Former Wits DVC is new Sol Plaatje head

A former Wits deputy Vice-Chancellor has been officially appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Former deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) of Wits University, Professor Yunus Ballim, has been appointed the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the 2-year-old Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Ballim who officially started as VC of Sol Plaatje University (SPU) yesterday, said the position is both “exciting and scary”.

As a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits, he was requested by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), in 2013, to set up the SPU. This decision was supported by Wits University.

Unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things

During this time Ballim’s title was ‘Interim Head’ at SPU but he retained a teaching and research relationship with Wits.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela about SPU, Ballim said, “As the first truly South African university, unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things in higher education, particularly around high quality and successful intellectual development of students from traditionally marginalised communities.”

Despite moving on to a new university, Ballim says he hasn’t fully left Wits: “Wits has kindly agreed to allow me to retain my professorship in civil engineering (with no salary) to continue my research, supervision of postgraduate students and occasional teaching at postgraduate and undergraduate levels.”

With the task of being a VC of a very young university, Ballim said that “…developing the institutional, academic and infrastructure capacity of a new SPU is a very big challenge for me. As I indicated, I am nervously excited about my new task.”



Witsies ask for practical leaders

David Hornsby, International Relations lecturer who chaired the debate (left), with Prof Rob Moore, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Advancement and Partnerships.

The dispute between Wits management and unions is not a short-term fix, and should be addressed “very consciously and deliberately” by incoming members of the Senior Executive Team, according to Prof Rob Moore.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC): Advancement and Partnerships was speaking at a Leadership Forum, organised by the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) on Monday, to debate the type of leadership needed at Wits.

The SET will undergo major changes soon, with the DVC: Academic, Prof Yunus Ballim, and the DVC: Finance and Operations, Prof Patrick Fitzgerald, vacating their offices at the end of this year.

Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa will end his extended five-year term in May 2013, and his post has been advertised as a vacancy.

Speaking in his personal capacity, Moore said the dispute had created a stressful time, but it was commendable that academics could have heated debates with management in Senate meetings, and still enjoy tea and sandwiches “in a perfectly amiable manner at tea time”.

Witsies at the forum said the new members of the SET needed to focus as much on the practical needs of the university as they would on strategic planning.

Pontsho Pilane, 1st year BA, said the ideal vice chancellor was someone who had been a student and a lecturer long enough to know what the “gist” of Wits was.

“We need a leader who values the fact that the academic staff and students run the university, and if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be a Wits University.”

The race is on

Short-listed candidates for the DVC: Academic post delivered public presentations on Tuesday.

Prof Kuzvinetsa Dzvimbo, currently Executive Dean of the College of Education at the University of South Africa, said he was “very, very” interested in having a childcare facility for staff use on campus: a joint demand by Wits’ three unions in the current dispute.

Dzvimbo, who holds degrees from Sierra Leonean and Nigerian universities, said Wits needed to strengthen its relationships with other universities on the continent.

Prof Tahir Pillay, former Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Wits must also look eastwards, and not forget that all of the top 100 universities are not in Europe and North America.

Prof Andrew Crouch, Dean of Science, said Wits was nearing the end of a phase of heavy infrastructural investment (R1.5bn in the past few years), and needed to build “academic proficiency on top of that infrastructure”.

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Ex-Witsie dies in motorbike accident

Nazeer-Ahmed Ballim, a prominent ex-Witsie, died on August 25 after a motorcycle accident.

Ballim matriculated from St John’s in 2004, served on the SRC in 2006 and was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).

Nazeer left Wits to study Information Technology and worked for Oracle, an online financing system that Wits uses.

Fatima Mukkadam, head of the MSA and SRC member, said, “The legacy he leaves behind is one of love, happiness and kindness. A gentleman, loved by his family, peers and colleagues.

Mukkadam said the SRC, MSA and the Wits community would like to offer their condolences to the Ballim family. “It’s always difficult for the people left behind. We pray that Allah Ta’ala (God) helps his family and loved ones through this difficult time and that Nazeer reaches the highest stage in Jannah (Paradise), Aameen.”

His uncle, Deputy Vice Chancellor Yunus Ballim said that, in Nazeer’s short time at Wits, he had touched many lives through his passion for the community. “His death has been a blow to young and old in our family and he is sorely missed.”

Unions reject management’s final offer: Second strike goes ahead

Photo: Jay Caboz

Two of the three Wits unions will strike tomorrow August 28, after they declined management’s offer in negotiations.

Last-minute talks were held between unions and management on Monday afternoon to try and prevent a second one-day strike. The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), jointly declared a dispute in May over a range of grievances including salary increases and insufficient parking.

In talks which ended around 5pm on Monday, management proposed (among others): a shift from the July-to-June pay cycle to a January-to-December pay cycle (to create a salary increase in January 2013), negotiations for next year’s salaries to begin next week, a written understanding of the 75th percentile salary benchmark, and a commitment to resolving non-salary issues by year end.

Joint union spokesperson Kezia Lewins said there was “insufficient movement” towards a resolution by 5pm, the time it had been agreed that negotiations would end.

“Given that no agreement could be concluded and management’s disinclination to continue with the negotiation process, the planned strike will go ahead,” Lewins said.

Lewins said management threatened to withdraw all the offers if Tuesday’s strike went ahead.

Dr Kgomotso Kasonkola, senior director of Human Resources, said only ALTSA accepted these proposals.

“It is regrettable that ASAWU and NEHAWU have rejected these offers without explanation or counter-offers, and have announced their intention to continue their strike action tomorrow,” Kasonkola said.

“Upon stating that they would be reporting back to their principals, Professor Ballim (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic) told the unions “off you go!” Lewins said. According to a tweet from ASAWU (witsjointaction), the vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxawas not present during the negotiations.

How Wits stacks up against other academic institutions

The Human Resources department conducted a comparative salary analysis to show how Wits’ range of salaries compares with other research-intensive institutions.

According to the findings, a Wits lecturer earns between R393 900 and R590 850 per annum, while a University of Cape Town (UCT) lecturer earns a maximum of R427 311.

Kasonkola said these values do not show the full salary packages at institutions, but Wits is currently a “market leader” in academic salaries.

Also, the 7.55% and 6.8% increases granted to academic and support staff respectively were above the Consumer Price Index (CPI), pegged at 4.9% in July.

Last-ditch attempt

Management re-invited the three unions to the negotiating table over the weekend, nearly a month since their first strike on August 2.

The Wits Senate (the academic leadership forum) had called on the Wits Council to resolve the dispute “without further delay”.

Union members intend to picket at major entrances to Wits in the morning, and hold a rally on the steps of the Great Hall at noon.


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Standing in protest against violence in society

By Jay Caboz

Around 150 Wits staff, some  in academic gowns, and students gathered outside the Bertha Road pedestrian entrance to observe South Africa’s national day of mourning on Thursday 23 August.

George Bizos, left, joins Wits registrar Kirti Menon, centre, and Asawu President, David Dickinson, in a march against violence. Pic: Jay Caboz

George Bizos, one of South Africa’s most distinguished human rights advocates joined  the gathering together with Wits Registrar Kirti Menon, Prof Tawana Kupe, Dean of Humanities, and Prof David Dickinson, President of the Academic and Support Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU).

In a statement released by Prof Yunus Ballim, acting Vice-Chancellor and vice-Principal, the gathering was called as a public display from the University “against the ongoing violence gripping society” and to “encourage the public to stand up for social justice.”

The national day of mourning was declared by the South African government in memorial of the lives lost in the violence at Marikana and Pomeroy these past few weeks.

In commemoration of the lives of the 44 miners killed, students and academics stood on the pavement holding placards one of which said: “mourning all the victims of violence” as well as declaring the event as “our collective shame”.

A National Day of Mourning was declared by President Jacob Zuma. Memorials were held across the province and several streets in Johannesburg Central Business District were closed.

From Monday, the University has been flying its flag at half-mast also in remembrance of the lives lost.


Marchers line up along Jan Smuts Avenue in Braamfontein. Pic: Jay Caboz

Wits staff and students took to the pavements to protest violence in society. Pic: Jay Caboz

Wits flags flies at half-mast for Marikana and Pomeroy

The Wits University flag flies at half-mast over Central Block. Pic: Lisa Golden

Management of Wits University have decided to fly the university flag at half mast for this week in memory of those who died in the violence of the last two weeks.

In a statement sent to Wits news, acting vice-chancellor Prof Yunus Ballim said:

“As the Acting Vice-Chancellor, I have requested that the Wits flag be flown at half-mast for this week in memory of those members of our community who died recently in the violence at Marikana and Pomeroy. Events like these always leave us feeling that an important part of our humanness is being offended.

“Regardless of our distance from the event, we feel the blow of such violence as if we were right at its source.

“Importantly, the flag is at half-mast to symbolise Wits’ deep dismay and the continuing expression of violence that characterises social and institutional interactions in South Africa. Marikana and Pomeroy are only recent examples of this characteristic.

“Wits flinches with the same pain when violence is visited upon an individual or a group; a single child or a gathering of adults. Social justice cannot be allowed to reside in the stoning hand or the trigger finger of those with more power. This on-going violence is a part of our national and collective shame and it is right that Wits acts to disturb the conscience of our community – students, staff and the broader South Africa alike.”

Language Policy stalled at Wits

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 17th Edition 27 July

Wits’ language policy to introduce Sesotho as the university’s second language has been a failure, says Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Yunus Ballim.

The policy, implemented in 2003, aimed to have Sesotho spoken by all lecturers and provided for academically. “I think it’s fair to say the document failed. In its intention it was noble, but in its practical implementation sense it was ill-conceived. It is in serious, serious need of a rewrite,” Ballim says.

The person responsible for that rewrite is Dean of Humanities Prof Tawana Kupe, who wants to move back to the basics by “beefing up” the African Languages department. This additional “academic scaffolding” would provide the structure for the department to lead the university forward with an updated policy.

The policy is almost ten years old. The aim was for Wits to join the University of the Free State and the University of Lesotho in advancing the Sesotho language in the academic arena.

Ballim explains that a fundamental error in the policy is its attempt to carve up the language geography of the country. “We were mistaken in the way we conceived of the language policy … in part what we had responded to was an apartheid conception of the geography of African languages.”

While the policy itself has not led to any direct developments, it is not all doom and gloom for the advancement of African languages at the historically English-dominated university.

Ballim implemented a compulsory Zulu course in the Health Sciences, which is now an examinable subject in 2nd year. This was a departure from the Sesotho-based policy, and isiZulu was chosen as a more accessible language for interaction, most importantly for communication with patients.

Ballim used the influence of creative writing as a more effective tool for challenging academic discourse, rather than trying to learn from a textbook. “Universities have not responded to the dynamism in language. We need to modernise our conception of the teaching of African languages.”

Kupe agrees, pointing to the diversity of languages used in local soapies and the changing way we perceive language. “We need to teach language in a way that people understand.”

On the policy’s lack of success, Ballim concedes: “I’m embarrassed to say it is an area we should have picked up and we didn’t, and it is something we should have done better at.”Students chatting on the Great Hall steps

Senior executives hand in batons

The contract appointments of four members of Wits’ senior executive team will end over the next twelve months.

It has been confirmed that the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) of finance and operations will leave Wits by May next year.

Prof Loyiso Nongxa will end his 10 year term in May 2013 while the Wits senate voted not to extend the term of office of Prof Patrick Fitzgerald.

In addition the  DVC: academic, Prof Yunus Ballim’s term ends in December 2012. He had extended his contract by two years following a five-year term, and his post will have to be re-advertised in line with Wits policy.

The Wits Council approved a two-year contract extension for DVC: advancements and partnerships, Prof Rob Moore.

Moore said Wits was one of the most exciting universities to work at.

“No other campus in this country has got this extraordinary infrastructural development going on at the moment,” he said.

Fitzgerald, whose five-year term of office ends in December 2012, had the option to reapply for the post but chose not to.

“I feel released … like a great burden of responsibility is shifting from my shoulders,” he said.

Fitzgerald said he would enjoy having his freedom of speech on leaving the post.

“If council gives a view, that is the view. You take the view or you resign … I’m going back to a life where I can say whatever I want.”

Fitzgerald said he was proud of the university’s financial turnaround, and its infrastructure projects, which are a “common legacy of the entire management team”.

Fitzgerald plans to return to academia, and said he would “probably” join the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu), whose demands could afford him a relatively relaxed time and “a good salary.”

The positions of DVC: academic and DVC: finance and operations, will be finalized over the next three months.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 13th edition, 11th May 2012