Wits needs an internal facelift

Bubbling paint covers the walls in the stairwells of Rober Sobukwe Block. Photo: Ruby Delahunt.
Rotting windowpanes where water leaked in and pooled in the stairwell of the building. Photo: Ruby Delahunt.

A roaring 120 years at Joburg Zoo

Approximately 20 000 men, women, and children flocked to the Johannesburg Zoo for birthday celebrations.

It was a sheer coincidence that Joburg Zoo’s birthday celebration fell on Human Right’s Day, March 21, giving them the chance to create awareness around everyone’s “right to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations” (Section 24b of the South African Constitution).


Executive Director, Louise Gordon, stated their priority has and always will be conservation and education. The zoo is involved in rehabilitation and exchange programmes on and off site to broaden their reach and ability in the environmental sphere.

She said “if people don’t know, they won’t conserve,”: therefore, the zoo has slashed their entrance fee from R120 per adult to just R20 during their birthday month to encourage affordable access.

Elephants enjoying all the attention at Joburg Zoo.
Photo: Victoria Hill
A lazy tiger enjoying the view at Johannesburg Zoo.
Photo: Victoria Hill


The concrete jungle, namely Johannesburg, has long said goodbye to preconceived ideas about animal treatment in zoos. Instead, they have evolved and revolutionised themselves into being one of a few zoos in an urban setting that homes the Big Five. As part of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Johannesburg Zoo has a high standard to uphold, putting animal welfare first.


Whilst strolling around the enclosures, the many animals seemed to be having the time of their lives, with many sleeping under the sunny skies. Local artists were blaring tunes on the main stage, but Jenny Moodley, spokesperson for Joburg Zoo, assured the animals were protected from any harmful decibels by a buffering system actively established.


Johannesburg Zoo plays an integral role in the Wits community, because of the educational opportunities it affords to environmental and medical students. Moodley said the ongoing exchange programme between the university and zoo, allows the youth of South Africa to learn from all angles.


“For example, if we are doing an autopsy on one of our big species […] we invite the students to observe,” said Moodley. The zoo, therefore, offers Wits students a privileged opportunity to learn amongst South Africa’s natural heritage.


Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Nathi Mvula, a senior environmental education specialist, shared his views on why he believes Johannesburg Zoo reaching their latest milestone is important:

An interview with Joburg Zoo’s senior educational environmental specialist, Nathi Mvula. Video creds: Victoria Hill

To have opened in 1904, and to still be open today, Joburg Zoo has proved itself a national icon and beacon for wildlife conservation.

Alexandra: A microcosm of the Joburg’s housing crisis

Corruption, inequality, mismanagement, and most importantly, the rapid growth of informal settlements—are all testament to the city’s flawed housing system.

On the fateful morning of August 31, 2023 the City of Johannesburg was jolted awake by a harrowing inferno that engulfed a building at 80 Albert Street, claiming the lives of nearly 80 people. This tragic incident spotlighted the alarming reality of numerous hijacked buildings scattered across Johannesburg. These buildings often house the poorest of the poor and are typically overcrowded, unregulated and unsafe.

Though much of the discourse centred on hijacked buildings, it illuminated a more pressing concern – Johannesburg’s staggering housing backlog. Currently, the city faces a backlog of roughly 400 000 homes. With the current rate of delivering sitting at approximately 3 500 housing units per year, it would take the city 100 000 years to address the backlog.

While these figures are staggering, they barely scratch the surface of the problem. In 2022, former member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for human settlements, Mlungisi Mabaso, revealed that the backlog exceeded half a million when factoring in informal settlements and hostels.

 

Four facts about the housing backlog in Johannesburg. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Although South Africa’s Constitution guarantees the right to access adequate housing for all, prioritising, “those living in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerable housing,” the country’s social housing system remains deeply flawed.

In a nation grappling with a staggering 32.6% unemployment rate,  and where 18.3 million South Africans between the ages of 18-59 are living below the food poverty line, the social housing system mandates households to have a minimum income of R1 500 in order to qualify.

According to Stat SA’s General Household Survey (GHS) South Africa faces a severe dependence on social grants, with social grants constituting the second most significant source of income for households, accounting for 50.2%. Additionally, 20% of households suffer from food insecurity. These statistics raise a critical question: If millions of South Africans rely on social grants and live below the food poverty line, where are they expected to find the means to participate in social housing programmes?

When faced with a housing backlog of this magnitude, people are compelled to take matters into their own hands. This is precisely what numerous South Africans have done at various informal settlements across the city. Therefore, it is conceivable that the housing backlog is intricately connected to the emergence and rapid increase of informal settlements.

While the city lacks a formal definition for informal settlements, they operate under the following working definition: “An impoverished group of households who have illegally or without authority taken occupation of a parcel of land (with the land owned by the Council in the majority of cases) and who have created a shanty town of impoverished illegal residential structures built mostly from scrap material without provision made for essential services and which may or may not have a layout that is more or less formal in nature.”

In 2010, the city reported 180 informal settlements scattered throughout its various regions. Fast forward to 2023, and that number has surged to approximately 320 informal settlements citywide. This raises the question: What is being done to address the situation of those residing in these informal settlements?

 

The increase in informal settlements in Johannesburg over a 13 year period. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Alexandra, Alex, Gomora

Situated across from Sandton, the wealthiest square mile in Africa, and separated only by the M1 freeway, lies the township of Alexandra also nicknamed Alex or Gomora. Upon observing this area, one is struck by the makeshift structures, known as shacks, and even more astonished by the high population density. Hundreds of thousands of people have been residing in this informal settlement for many years. They have turned to this option while waiting to be provided housing by the City of Johannesburg, with some having been on the waiting list for nearly 50 years.

Ward councillor Floyd Ngwenya represents ward 107 in Alexandra and states that the settlement is hugely overpopulated. “When we look at the books Alex was supposed to have at least 60 000 thousand people staying in Alex, but we are [almost] a million now,” said Ngwenya. It is estimated that Alex currently has roughly 700 000 residents. Alexandra is clearly in urgent need of social housing, but not much has been done to address this issue.

Mabaso told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The backlog in fact started in 1996, in fact prior to 1996 because there are people with B forms that have [still] not been allocated [homes].”

When questioned about when he applied for social housing, Modise Christopher Bosielo (55) an Alex resident and father of three said, “I don’t remember [exactly] when, but it’s about twenty years.”

To add insult to injury, Boiselo and his wife are both unemployed and, and in his words, ‘”struggling to make ends meet”. However, he is aware that besides the housing backlog, he and his wife do not qualify for the existing social housing programmes due to not meeting the financial requirements.

While residents wait to be formally housed, their current living conditions are deplorable.

“Living conditions, I can describe it as the most challenging and I think for obvious reasons,” says Mabaso. He continues “They do not have proper houses; they are living in temporal structures that get affected in whatever condition of the weather. If it’s heavy raining it gets flooded and if it’s too hot, then you can’t stay inside. Above that there are no proper basic services that are provided. I mean all the services, the provision is on [a] temporal basis, the electrification, water, you know there is not proper sanitation.”

A Missed Opportunity – Alexandra Renewal Project

Despite the grim situation, policies and programmes have been implemented over the years to address housing issues in Alexandra. One of the programmes implemented was the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP). The ARP, initiated by the national government in 2001, and received a budget of R1.3 billion. Its purpose was to enhance the “physical, social, and economic environment of Alexandra.” A key goal was to augment housing and reduce population density in the area. The question is whether it has delivered on its intended promise, and the answer is no.

This resulted in what was termed the #TotalShutDownofAlex protests in August and July 2019. Residents of Alexandra mobilized in protest against the lack of service delivery in their community, specifically emphasizing the acute housing shortage. Subsequently, a collaborative investigation conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Public Protector was undertaken to address the myriad issues raised by the protestors. A pivotal aspect of this investigation focused on scrutinizing the management of funds allocated to the ARP.

The investigative team gathered submissions from numerous Alexandra residents. Many of them contended that the total funds allocated for housing under ARP were unaccounted for by the relevant government authorities. Residents of Alexandra further asserted that despite substantial spending under ARP, the housing outcomes in their area were disproportionately inadequate.

A submission presented by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) to the investigation team underscored the numerous gaps during the audit of the ARP. The AGSA noted inadequate project planning and a lack of proper documentation for project assessment. Moreover, the individual projects within the ARP were not efficiently executed and supervised. Due to a lack of documentation submitted by ARP, AGSA could also not verify if the funds allocated to the ARP were exclusively used for the project.  

Further submissions were made by the Group Forensic Investigation Services of the city of Johannesburg and they highlighted the following:

(a) Evidence of criminality, conflicts of interest on the part of certain service providers

(b) That the ARP management was marked by procurement fraud, post facto approvals, irregular awards, advance payments, unauthorised expenditure, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of up to R40 million;

(c) Projects not optimally managed thereby leading to poor work quality, late delivery of projects, project overruns;

(d) Tender and contractual disputes where contractors defaulted, filed for insolvency, contract terminated and court challenges, etc.

A Sector Vulnerable to Corruption

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Marie Huchzermeyer who is an associate professor at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and has done extensive research on informal settlements within the City of Johannesburg. Huchzermeyer says, “In the housing sector there’s long been a discussion about the RDP housing system not being fair and not being a good way of government spending its money, although it must also be recognised that at least the government is doing something, it does have a housing programme, it is rolling and it is allocating budget to it, but because it’s allocating such a lot of budget to housing, housing is also the most vulnerable to corruption.”

She also says that detecting corruption in this sector is challenging. “There are so many housing projects that are incomplete, where contractors have disappeared, and whether its corruption or whether its poor project management, budgets not being properly planned for and allocated, the capacity to actually deliver housing seems to be very fragile at the moment,” says Huchzermeyer.

The level of corruption is not lost on the residents of Alex and other informal settlements. “They know that the allocation processes are so fraud that when a housing project gets built politicians somehow interfere in the allocation of units and the people that were supposed to benefit from them don’t,” says Huchzermeyer.

“With corruption, it’s a reality, we cannot run away from it, and I think that’s the conundrum that the sector is facing,” says former human settlement MMC Mabaso.

He continues “I can tell you; you have a cartel in the construction [industry] that is operating, taking charge of the budget, and not delivering the good and the quality work that is expected. So, people are interested in the sector because you know you get rich quicker when you are a developer and that’s where their area of interest is actually at.” He says that it is the main challenge that is hindering the performance of the department.

While there appears to be significant mismanagement in the city’s housing sector, specifically Alex, the key question is what actions the city is taking to address this issue and whether those actions are enough.

Speaking on actions taken by the city Councillor Floyd told Wits Vuvuzela: “Currently the city of Johannesburg has implemented a project called UISP which is [the] Upgrading of Informal Settlement Programmes. That programme aims to identify informal settlements around Johannesburg and try and formalise those settlements within the spaces they are currently in. My ward with the informal settlements that we have, we have consultation meetings with residents of those informal settlements to say [ask] what is the best way you [the residents] think the government can assist you.”

A graphic detailing what a UISP is and the four phases of a UISP. Graphic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Mabaso’s sentiments are that the city has not done enough. “The city has not done enough to address the housing backlog and the informal settlements; we have not done enough,” he says.

Mabaso says while grants are in place to address informal settlements they are not being used correctly. “If you look at the performance of the city now, I can tell you they are not spending the grants [on] the programmes they should be spending them [on].”


He also highlights the alarming fact that construction has not commenced on recent housing projects that were implemented. He explains that this is due to the city’s capital budget being allocated to projects that were started years ago.

“There are no construction of houses in the mega project that we are currently implementing so, every expenditure that is on our capital budget now is for the work that started [a] long time ago, so there are no new developments that are taking place. I know there is one that will be launched that we started three years ago, so the city has not really done enough.”

Over the years, various policies and programs have been implemented, whether they have been successful or not, to address the city’s housing needs. Changes have certainly taken place; however, Huchzermeyer says, “What hasn’t changed is the need for people to resort to informal settlements.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Seated on a bench, three friends gaze out over the landscape they call home—Alexandra. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

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FINANCE FEATURE: The struggle for accommodation at Wits

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.”


The crisis

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.

Students across universities in South Africa were denied places to stay because of the cap. The cap created a shortfall in accommodation fees for most students. A shortfall students could also not afford to cover. Many students left their homes only to find that they would be sleeping in libraries and outside accommodation offices when they came to university.

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

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Horrors of domestic violence explored in new book

“Believe women when they ask for help and believe men when they threaten women,” said Dr Nechama Brodie. 

Dr. Nechama Brodie signing her new book Domestic Terror at its launch at Rosebank on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne

Incidents of domestic violence are not isolated – they show patterns of systemic violence in South Africa. This is the chilling reality explored in Dr. Nechama Brodie’s new book Domestic Terror: Intimate partner violence in South Africa.

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.

Journalist and presenter Azania Mosaka facilitating the conversation at the book launch on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne

“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.

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FINANCE FEATURE: High interest rates wrecking young homeowners’ dreams

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 

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Queerness is not synonymous with activism 

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are tired of being assumed as change makers in binary spaces that exclude their queerness. 

While queerness is now visible in old and new media in society, members of the Activate Wits (LGBTQIA+ student society) argued that there is still much more work that can be done to cater to their needs. This was the central theme in the very first Queer Lekgotla, on Monday, August 7. 

The discussion was held at Solomon Mahlangu House (SH6). According to the student society’s advertisement, Queer Lekgotla was held in order “to engage in meaningful discussions concerning the needs and concerns of the queer community [at Wits].”  

Sihle Mazibu, former chairperson of Activate explained how queerness and activism should not be treated as synonyms. “Activism is tiring, activism is draining, and you will find yourself [pouring from an empty cup].   

Our job as queer people is to simply take up space,” she said.  

However, she recognised that it’s unfortunate that queer people must carry the burden of being “changemakers” in circles they normally frequent at.  

The rainbow flag detail on the Activate Wits blazer from behind the refreshments counter. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Meanwhile, panelist and Activate deputy chairperson Zandile Ndlovu said that during her high school years, she saw varsity as a space that would accommodate how she identifies. “I remember seeing somebody with pink hair kissing another person with pink hair” she said, adding that she remembers saying to herself, “I want to be you.” Yet her first experience from first year reflected the opposite of that.  

Ndlovu was surprised by how queerness was politicised in university. Referring to how straight identifying student leaders used it in a way that would help them appear as progressive, yet still excluding the people they claim to represent. 

Ndlovu said that when she would attend events that facilitate spaces for queer people, there would be straight women speaking there.” I was like… I am not sure if this is [how it is supposed to be],” she said. This is until she found Activate, a society she calls, “home”. 

Wits alumnus and fellow panellist, Moeketsi Koahela shared his experience of being an employee while being queer. For him, the workplace made him realise “activism is not for everyone, the struggle is not for everyone. I think it is a calling. 

“Not all of us have to go to the streets and picket, there is much more that can be done in terms of policy making,” he said. 

Koahela encouraged the attendees to start asking themselves, “What is my role?” because not all of them have to burn tyres. “Some of us are good in the boardroom and that is where we will be trying to find solutions from”.  

In closing, students were encouraged to find a type of activism that spoke to them as individuals —   and that they should wear queerness as an identity that speaks to who they are, and not as tools meant to fix the world. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Friends and members of Activate Wits that were in attendance at Queer Lekgotla (From left to right: Noma Sibanda, Sipho Mcani, Ayanda Ntuli, Lesego Makinita, Siyanda Madlokazi, Onkokame Seepamore) . Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

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Barnato’s academic dinner falls short of expectations

A night of rewarding hard work and academic excellence turned sour, as not all students received their certificates of achievement.  

Current and former residents of Barnato Hall who did exceptionally well in the 2022 academic year, left Convocation dining hall on West Campus empty handed at the residence’s 2023 academic dinner on Friday, August 4. 

The annual event started off well, with guest speaker, Theresa Oakley Smith, regaling the room with the history of the residence and her experience as its first warden in the 1980s.  

“[Barnato] was the first res that was mixed race and mixed gender,” she said, adding that it was foreign at the time because of the racial segregation that existed in the country under Apartheid laws.  

The first round of award giving began shortly after Smith got off stage. At the time, the dinner seemed to have started going well as everyone that got on stage received their certificate and took a picture with the current warden, Millicent Motheogane. 

The second guest speaker and masters in computer sciences student, Phindulo Makhado (24) said Barnato resident helped him socially and academically.  

“I am a living testament to the power of academic diversity and cross-disciplinary exploration [from Barnato],” he said.  

The more happier students – Gontse Maleka (22) and Glet Thwala (22) – who received their certificates of achievement at Barnato’s 2023 academic dinner that was held at Convocation dining hall. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

It was only after dinner service that the event took a turn. Chairperson of Barnato’s House Committee, Siphesinhle Shiba (22) got up on stage to handout the remaining certificates. However, the certificates she had were less than the students that were still waiting to receive.  

“We are still waiting for some certificates and the names that I will be calling now will not be receiving any tonight, but they can come and take a picture with a [decoy] certificate we have here,’ Shiba eventually announced. 

Some students opted not to go on stage for the picture as they felt it was pointless. A disgruntled theatre and performance arts student, Sanele Radebe (24) told Wits Vuvuzela, “I feel like I have been played [because] I am looking [nice] and the thing that I came here for is not here. Might as well not take a picture with that [fake] thing.” 

When asked about what the cause for this could be, Shiba (22) could not allow anyone in her committee to take the fall as she claimed that this was the printing company’s fault. “[The academic officer] submitted everything on time and the latest information was sent by Wednesday,” she told Wits Vuvuzela

Student of the night and Barnato’s 2022 highest achiever, Katlego Mashiane’s light could not be dimmed by the residence’s poor planning. Having passed last year with an average of 83.43%, Mashiane received a special award for her achievements and said, “I am overjoyed, it has been one hectic year.” Despite the earlier disappointment, most students stayed on until decided to the dinner officially ended. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of the certificates of achievement that were being awarded to the students in attendance of the academic dinner. Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

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Varsity Sports cancels hockey and cricket 

The well-known sports event disappointed qualifying teams by removing the hockey and cricket tournaments this year. 

Wits’ cricket and hockey team members qualifying to participate in the varsity cup games — alongside the top eight universities in South Africa — will not be partaking in the sports due to lack of sponsorship.  

Sharmin Naidoo, the sports officer for hockey at Wits said that sponsors pulled their funding from supporting these games; and new ones could not be found. According to the Varsity Sports website, the main sponsors for all included sports are FNB, Cashbuild and Suzuki. However, it is not yet clear why they pulled their money from cricket and hockey.  

Naidoo explained that all universities are part of a company called University Sports Company, which contracted ASEM Sports Entertainment and Media to manage and get sponsorships for Varsity Sports. 

 “This year they were only able to find sponsors for Varsity Cup [the rugby tournament] and some varsity sports. There have been no sponsors for cricket and hockey,” he said.   

The Wits Cricket team at the Walter Milton cricket oval on Wits main campus after winning their last match of the league in April 2023. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

Naidoo said that the varsity sports which have secured sponsorship besides rugby are men and women’s football as well as netball. 

The Wits hockey team has a history of competing in the Varsity Hockey tournament, according to Naidoo, and finished in second place in 2022. 

 However, Nono Pongolo, coach of the Wits’ cricket team said that to his knowledge, the team has never qualified to be included in the Varsity tournament, and “to have it ripped away from them like that is disappointing”. 

He said the team worked hard to win in their division in Pretoria, in the USSA tournament in 2022; and it is important for them to continue showcasing their talents. 

Pongolo added that the universities are organising a smaller cricket event amongst themselves which is set to take place at the University of Pretoria later this year, “so it’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s not the varsity cup.” However, he hope that they will be able to participate in the tournament in 2024. 

Wits’ cricket player Joshua Streak said Varsity Cup “is significant because of its name” and even though there are other tournaments, there are not as big. He added, “It’s an important tournament when it comes to [national and provincial] selections, and for exposure because it’s usually televised.”  

Wit’s hockey and cricket player Reese Scheepers said, “I’m extremely disappointed. We work extremely hard during the year to play in such a tournament. Now it feels like our hard work and talent won’t be displayed.” He continued, “I’m a passionate sportsman and I look[ed] forward to competing in such tournaments and now it feels like this year has been lost.”  

Storme Johnson, the chairperson of the Wits sports council, who played hockey for Wits in the Varsity Sports 2019 tournament said, “It was an experience that I will never forget. It is so sad that the younger girls in our team won’t get the opportunity to experience it.” 

Wits Vuvuzela reached out to previous sponsors of Varsity cricket and hockey for comment; but did not receive a reply by the time of publishing.

FEATURED IMAGE: a Wits cricket player kneels on the field after catching a ball at the Walter Milton cricket oval at Wits main campus. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

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Architecture students re-imagine the Matrix 

 Students are stepping in to redesign the hub of social life on east-campus, which aims to turn the food court into the ‘heart of Wits’. 

Final-year undergraduate students from the school of architecture and planning at Wits are working on a year-long project named the “Matrix Re-Imagined”, where they will be redesigning the food court.  

The project, which started this year, comes after tenants and users of the Matrix on east campus complained about the building not being user friendly. 

The task is aimed at rethinking how the space can be better utilised, instead of rebuilding a new building. It is not a campaign by the university management but stems from calls from tenants themselves, who spoke with lecturers in the architecture department to ask for a process of brainstorming a way to improve the way in which the space is used.

Believing that this would be a perfect practical application of what the students have learnt; the department developed the project into this year’s curriculum.

“[What we have gathered is that] there is a problem – the Matrix is not functioning properly,” said Wits school of architecture and planning lecturer Sandra Felix. 

“Students are the largest stakeholders of the use of the buildings on campus,” said Felix. This project will bring in completely different ideas than it would if the university were to bring in outside architects for the design.”  

Students have a lot of answers we [external architects] don’t have” she added. 

The project is currently in its research phase – and so far, students have interviewed both tenants and users of the space and found various prevalent issues of practicality.  

According to third-year architecture student Kyara De Gouveia, the issues found include having “bad entrances” which results in people flooding the area, narrow passages, and impractical locations for some of the vendors. For example, the clinic is located downstairs, making it difficult for those with mobility issues to access it. 

Bookseller at Campus Bookshop, Lebogang Rabothata described the current composition of the Matrix as “impractical” due to extremely tight entrances which results in a large congestion. She hopes for a redesign which allows users to be relaxed and use the space for “reading and studying”. 

The outdoor amphitheater located on east campus where students currently go to relax and work, with the Matrix in the background. Photo: Seth Thorne

As yet, there are plans to move all student office space (including clubs that are currently located by the science stadium and the Voice of Wits [VOW FM] which currently finds itself on the ninth floor of university corner) into the area; and making the space more student friendly with open study areas, and better connections to both the library lawns and the amphitheater.  

Later in the year, the students will exhibit their work and designs to university stakeholders and tenants. Based on their presentation, the university will then decide if they will adopt their redesigns.  

Students working on the project said they are aiming to make the Matrix the “heart of [student life at] Wits”.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, third-year architecture student Tshegofatso Mashile described the project as being pressure filled, yet exciting due to the opportunities it presents. “[This is] the beginning of every architect’s dream” she said.   

Another architecture student, Milan Prioreschi, said that this project is extremely motivational as it bridges the gap between university work and practical work outside. “We are getting real life experience for the first time”. 

If implemented, the improvements will form part of the university’s much larger “Building Impact Beyond 100” campaign, which was launched in celebration of Wits’ centenary in 2022. The campaign aims to raise funds which will be directed towards teaching, research, scholarships, student support, student experiences and campus improvements; R2,5 billion of its R3 billion target has been raised so far. 

FEATURED: A busy stairway during lunchtime leading to the entrances of the Matrix. Photo: Seth Thorne

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Seed of entrepreneurship flourishes on market day 

Student business owners appeal for valuable platform to be regular as it boosts brand awareness. 

From student-manufactured perfumes to thrift stores presenting affordable clothing items, the Student Entrepreneurship, Education and Development (Seed) market day was a colourful display of creativity and variety. 

The market day was held at the Library Lawns on Friday, May 19, offering a lively and vibrant experience, inviting student entrepreneurs to showcase their diverse range of business products. 

In addition to introducing students to their products, the market day proved profitable for student entrepreneurs as Jean Banda from Zer Thrift, an online thrift store, said, “You can see by the way students are buying, they want more of this.”  

The Seed programme, a collaboration between the Wits Development and Leadership Unit (DLU) and the Young African Entrepreneur Institute (YAEI) was established three years ago. The DLU, a division of student affairs, provides co-curricular development opportunities for personal, social and professional growth, while the YAEI, a registered youth-led non-profit organisation, empowers youth with practical skills and support to transition their venture ideas into impactful start-ups.  

Their joint venture, Seed, aims to equip students from all faculties with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to start and successfully start and manage their own businesses. 

Thato Wesi, the executive head of marketing and corporate affairs at YAEI, said that the market day served two primary purposes: to foster confidence in student entrepreneurs, enabling them to effectively “sell themselves” and to provide them with networking opportunities with fellow student entrepreneurs.  

Madhi Mohamed, a civil engineering master’s student and the founder of HnH perfumes, said the market day was an excellent platform to raise brand awareness for his business. “People are not aware of these more Arabic, Dubai perfumes and also locally based products … where its more affordable than going to the stores where you buy perfume for R2 000. You might as well purchase one that lasts just as long for R200 [from us].”

Mahdi Mohamed (22) says his Arabic perfumes offer better value than those sold at regular stores.
Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Echoing Mohamed’s sentiments Lehlogonolo Mabitsi, founder of Rebellious Clothing, an online based clothing store, said that he was happy he got the opportunity to introduce his merchandise to more students. The third-year bachelor of arts in film and television student added that it was a great feeling to have customers experience his product for themselves. 

Among the vibrant stalls, a prevailing sentiment resonated among the student entrepreneurs—a unanimous desire for the market day to become a recurring event. “I feel like it would be more satisfying if these were held every two weeks,” said Banda.  

Yasmin Wania, a fourth-year LLB student and founder of Cyber Rats Attic, an online thrift and consignment store emphasised the need for more effective marketing targeting students. “If Wits decides to do it more often, which I hope they do, they should definitely tell everyone it’s happening,” says Wania. 

In response, Kristan Sharpley, a student development practitioner from the DLU, said, “The Development and Leadership Unit is definitely interested in providing more opportunities for students to showcase their businesses. As the student entrepreneurship community continues to grow, so will opportunities for them to engage with their customers.”   Samuel Zitha, a third-year politics and international relations student who attended the market, said he had discovered several brands he had been unaware of and appreciated that the market was “advertising what students really need, like clothes and affordable jewellery. It was student based, we were their target market, they did their homework, so it was good.” 

Students Sphelele Maseko (21) and Samuel Zitha (21) take a break from shopping at the Seed Market. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

FEATURED IMAGE: Lehlogonolo Mabitisi (22), owner of Rebellious Clothing, poses with his merchandise. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

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PROFILE: Diana Ferrus, the people’s poet  

In celebration of Africa Day, Wits invited internationally renowned South African poet to perform and teach students. 

At age 73, famous poet, writer and activist, Diana Ferrus continues to dazzle audiences with her spoken word.  

Born in 1953 in Worcester, in the Western Cape, Ferrus started writing poetry at the age of 14. She went on to study psychology and sociology at the University of the Western Cape in 1988. She then did a Master’s degree with a focus on Black Afrikaans women writers.  

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, the mixed heritage writer of Irish and Khoisan explained how her hometown had an influence in her writing — specially to placate her, when hardships arose. 

“The winters were so cold that there was ice on the top of the mountains. That has been etched into my mind”, she said, in addition to this, she grew up in a household where there was domestic violence and child abuse.   

Furthermore, people in Worcester worked in the surrounding vineyards which paid them with alcohol — leading to the area having the highest foetal alcohol abuse in the world.  

She recalls how the street that separated the coloured area from the white area was nicknamed “Kanteen Straat” (Canteen Street) and those who wanted to shop for groceries on the other side of the street would have to pass this road, “many people never got there” because they stopped to drink in the bars instead.  

However, Ferrus is proud of her upbring: “The town formed me. Those were my formative years”, she said. 

She won a fellowship to study at Utrecht University in the Netherlands in 1998. It is here that she wrote her most famous poem for Sarah Baartman, I’ve Come to Take you Home. Ferrus said she was homesick at the time and learnt about Sarah Baartman again in a course entitled, “Sexuality in the Colonies.” 

Baartman was a Khoikhoi woman who was taken by French travelers in the 19th century to be displayed in Paris as a freak show where she died, and her remains were kept and displayed. 

Ferrus said when she stared out of her window in Utrecht, “the stars were so far away. If I was in my own country, I’d be able to touch them.” It was then that she heard a voice in her say “take me home” and, she thought, “that must be Sarah. In fact, it might have just been me,” she said jokingly.    

Poet Diana Ferrus teaches the Wits community to write their own poetry in a workshop on May 24 at the Wits Writing Centre. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

Ferrus has written many other poems since then about South Africa. One such poem, My Mother Was a Storm, was inspired by the murder of the University of Cape Town’s student Uyenene Mrwetyana in 2019. “I was angry about that, ” she explained.   

“I’m disappointed in the patriarchy and the corruption and the violence.” She continued, “It is too far gone now, I do not know how it will change. Unless we put women in charge.” 

Philippa De Villiers, Diana’s friend of 15 years and creative writing lecturer at Wits said, “I love her poetry. She is an example of a tradition that has been overlooked by academy, that of the community poet. She carries the dreams of a community. It is the raw animal of poetry.” 

Nosipho Mngomezulu, lecturer at the Anthropology department at Wits ,who uses Ferrus’ poetry in her teaching said that her work is important for social science students. 

“I use her work to humanize Sarah Baartman and make her a three-dimensional person.” Ferrus humanizes history through storytelling, she explained.

FEATURED IMAGE: Diana Ferrus performs one of her poems in celebration of Africa Day on May 24 at the Wits writing centre. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

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