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Activist and inspiration: Yusuf Talia dies due to illness

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy through his short life.

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy in his 25 years of life. Photo: Facebook

An activist. A leader. An inspiration. Those are some of the words used to describe Witsie Yusuf Talia who passed away today at the age of 25.The wheelchair-bound Talia, who battled with muscular dystrophy, was a familiar face around campus where he actively involved in politics and societies. He was part of the Disabled Students Movement and the president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).  He was also an energetic activist for Palestine.

Talia was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) under the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) banner and served as deputy president on the council in 2010.

“Today is a sad day for everybody who knew the gentle soul that was Yusuf but also for Wits in general,” said outgoing SRC president Shafee Verachia.

Verachia said Talia had dedicated his life to service and was a role model for others.

“He was the perfect example of what it means to serve humanity,” Verachia said.

The 2013 SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa, said Talia was someone who always had time to help his fellow students.

“One thing which sticks out about Yusuf is the ability he had to avail himself whenever he could to assist students and give of his time, despite his physical condition and pressing academic commitments,” Mgudlwa said.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,” said Mgudlwa, “We will miss him.”

Talia was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at an early age though very few people knew about his life-threatening disease because of his work ethic.

Talia was named as one of the top 200 young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian in 2013 for his contribution the higher education system and his work to improve conditions for disabled students.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,”

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela at the time, Talia said of the recognition, with his trademark humility, “I feel so honoured. It was so unexpected.

He told Wits Vuvuzela that the youth should work towards improving society: “The youth need to adopt an attitude of helping those in need in their societies. We can do anything we put our minds to.”

Talia was studying towards an honours degree in Physiology and hoped to be a doctor one day. He had already earned a BSc and a degree in Actuarial Science.

On behalf of the outgoing SRC, Verachia wished “the Almighty to grant strength to his parents, brother Waseem and to all those touched by this amazing human being”.

 

“Everything else follows success”

*Featured in Wits Vuvuzela: ‘Everything else follows success’

DREAM IT: Gwinyai Dube was able to soar to great heights at Wits through belief in himself. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Southern Africa’s first black South African Debating Champion, Gwinyai Aubrey Dube, has been successfully elected onto the SRC.

And as a new member, Dube wants “Witsies to realise that we are all a community”.

“Students need to understand their fellow Witsies, not just tolerate them. We can help the larger Wits community if we come together and deal with the issues facing students, staff, cleaners and workers on campus.”

He said he wanted to encourage students to understand the responsibility and weight “we have on our shoulders. We have a huge role to play in the world”.

Dube, Politics and International Relations Honours, believes he can “encourage students to understand transformation at Wits instead of just tolerating it” through his position on the SRC.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela about his debating win earlier this year, he said he was “initially focused on winning for Wits, but not winning as a black man”.

“I didn’t realise how important this win was for me was until one of my teammates pointed out that I was the first black male to win such a tournament in South Africa.”

Dube is also the first black Zimbabwean to win such a tournament and this made him a bit of a celebrity in the country.

He decided to run in this year’s SRC election because he wanted to create an “effective SRC”.

Dube made it into the finals of the South African Debating Championship in Botswana, with his speaking partner, Saul Musker (who was part of the international winning team in Thailand). Dube ultimately won the tournament for Wits.

His debating career began in grade seven when his teacher asked him to debate a number of issues.

“From there, I just knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I got into debating in high school but we didn’t take it seriously.”

“Her death shaped me because, before she died, she continuously encouraged me to have faith in my abilities.”

When he got to university, the Wits Debating Union (WDU) was one of the first things he looked into. He immediately joined up and started working his way into competitions.

Dube has overcome many challenges to become a success at Wits. He experienced his parents’ “messy divorce” when he was five, which forced his family to move around a lot.

“Eventually we settled on a family farm just outside of Harare where I lived with my mom’s sister and 12 of my cousins.”

The farm was 30km from his school in Harare and Dube would wake up at 4am to get to school on time.

When Dube was 17 his mother got sick. She realised Dube was going to need his father, even though Dube and his father “had a rocky relationship” at the time. She encouraged them to re-connect.

Just before he left Zimbabwe to come to Wits, Dube’s mother passed away.

“It made me re-evaluate things. I decided to take a gap year. Her death shaped me because, before she died, she continuously encouraged me to have faith in my abilities. We were best friends.”

Dube said both the divorce and his mother’s death forced him to “grow into his own character”. It taught him how to treat women, and he hoped his relationships would never resemble his parent’s marriage.

“Everything else follows success”, a saying his father taught him, has stuck with him throughout his time at university. “My dad’s words inspire [me] every day, together with the faith my mom always had which lives within me.”

He has a message for fellow Witsies: “Success is only limited by how far you can dream.”

 

Ready to Rocktober

*Featured in Wits Vuvuzela: Ready to Rocktober

For the first time in its eight year history, the “Rocktober” Ultimate Frisbee Championship will be held at Wits University.

The competition will take place on 3-5 October.

The Voodoo Kudus, the Wits Ultimate Frisbee team, will host and compete in South Africa’s second biggest Ultimate Frisbee competition. Sixteen teams from all over South Africa will be playing, including some of the top national teams from Cape Town.

This is the second time the Voodoo Kudus will be playing in Rocktober. Their debut was at last year’s championship, which was held in Randburg.

“There’s going to be some tough competition,” said Voodoo Kudu member, Kristen Bishop.

“But we’re just striving for team synergy and to do our best in all the games we play.”

According to Bishop, the team is lucky to host this year’s competition and it was thanks to their chairperson Sally Crompton, who had pushed to bid for Wits to host.

“There’s going to be some tough competition,”

The South African Flying Disk Association (SAFDA) has been actively involved in encouraging university students to participate in Ultimate Frisbee because, they say, it is a prestigious sport, rapidly gaining momentum around the country.

“It’s not just a game,” said Bishop. “It’s a community, and a sport like this could help build connections and communities in South Africa.”

Crompton and Bishop told Wits Vuvuzela that the recent hat tournament sparked interest in the sport and for the first time in Voodoo Kudu history they were able to enter two teams into the competition.

Bishop enthused: “When people see how skilled the game is and how much athletics and knowledge is needed, it entices competition and makes you want to take part.”

Students are encouraged to support the Voodoo Kudus in the tournament, when the games start between 8am and 5pm on Saturday October 4 and between 8am and 3pm on Sunday October 5 on the Bozzoli B field, the Walter Milton Cricket Oval and in the rugby stadium.

The Voodoo Kudus will also host an open party at the Bozzoli Pavilion from 6pm on Saturday night, October 4.

Wits SRC on the edge

*Featured in Wits Vuvuzela: Wits SRC on the edge

 

IT’S PYA DAY: Project W’s Jamie Mighti (left) attempts to argue a point to PYA member and former SRC president Sibulele Mgudlwa (right) after Project W walked out of the SRC’s fi rst meeting over the selection of portfolios. Mgudlwa attempted to bring Project W back to the meeting. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

The abrupt end of the new SRC’s first meeting, which climaxed with a dramatic walkout by Project W who accused the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) of being “illegitimate and undemocratic”, followed a week of behind-the-scenes battles over positions on the new council.

Project W walked out during the vote for new portfolios, which they said were decided without their input by the PYA—who have a majority of the seats on the new SRC.

The vote carried on with PYA member Mcebo Dlamini being elected as the new SRC president.

However, while the PYA presented a united front at the SRC meeting, the decision to select Dlamini and other SRC executive committee members was far from unanimous.

“There are also older comrades in the PYA who influence the decisions on the presidential candidate and the executive committee. The process is increasingly frustrating,”

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to leaders in the PYA, who confirmed the alliance struggled to make a decision on who should be elected to the important executive positions. All the PYA leaders requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on internal alliance politics.

According to one PYA leader, there was a struggle to decide between three presidential choices, Dlamini, Amogelang  Manganyi, and Senzekahle Mbokazi with disagreement over their different levels of experience and ability to carry out their duties.

Some PYA members believed Dlamini was the strongest candidate because of his position as Wits Junction chair despite a controversy earlier this year over his false claim to be a member of the prestigious Sisulu family.

“People want Mcebo despite controversies surrounding him in the Sisulu question,” the PYA leader said.

According to this PYA leader, Mangayani’s suitability as a SRC president was questioned because he is currently a fifth-year medical student and would face time constraints next year that would affect his ability to meet presidential duties.

This process of selecting executive members of the SRC was made more complicated by senior PYA leaders outside the current SRC attempting to influence the selection of positions.

“There are also older comrades in the PYA who influence the decisions on the presidential candidate and the executive committee. The process is increasingly frustrating,” the PYA leader said. He declined to name the senior PYA members involved.

However, a second PYA leader interviewed by Wits Vuvuzela denied that lobby groups within the alliance had been allowed to form.

“The PYA don’t squabble,” the second PYA leader said, “We meet as a collective. Those members with experience try to advise or give opinions when choosing candidates for exec or president but things change all the time.”

However, this PYA leader admitted the alliance had little control groups and friends within the PYA who form “behind closed doors” and who have decided on backing their own candidates.

“But we call all members of the PYA together to decide who should be presidential candidate. We decide and solve these issues together,” the PYA leader said.

The walkout

The politicking within the PYA ended with Wednesday’s meeting and the walkout by Project W.

Wits Vuvuzela had initially been denied access to the portfolio meeting. However, after a short conference between Project W’s Jamie Mighti and outgoing SRC president Shafee Verachia she was allowed in “as a student” so long as she put away her camera and voice recorder.

The meeting was held in Senate House and chaired by Verachia. It was attended by 14 of the 15 newly elected SRC members. Also in attendance were representatives from other Wits student councils and three members of the current SRC.

The meeting was also attended by former SRC and PYA members Sibulele Mgudlwa, Joyce Phiri and Tshepo Ndlovu, Ntshembo Vuma and Thabang Ntshanana. A Project W member, Zuhayr Tayob, was also in attendance.

The meeting first voted for the executive positions, including president, with PYA members taking the top five slots with little protest from Project W.

“What do they expect me to do, teach yoga?”

However, 20 minutes into the meeting an argument erupted during a debate over portfolios. Both the PYA and Project W had proposed new portfolios for the SRC and motivated for them during the meeting.

Verachia then moved to have a vote on the portfolios, however Mighti objected saying there should be an open debate over the proposed portfolios before the vote.

Verachia responded that both organisations had already motivated for the proposed portfolios and further debate was not needed.

After another brief exchange between the participants, Verachia again moved for a vote resulting in the Project W members gathering their belongings and walking out of the meeting.

“We walked out because it was an illegitimate forum. They are not allowed to dictate positions to us, and this was an unjust abuse of power,” Mighti said.

Verachia adjourned the meeting after the walkout and Mgudlwa unsuccesffuly attempted to convince the Project W members to return to the meeting.  Verachia then cited SRC rules governing meetings and reconvened the meeting with the remaining SRC members.

“The PYA have chosen to dictate positions to us instead. Positions which we will not agree too because they are redundant white elephants which is a betrayal to students’ needs,” Mighti said.

Mighti, who was made the Campus Wellness officer, said his position was redundant because there were already university structures to help student health.

“What do they expect me to do, teach yoga?” he asked.

Mighti said they would lay a complaint about the meeting with university authorities. Failing that, they would seek an interdict at the South Gauteng High Court to overturn the outcome of the meeting.

Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib said he was “gathering information” about the situation.

Verachia said the PYA were preparing a statement in response to Project W’s walkout and subsequent accusations. However, it had not been sent to Wits Vuvuzela as of our print deadline.

SRC president decision delayed

*Featured in Wits Vuvuzela: SRC president decision delayed

A meeting to select the next president of the Student Representative Council (SRC) has been delayed. The meeting would have also decided on other executive positions as well specific portfolios.

The meeting was supposed to take place tomorrow during lunch where the SRC president and executive committee members were to be discussed and decided upon by the newly elected SRC, comprising Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Project W members.

Project W’s Jamie Mighti confirmed that an SMS was sent out to the SRC members which said the meeting was delayed as some of the SRC members were “unable to make tomorrow’s meeting”.

The president and executive members of the SRC are decided by a vote of the 15 SRC members and the four members appointed from external committees and councils.

The PYA won the majority of the seats in this year’s SRC elections and so will likely be the ultimate decision-makers of the SRC president, executive members and portfolio holders.

Students! Read between the lines

*Featured in Wits Vuvuzela: Students! Read between the lines

This week, the first student-run literary festival gave Witsies the opportunity to meet and engage with literary icons from around South Africa.

The Fine Lines festival at Wits, which was organised by the student council members of the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM) “is good news” for literary culture in South Africa. Poet Chris Mann emphasised this point and was also positive that this idea was “coming from students”.

Organisers Priyankha Thakur, Saul Musker and Nelisa Ngcobo said the Fine Lines literary festival aimed to “encourage students and upcoming writers to engage with literary experts” they would not usually have the opportunity to connect with.

Thakur said they hope to “create more interest among students in South African literature” through the festival.

“We wanted to create conversation between students and experts,” said Musker.

Wits English professor Michael Titlestad, who has spent 30 years working in education, thinks people should be encouraged to read genres they enjoy.

[su_pullquote]“If you really want to understand your own society, you need to read about [it] because that is how you learn.”[/su_pullquote]

“It’s important that students are encouraged to read whatever they like,” he said. “The sense of a high literary culture or the need for people to read things that are improving their intellect, their life and ethics is highly naive. We should simply encourage people to pursue their interests.”

World-renowned author Ivan Vladislavic told Wits Vuvuzela: “It’s hard to get students to engage with fiction and even harder to do so with South African fiction.”

With an estimated 14% of South Africans being active readers of fiction, the Department of Arts and Culture has expressed concern about literary culture amongst young people.

“It’s difficult for South African work to become visible. There is so much competition in literature from everywhere else. Students must keep themselves informed about what is out there,” Vladislavic said.

“If you really want to understand your own society, you need to read about [it] because that is how you learn.”

Writer Steven Boykey Sidley encouraged students to join online South African book clubs like The Good Book Appreciation Society to become familiar with and informed about South African authors, genres and literature.

Former books editor of the Sunday Independent, Maureen Isaacson, said events like the Fine Lines literary festival should become “common practice” among student communities.

“Why can we not have more dialogue, argument and discussion? We need to have events that are less arranged, because we can see that experts are willing to come in and share ideas about their books outside of book launches and festivals. It’s one of the best way to encourage reading.”

The festival, which ends today, coincides with National Book Week, which is still taking place around the country until September 8th.

Student run literary festival kicks off at Wits

*Featured in Wits VuvuzelaSTUDENT RUN LITERARY FESTIVAL KICKS OFF AT WITS

POETRY READ: World renowned poet Peter Horn reads an extract of one his poems to a captivated audience. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

POETRY READ: World-renowned poet Peter Horn reads an extract of one his poems. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

The Fine Lines literary festival was envisioned and organised by the student council members of the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM).

Students Priyankha Thakur, Saul Musker and Nelisa Ngcobo put the festival together to “create conversation” between students and experts.

Thakur told Wits Vuvuzela that they realised there was “a deficit in opportunity for events in our school”. They wanted “to create a place where students and upcoming authors could interact with experts” which they would not usually have the chance to connect with.

“It started off as this absurd idea while we were sitting on the floor outside an office in Senate House. We still can’t believe it came together.”

Musker said, “The festival is an open space in an intimate setting for interaction to take place.”

“We were a bit nervous initially but the staff within the SLLM were so helpful and willing to give us contacts. The poets and authors were so open to the idea of a student festival, it was really positive.”

World-renowned South African poets Koeropetse Kgositsile, Chris Mann and Peter Horn opened the festival with poetry readings in different forms which even included a lyrical poem sung by Mann.

Mann said, “The fact that this festival is coming from students is good news.”

Following the poetry readings a discussion about the life of poetry in the world was presented.

“There are poems for different times and moments. There is one poetry but hundreds of different types,” said Horn.

Kgositsile told the audience that “one has to get inside a poem to see how it connects with the outside world”.

The festival will be running until Friday, September 5th. Students can expect to see authors and poets like Antony Altbeker, Ivan Vladislavic, Mandla Langa, Shireen Hassim and the Botsotso Poetry group.