Thandisawa Mazwai celebrated her 42nd birthday with a performance at Basseline to a women only audience. Men who didn’t subscribe to solely their primary gender of birth were also invited.
Academic activity is the primary purpose of University life; we left high school, entered into tertiary education and took on the journey of pursuing excellence, knowledge and skills meant to qualify us into the working space and society. The true purpose of this is to become socially responsible in advancing the state of our communities, our country, our society and our world.
As a member of the Wits SRC my colleagues and I made it our business to take on the
responsibility of fighting against a system of denials, a system that through racial and economic bias excludes so many talented young minds from having a shot at a different reality, a reality that spits in the face of the status quo as we know it- a status quo that says “being intelligent is not good enough if you are poor and if you are black”.
This year had it’s challenges but the great thing about it was how I didn’t face them alone. I had a team of great and young minds , from every faculty found on campus, who sacrificed their December and January holidays to serve students.
These young men and women were involved directly in the activity and functioning of the SRC as a whole and more so the work of the Deputy President and Academic officer,myself.
Together we had early mornings and late nights which began in November 2016 were we left for home , on Christmas eve traveling from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape , KZN and broader South Africa. And only to come back on January 2 , 2017. To prepare an extended service to our students.
The theme of my office for the year was ” You’ve been assigned this mountain , to show others it can be moved“. As a collective we were able to face the many metaphors of mountains university students encounter. Who coming fro differing backgrounds were welcomed by us and assisted in their orientation around campus. Second to this was the work of my office to assisted students who were academically excluded where we assisted in person and telephonically.
Some of the work done in my office during my term as Deputy President and Academic Officer included ;
- Academic Exclusion where students who failed to meet the minimum requirement , and were disqualified from continuing with her academics , had to appeal their outcomes through faculty based processes ) This time saw over 2747 students facing exclusions and a return rate of over 90% of those students , a great and excellent victory for our office.
- Consults with the readmitted students to check their progress and performance 9 because we became aware that what informs ones marks is not just activity in the class room and your mark , but external and internal factors that range from family problems , finances , mental health, being victims of crime , and inability to cope/comprehend or engage in the classroom among other matters.
- Stationery drive ( Where we collected money and mostly stationery items for students ahead of the exam session and packed items including pens exam pads highlighters financial calculators sticky notes sweets and energy drinks in a see through carry folder)
- Flight offices in all of our campuses bringing mobile offices to students at their respective campuses
- #WOMENINACADEMIA campaign where we had first a demonstration outside the Wits Great Hall during the month of August to fight for greater transformation of our university and a provision of greater access to women to take on senior positions in the management and teaching at Wits University. The campaign was followed by a luncheon where we had students from Park Town Girls’ High , Simphiwe Dana , Kgomotso Christopher , Khadija Patel and Zuki Mthimunye and Lindiwe Manyika.
- Wits SRC Women in Academia Wits SRC Women In Academia article
- A collection of sanitary towels in response to the basic needs of women which were not being accommodated for.
- Policy work which was addressed at school faculty and senate and council level which addressed ; The performance of student leaders in an Institution of Higher learning. The scrapping of evening classes to enable students who travel to go home timely. The concerns raised by students in the faculty of Health Science regarding their exams , marking systems and general treatment in the faculty. The unequal treatment of students , which many suggested was a result of class and racial differences , a subject matter that came from the Engineering Faculty with Student X
- An advisory role in the SRC Adopt A First Year Campaign which functions as an intimate platform for new students to be partnered with older students who are positioned to help and advise them around the university space
- A continuous fight for video lectures which had been launched in the faculty of Science.Improved standardized marking criteria in all faculties. Summer/Winter schools. An extended exam break ( 14 days prior to writing) SMS system to be sent to students who were facing academic exclusions/risks. Greater communication of University rules regarding academic activity. Extension of courses offered through Wits Plus to accommodate more so students who were excluded or short of a few points to graduate.
- The wavering of student debt below 15K for students who were eligible to graduate but were owing the university. And the writing down of a legitimate and formal letter from the University Registrar to students who qualified t graduate but owed more money , so as to be able to present to prospective employers for consideration.
These 11 points are but some of the work that the Deputy President and Academics office , were successful in actualizing together with the Wits SRC and in some starting the process on many structural and policy related issues, for the benefit of students.
As the Wits SRC we believe , academic success is a journey , the question of ; ” Will we all get there is non-negotiable. but the HOW remains a collective responsibility I urge both the Wits community and members of society , to take up with urgency.
A big thank you to the student community. The progressive youth alliance. Every Nation Wits. My pastor Carol Mkhize , my discipler Musa Cindi , Keletso Mpisane , Mina Mkhize , my vent and fight friend sister and everything outside the English language , Nontobeko Nkosi , you are a great leader and it all began with your heart, I don’t think survival would’ve been possible without you , thank you ; students for trusting the SRC with your lives. Thank you ; My Freshers , guys you’ve been there since day 1 , the student community has been left with greater leaders , thank you friends , colleagues , comrades members of the university staff in all varied positions.
Good luck to the newly elected Wits SRC may your efforts together with other student leaders in CSOs , school councils , political organisations etc, never seize to prioritize the plight of students on campus and remember , you’ve been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved!
I sat quietly trying to listen in the meeting where student leaders ( from schools/political organizations/residence/sport community and others along with the VC highlighted problems and some solutions to bettering our campus.
I was the last to give a contribution and in summary highlighted how disingenuous and ineffective the structures at Wits are ( some of the subject matters discussed included ; academic performance of students , mental health , social programs and university culture , curriculum and attitude of students and staff et al ) . Mine ( As a student leader and Deputy President and Academic officer of the Wits SRC , at a point of leaving office in reflection , as well as an Honours student with 4-years-experience at Wits ), was to highlight truths we need to be honest about.
Prior to commenting on what I termed ‘band aid’ solutions to structural issues that exist because of the difference and gap between ; 1. those who make/take decisions binding the Wits community 2. The weight/influences of the finances that maintain the status of Wits in society 3.attitude culture and regard of leadership on campus 4. the gap/strange inability to understand fully how the behavior attitude and culture on our campus is telling of our society and second to this informing what this society is going to have as contributors to its economy and community , are forgotten or overlooked in the manner in which we deal with one another and thirdly how we respond to issues in general can almost be regarded as being negligent/careless to the long-term and continued implications our words actions and choices have. On the experiences we have on campus.
- Majority of the people who make decisions are white and male. On behalf of a largely black and female university.
- The funding of Wits university , outside of the government grant , fees of paying/bursary students also lies from investments from greater members of society who associate with brand Wits. An example of this can be said to be ( FeesMustFall)
- Student leaders at Wits university externally are held to a great regard. This has been consistent and more prevalent during the time of #FeesMustFall. Second to this is the medias attitude toward Wits , often placing them at a pedestal. Yet there seems to be a disconnect on campus where after the highest decision making body ( in Undergrad) Wits SRC 2017/18 is voted into office by no more than 18% of the student community about 2900/37000 students took part in the elections process. Yet these vary students similar to the SRC prior 2016/17 with 23% voter turnout about 4000/37000 students was received and sworn into office with the responsibility of REPRESENTING the issues of the student community officially formally and genuinely so. My experience of this is worth paragraphs but at the risk of loosing your readership I would want to say that it isn’t a fully honest/true reflection of the voice of students.But this does not go to disregard the views/voice of those who DO participate rather it becomes an incident where the loud concerned and aware voice of 2-3000 odd students is articulated and made the voice of students. And among the things we ought to do include a look at what informs the low participation care or interest. When the decision taken are to affect your lived experience. Perhaps my concern stems from a person who in her active sense is worried that this attitude and poor participation into student leadership can only be telling of the kind of graduates and members of society that will be born from this space. But I do hope that is simply my pessimistic sense taking over. Second to this is the culture attitude and what many ‘student leaders’ call politics of the day. Rhetoric’s slander and lies to shame one group from another without any convincing of legitimacy to a space either than how X is bad because of ABC. I at some stage said its a good day to be apolitical on this campus and frankly in the country , if the politics of the day are anything to reference. But I can’t help but come out of a week and month where I visited historical sites that informed our democracy , in Soweto Orlando Kliptown to name a few , as well as having attended the #ORTambo100 lecture by President Mbeki and grieve at what has become of our society , someone on social media said ” The whole of South Africa is an apartheid museum”. These words stuck with me and resonated deeply when I look at institutional and structural conditions throughout the country. Our attitude toward race , issues of access and finances , leadership all over , gender based harm and violence and the day to day lived experiences are telling of a broken society and deep void in leadership beyond the colour of ones t-shirt.
We generally are in trouble and need to ACT soon , no one else can ‘save’ us but ourselves.
WHEN I was 17-years-old I published my first article on Destiny Online. The title for my article was ‘The unapologetic woman’. At the time, the talk and ideas around feminism or being “woke” were not a popular discourse to me and my generation. But after timeless tries at getting published, following a need to be heard and understood beyond the surface of being a teenager with great ambition, Destiny Online gave me the platform.
What inspired my words was the position in the world in which I found myself. As a young black woman living in “rainbow nation” South Africa, it became important that I speak from my experiences. And make public my insecurities about being socialised into these many boxes the world had prepared for me, before I could even spell or be acquainted with my agency.
I was a young girl at an all-girls school in the Eastern Cape who made it her business to be involved in every aspect of schooling life, from sports to music, arts and leadership. I wanted to do it all, but the setup of our world and the spaces we become socialised into didn’t really accommodate that. This kind of person was doomed to produce the reality of being a jack of all trades and master of none, a misguided soul with no clear plan or ambition. But what became constant with all that I did was my desire to empower young women and girls, not so much with talk, but written work and in practice, through
When I came into university, I tried to tame myself and divorced the young girl who was curious to know and experience it all. This only lasted me in my fresher year and it was in my second year
where I returned to what was more familiar to me. I became actively involved with Wits Sports, joined the Wits Citizenship and Community outreach program (WCCO) as Math and English tutor for learners in the Alexandra Township. It was also in this time that I merged my love for service and journalism, when I joined student leadership and Voice of Wits FM. Here I felt more fulfilled and through many talks with my lecturers I found an understanding to this colourful box I called my life. My experiences gave me a greater voice to how I believe students on campus should be.
As university students we are positioned in a place of privilege more than anything to access information, experiences and opportunity to learn from each other. And we ought to adopt inquiring minds and an openness to be fully present in every moment in our university journey. It would be unfortunate of us to pay the thousands we do, only to get out with a certificate of validation on our learned abilities from the lecture halls. Ours should be the extended mission of being pioneers, leaders and visionaries who are both purposeful and impactful wherever we exist. When I took on the journalism honours programme, I had a slight anxiety as a person who was politically aligned, a journalist and a student leader. I feared the same reception as that of ANN7 reporters. The idea that people would question the credibility of my work because of the anticipated conflict of interest concerned me.
But it was political activists and journalists such as Robert Sobukwe and Ruth First who helped me understand how journalism plays a good and important role in our democracy. I believe we need more public servants and journalists who push the agenda for a transparent and accountable government. As a student journalist and student leader, I believe I have a good and not necessarily perfect story to tell.
- Orginally published on Wits Vuvuzela : October 2017
Jozi book fair