The call to transform South Africa’s academic institutions is on the rise country wide in the wake of the Rhodes Must Fall movement. Wits University students recently launched Transform Wits, a call for students to demand change from the Wits administration. PONTSHO PILANE asked the Wits community their thoughts on the campaign and what they think the biggest issues are.
Lutho Hopa, 21, Braamfontein
I have an idea of what it’s about, but unfortunately I never got a chance to attend their first meeting. From my understanding it is a movement by students that tries to address issues faced by the general student populous. I do think Wits needs transformation. We do need more black South African lecturers who might generally understand the backgrounds of most black African students at the university, as well as have first-hand experience of how South Africans go about their everyday lives and not just based on six months of research. I think this is important for students. The university also needs to show a bit more compassion for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are not able to pay its exorbitant upfront fee payments. I think my role in the movement would be assisting students and workers where I can, either through financial means or if there’s a need to show solidarity and picket with them if the situation gets that far.
Kennedy Masunda, 26, Braamfontein
To be honest I don’t know what the Transform Wits movement is about. However, I do think the university could be transformed in some way or the other. I suppose, there is so much exclusion of students for various reasons beyond academics, such as financial exclusion because of the exorbitant school fees. These are the issues that will constitute as a positive change to me. The only way I see myself contributing to transforming Wits is through being an activist and helping students to raise the money they need for their tuition.
Kimberly Smith*, 35, Norwood
I am a lecturer at Wits and I am secretly following the Transform Wits movement. I do believe there are a lot of things that need to be transformed here. As someone who was a student here, I think there is a lack of diversity in the academic staff – top positions are still reserved for white academics. It’s done in such a subtle way, so that it can still be justified if need be. Being white, I can say that I am privileged and have gotten a head start because of this. It’s not just in terms of opportunity, but also I have had a better start at life. Pursuing academia didn’t mean taking food off the table for my family, because we would still be comfortable. But this is not the case for many black students who would like to pursue academia. The university should also stop ignoring these issues and acting like they don’t exist.
Thabo Boom, 22, Braamfontein
I attended the first Transform Wits meeting because I believe there are a lot of things that needs to change at Wits. There must be reform, especially in humanities, to give an alternative voice to the very eurocentric perspective given in many, if not, all courses. The second transformation is with the finances. It is almost impossible to pay your tuition at Wits because of the expensive fees. The transformation would be to ensure that the systematic exclusion of poor students, who are mostly black, is done away with. The last transformation is that the university needs to be a part of the change first by forcing whoever they are outsourcing services to, to abide by rules outlined by in the Labour Act, and pay [workers] well.
Muimeleli Mutangwa, 21, Parktown
I think it is important to change the university. Currently, we have a very low conversion rate of blacks from undergrad to postgrad studies. This is because we have few black students who manage to complete their undergrad studies, most of who choose to go work and support their poor families as opposed to studying further. Before we can start thinking of increasing the conversion rate, let’s first think of increasing the number of black graduates. I personally know of a number of black students who have been financially excluded from the university. If this issue can be addressed and the number of black graduates increase, then we can start talking about providing incentives and increasing the conversion rate. It does not make sense to me for the university to have more money for postgrads than for undergrads at this point. But besides this, I think Wits is quite all right.