NSFAS’s introduction of a R45 000 cap on accommodation, exacerbated the problem.
Working together with the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO), the SRC was able to help students apply for a hardship fund that was dedicated to securing free accommodation for students. Moreover, this fund was also able to help students waiver the R10 000 needed upfront before moving into Wits residences.
Lastly, the promise to address feminine hygiene was also fulfilled. Through the installation of sanitary pad dispensers, the SRC finally delivered on their #EndPeriodPoverty campaign, which was initially spearheaded by last term’s SRC deputy president, Lesego Louw.
Issues NOT addressed
In the presence of these achievements, are some dropped balls. The #WitsShutdown for instance saw several key SRC thrown out of office and delayed the start of the academic year for those who participated in particular. Most of the student population continued with classes in a blended mode when the protest threatened in-person attendance.
Moreover, 559 NSFAS beneficiaries have been defunded since the second semester began. According to a tweet by the SRC, of the 10 000 students that are covered by the financial aid scheme, only 1 425 of the students had received their allowances by July 11th and about 3 000 of them were yet to be onboarded to the new system.
While having promised to demand a consistent payment system for allowances, National Research Ffoundation (NRF) and Gauteng City Region Academy (GCRA) beneficiaries have never received allowances on the same day for two consecutive months.
Additionally, students allege that the SRC has been unable to assist with ongoing maintenance issues at residences such as rolling blackouts outside of loadshedding hours at the residences on west campus, water cuts and sometimes lack of hot water at Junction in Parktown.
With this year’s elections around the corner – voting set to start on September 19 – there are many things to be considered before casting your vote.
While one’s campaign will always contain promises, it is important to think about feasibility and the challenges that being in the SRC comes with.
FEATURED: The officially announced members of the Wits 2022/2023 Student Representative Council (SRC). Photo: Supplied/@Wits_SRC
The book tracks South African women’s experiences with domestic violence over a 100 year period, many of them living in fear and terror in their own homes, some murdered by the intimate partners they shared those spaces with.
Brodie, a veteran journalist, writer and lecturer at the Wits Centre for Journalism was in discussion with broadcaster and journalist Azania Mosaka at the book’s launch at Exclusive Books, Rosebank on September 6.
“By definition, terror is the deliberate instillment of fear…when controlling partners feel as if they are losing control, they up the levels of violence to instil more fear and for them, control,” said Brodie. There are many instances of instilling fear, from smashing a phone to stalking – anything that may cause emotional, physical or any other form of distress.
“Women are often killed with protection orders in their handbags. Police should intervene ‘on the small stuff’ (warning signs) before the ‘big stuff’ happens.”
Dr Nechama Brodie
There is a huge failure of the police and justice system when women seek protection from their domestic partners but are not taken seriously. A more intersectional approach which includes healthcare services and the judiciary is needed she emphasised.
A big takeaway from this book is that the warning signs are usually there. Friends and family see abusive relationships and may know about the abusive nature of partners (mainly men) but ignore it until it is too late. Some families and friends paint violent partners as “devoted” and ignore calls for help from women by sending them back to the abuser for “the sake of the family” explained Brodie.
“Bodies show a life of terror,” said Mosaka, referring to a 2019 case of a 54-year-old woman who was murdered by her partner and had her body dumped in a veld, left to decompose. Pathologists had to examine her bones, with her cause of death (ultimately finding that she was beaten with a brick) indistinguishable from previous injuries – some healed, some had not. Almost every bone imaginable was broken at some point.
For those who survive and report their abuse, the risk of being retraumatized is high during the trial process. Character assassinations, slut shaming and sanitizing the abuser’s image are some of the things victims face in court. “The fact that she was drunk or spoke back does not excuse her for being murdered…this links to the historical nature of the societal entitlement of men over women’s bodies,” explained Brodie.
This is Brodie’s third book on true crime in South Africa. She admitted that she thought she could not finish the book halfway through because of the subject matter, but it was more important to finish writing it. “The terror was far too real. It is a heavy book to read because some of the stories become relatable,” she shared.
Having read the book, member of parliament Glynnis Breytenbach said it is “hugely important, impeccably researched . . . It must be said, and it must be read”.
Attendee, Tannur Anders says she wants to read the book because “Dr. Brodie is an incredible researcher and journalist. [Her] extensive data-driven work provides valuable insights to better understand South Africa.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Dr. Nechama Brodie poses proudly with her third crime book at its launch on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne.
There comes a time when all birds must fly the nest and leave the comfort of their parents’ home, but for Generation Z, the time is nigh, and it seems there may be nowhere else to land.
“Out of reach.” “Impossible.” “Unaffordable.” These are the words used by members of Generation Z (Gen-Z) on the possibility of buying their own house in their twenties, according to an experimental Instagram poll of 38 respondents run by Wits Vuvuzela.
However, a 2022 Rocket Mortgage survey revealed that 72% of their Gen-Z sample (2000 people of ages 18-26) are highly motivated to buy a home in the near future but, as interest rates reach their highest peak in 15 years this month, buying a house in South Africa is more expensive than ever.
The South African Reserve Bank responded to a world-wide increase in inflation rates, which neared the 8% mark in South Africa at the end of 2022. Raising the bank repo rate to 8.25% meant that the prime lending rate rose to 11.75%, the highest it has been since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. A higher lending rate means that taking out large loans from a bank, such as a bond on a house, becomes more expensive. For younger generations hoping to live on their own, this has added another obstacle to an already almost impossible dream.
“Unfortunately, it is very difficult for young people to purchase property in this country. The current interest rates are higher than they have been in years, economic times are hard – many young people don’t have good credit scores which negatively affects their lending profile and many young people are not aware of the upfront costs that are required when purchasing a property [bond and transfer costs],” says Rob Pound, a real estate agent working in Johannesburg.
The latest FNB property barometer reveals that first-time-buyer numbers are on the decline and the average age at which South Africans can afford their own home is 35. The report cited the rising cost of living, inflation rate and unemployment rate as causes for so few people in their twenties affording homes of their own.
This is supported by real estate agent Ronald Oliphant, a Braamfontein area specialist who said that he has seen fewer young people looking to buy or rent properties this year. Braamfontein, Ferndale and Fontainebleau remain popular areas for young first-time buyers in Johannesburg, but the latest Lightstone report indicates that only 18% of stable homeowners in Ferndale are under the age of 35. This number decreases to 16% in Braamfontein and 5% in Fontainebleau.
For those young people who overcome financial burdens and manage to buy their own homes, the struggle does not end there. “I once had a client who was 27 years old and he found one of my properties, which was R850,000. He said he could afford it because the bond repayments would be the same cost as the rent he was paying at the time, and he was so excited to be purchasing a property rather than ‘paying someone else’s bond,’” said Pound. “He wasn’t aware of the upfront transfer and bond costs that are required when buying property, which in his case were around R56,000. He had to come up with this money in two months in order to buy the house, but he was living hand-to-mouth, there was no way he could afford it.”
South African banks, aware of this difficult situation, are open to giving first-time home buyers a bond of 105% in order to cover the upfront costs for properties under the value of R1.8 million. However, for this young buyer only one South African bank offered to grant him this deal.
Jesse Van Der Merwe (24), a recent Wits engineering graduate also decided to invest in her own property when she started her working life, however, after buying her own apartment, realized that she could not afford to keep up with the day to day costs of owning a property and living alone. “I realized that I can’t really afford to live [in the apartment] and like…eat, so I’m renting it out while I stay at home until I can actually afford to move into it.”
With unaffordable upfront costs and bond repayment rates, many young people who can afford it are pushed into renting property instead. This has led to a high demand for rental properties which, according to the FNB report, has made rental costs in Johannesburg more expensive in recent years. “Real-estate is simply supply and demand,” said Pound.
According to Oliphant, a tenant may only be considered for a property if the rent does not exceed one third of their income, but, as rental rates increase due to high demand, many young people apply for rentals that they do not comfortably afford.
Julia Rolle (24), a 2D character animator from Johannesburg who works remotely, made the decision to move away from the city to the seaside town of Wilderness on the garden route. To afford the rent on what she refers to as a “teeny tiny place”, Rolle pays 35% of her income on rent. When asked if she has had to sacrifice paying for other things for her accommodation, she answered, “Of course, but I wouldn’t trade the independence and having my own space.”
Interest rates have remained steady the last two months as inflation begins to slow, giving hope to young home hunters that the situation might yet improve. However, in a press conference held on July 20 in Pretoria, Governor Lesetja Kganyago said that the interest rates have not yet peaked, “Is this the end of the hiking cycle? No it is not. It depends on the data and the risks. That’s what it boils down to.”
In such an economic climate, some young people such as Jennifer Greef (25) have no choice but to stay in their family home for longer than they planned, “I do think I could move out, but my living conditions at home are just so much better than what they would be if I moved out because I would have to move somewhere really small,” she said. “I think still living with my parents is the right way to go about things right now because then I can save and spend my money on other things such as insurance and medical aid rather than rent.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Feature Image: A real estate agent hands over keys to a young gen-z as they buy their first home. Photo: Kimberley Kersten
The Wits student forum hosted the second part of the Project Revolutionize campaign which aims at tackling the lack of sanitary products and menstrual hygiene education within the university.
In a two-day activation campaign, which took place at Wits’ Ampitheatre and education campus — Project Revolutionize empowered students with knowledge and tools to help them manage their menstrual flow.
Project Revolutionize was formed by the Wits Business School student council to work towards eliminating period poverty at the institution; it has since been joined by different faculties within the institution.
Day one of the activation was themed “Painting the campus red.” The day consisted of engagements between the hosts of the event and the students, where they taught about feminine hygiene. Later, a pad drive was conducted where students were asked to donate if they had the means to.
The campaign collaborated with the Mina Foundation – an organisation also working towards alleviating period poverty. The foundation assisted by handing out menstrual cups to students, while informing them how they worked. They managed to give close to 200 menstrual cups to students.
“Ending period poverty is one thing we are keen to do; and currently we are doing that very well, we have [since] given out about one thousand cups here at Wits and today we are giving out more”, said Angela Shongwe, a junior facilitator of the Mina Foundation.
The second day of the activation was called “A REDvolutionary night” – and it only consisted of a panel discussion. The keynote speaker was former Witsie and one of the leaders of the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa. She is currently the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation for the ANC in parliament. She said that pad drives should be paired with something like a developmental programme that equips the needy with skills.
“I find it very cringey when people go to an area to donate a box of pads that’s going to last the people a month at most, not to say it’s not appreciated but those people need so much more than pads,” explained Mkhatshwa.
Meanwhile, Tshifhiwa Manyage, the co-founder of Project Revolutionize, invited the attendees to share their experiences of what it was like when they first had their periods.
“[When I got my period] I asked one of my teachers to get a pad and luckily she had one, but when I got home and explained what happened I was[not met with] conversations about what happens, that you going to experience period pains…Instead my mom said ‘I take you to school to get an education and this is partly what I’m expecting them to teach you’”, said Siyamthanda Mashicila, a Wits Honours in Arts theatre and performance student, sharing her experience.
In her closing remarks Mkhatshwa advised the students who are in councils to go to the Gender Equity Office and advocate for menstrual leave; saying that its unfair for women to have to show up when they are going through a tough time because of their periods. “Other countries have it and if they can do it, we can also do it”, she added.
Yolisa Sphambo, co-founder of Project Revolutionize and the Transformation Officer of the Wits Business School student council reflected on the activation and said: “People know what Project Revolutionize is and that is what makes me happy because if they know about it then they are going to start talking about it”. She said this will help break away from the shame about periods and work towards combating institutional period poverty.
On the last day of the campaign, Manyage told Wits Vuvuzela that although the outcome did not meet their expectations as they were hoping for a full house, Project Revolutionize had achieved its intended outcome for the day, “I’m grateful that at least we got a lot of engagement and a lot of discourse going”.
The evening was wrapped up and the audience was given an opportunity to have one on ones with speakers if they wished to and were offered refreshments.
FEATURE IMAGE: Yolisa Sphambo the co-founder of the project at day one of the activation.Photo:Aphelele Mbokotho
Top achieving students were invited by the Wits Counselling Careers and Development Unit (CCDU) to network and fast-track their next career moves with potential employers.
The CCDU Professional Speed Dating event saw over 100 students from different faculties engage with representatives for multiple companies on August 25, at the Professional Development Hub (PDH) at Wits University.
From companies like L’Oréal South Africa, Life Health Care, BMW Motors, and Standard Bank, students were spoilt for choice when it came to potential suitors. Students with a minimum average of 65% were allowed five-minute interviews, rotating between the companies to gauge what each field had to offer and to gain firsthand interview experience.
Between the dates, ten-minute informative sessions on the latest developments in specific fields were given. This included everything from new disinfectants against bacteria, to transformative constitutionalism in South African law and discussions around decolonizing the content in the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement’s (CAPS) economic document.
Along with this, students were also given slots to present some of their research through presentations.
Organiser of the event, Bongi Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela that the purpose of the event is to ensure that Wits graduates are “employable” and that they “possess the right attributes sought by employers.”
Many students seemed to have learnt a lot from the event despite only getting five-minutes with each employer. LLB Student Shaheed Wania told Wits Vuvuzela that there was a lot of competition, but he has learnt that “just because you are doing something in a particular field, it does not mean you are stuck in that field.”
Companies in attendance found the event promising with Ndlovu saying that BMW South Africa and the Boston Consulting Group (BSG) have already been contacting students who attended, impressed with their work. Ndlovu said the event was all about “opening opportunities for students.”
South African Breweries representative, Rene Kohler-Thomas said that their company is not looking for “skills” in the general sense but are looking for students who are “dreaming big” and can adapt to change. She added that she has thoroughly enjoyed engaging with students as you can see the “quality of the talent coming through.”
Ndlovu says the CCDU is planning to host more events like this in the future as it teaches students valuable skills for the working world, provides them with networking opportunities, and gives them the chance to brand themselves to potential employers.
FEATURED IMAGE: LLB student Kamogelo Mathekga being interviewed by law firm, Louw Genis & Rajoo Incorporated during the Professional Speed Dating Event at the Professional Development Hub. Photo: Georgia Cartwright
Trailblazing women encourage young women to challenge patriarchal norms.
“Being a black woman is extremely difficult especially when you get to the top, because the assumption is that you slept your way to it,” these were the words of former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
She was speaking at the Women in Leadership symposium held at the Wits Senate room on August 22, where the theme ‘Dare to lead’ was aimed at encouraging young women to assume positions of power without fear.
Along with Phakeng, The Wits School of Social Sciences invited speaker of the Johannesburg City Council Collen Makhubele, Group executive director in mining, Sibu Majozi and Policy advisor, Lutfiyya Dean to the women month event.
Attendees were eager to know about tackling power dynamics and sexism in the workspace, which panellists addressed as they delved into their personal experiences.
Majozi argued that women need to understand that they live in a post-colonial and patriarchal world, but they must rise above the entrenched system. “You need to earn the right [to take on a leadership position] especially if you’re a black woman,” said Majozi.
Emphasizing the inherent double standards of patriarchy, Phakeng said the media and the public alike have been overly critical of her over trivial things like dancing. “There was a male vice chancellor in this country that was charged with gender-based violence at this very university [Wits] but the parents, students and women in this country did not raise their voices,” said Phakeng.
Attendee, Sibusiso Msibi enquired about the significance of feminism in empowering women, where the panel reached a consensus that the socio-political movement is only relevant to some extent because of its lack of intersectionality and failing to consider ‘the struggles of black women’.
In response to the fact that women hold 29% senior management positions globally, Makhubele told Wits Vuvuzela that there is clearly something we have not cracked as a society, and it must come from the current generation of young people. “In order to change the political space-we need something more than a feminist movement,” said Makhubele.
At the end of the seminar, panellists encouraged students to reach out if they need personal mentorship.
FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng speaking at the women in leadership symposium at Wits University. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov
The failure by registered organ donors to disclose their intentions to donate to their families – is causing a stumbling block for the growth of this kind of surgical procedure, which saves lives
As Organ Donor Awareness Month comes to an end, the lack of donators continues to be a concern for doctors and organisations that work to bring awareness about this medical procedure in the country.
According to the Western Cape Government, more than 4000 people are awaiting a life-saving organ or cornea transplant, however, the country has a mere 0.2% of registered organ donors. In addition to this, South Africa has one of the lowest rates of deceased organ donations in the world with merely one in four donors per million population.
Dr Sharan Rambarran from the transplant clinic at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre explained that there are various factors contributing to the low number, including religious and cultural.
However, even those factors considered, being a registered donor means nothing if the giver is not having the necessary conversations with their loved ones. This is because the organ donation system in South Africa uses an “opt-in” approach — meaning regardless of whether an individual is a registered organ donor or has their wishes to be a donor expressed in their will, their family would have to consent to the donation.
“You can be registered with every association, you can be signed up on every organ donor registry, ultimately when you are declared brain dead your family have the last say as to whether or not you can be an organ donor,” said Rambarran.
Dr Sharan Rambarran in his office at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Transplant Unit after discussing the various factors which contribute to the low number of registered donors in South Africa.
Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers
The president of Save Seven Jonty Wright, and vice-president, Naazim Nagdee said they have since learned that this problem can be avoided if interested donors can inform their loved ones about their intentions to donate.
“We ran a small survey and realised that over 90% of our peers didn’t know this simple fact and that’s a part of why young people don’t sign-up, it seems complex and time-consuming when it is actually not,” said the pair that works to raise awareness around organ donation.
Tanya Bothma (43) has experienced both ends of the spectrum. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, she said in December 2017, she had a double lung transplant after living with a chronic lung disease since birth. It was the first transplant of its kind to be done anywhere in Africa. However, five months prior to her transplant, Tanya lost her brother in a paragliding accident. Her brother was an organ donor and although his organs were unable to be harvested, he was able to donate tissue and help 26 people in need.
The sad reality is not every story ends like Bothmas. Jessie Ann Losper faced a different reality when her husband was diagnosed with stage four renal kidney failure in 2020.
Although Losper was a match for her husband, he died before the transplant could take place. Losper said this was an eye-opening experience for her as she got a first-hand encounter of what the people in need of transplants and their families go through.
“Not many are as fortunate as we were to find a donor. Donors are desperately needed for many. During Taariqs’ (her husband) time at the hospital we met so many people who have been on the programme even longer than him and are depressed and hopeless because they have no support from family or friends.” She continued, “Loved ones have abandoned them because of them not being able to be as active as they once were, to earn salaries, even because of the level of care they sometimes need. It’s heart-wrenching to see and know.”
After experiencing both ends of the spectrum Bothma pleads with the public, “Please have the conversation with your family members about donating your organs after you have died, to save more lives like mine.”
Infographic: Six facts about organ donation
FEATURED IMAGE: A Wits student registering to become an organ donor on the Organ Donation Foundation website. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers
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 […]