Wits Review April 2024

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April edition 2024, Volume 51

The magazine for ALUMNI and friends of the University of the Witwatersrand

A place in the sun

Students enjoy the new solar benches outside the TW Kambule Mathematical Sciences Building on West Campus. The benches are one example of the drive to use resources more sustainably at Wits and will be rolled out to Parktown campuses soon.

Image: Chanté Schatz
34 Cover feature Why we run What’s kept Witsies hooked on pounding pavements for years In this issue Editor’s Note ............................................ Wits News ................................................ Socials ........................................................ Research ................................................... Witsies with the Edge ......................... International Witsies ............................. Books ......................................................... In Memoriam ........................................... Wits End .................................................... REGULARS 05 06 10 22 28 60 68 74 85 18 Wits Spaces Marlene Dumas Generous gift strengthens connection 54 Profile John Perlman Intelligence and empathy across the airwaves 22 Research Dung beetles Rolling to destination unknown
Gallo/Getty Images
3 Editor Peter Maher Contributors Heather Dugmore, Jacqueline Steeneveldt, Professor Chris Thurman Photography Chanté Schatz Graphic design Jignasa Diar Printing Remata Published by the Office of Alumni Relations, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Address: Private Bag 3, Wits, 2050, South Africa / Tel +27 (0)11 717 1090 Email: alumni@wits.ac.za www.wits.ac.za/alumni www.facebook.com/witsalumni/ www.twitter.com/witsalumni www.linkedin.com/groups/76204 www.flickr.com/groups/witsie/ Update contact details: www.wits.ac.za/alumni/ updateyourdetails Subscriptions per copy: South Africa R50 (incl. VAT & postage) International R100 (incl. postage) Payment options: Online payment using a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Diners Club credit card at: www.wits.ac.za/alumni/payment or by electronic transfer or bank deposit to: First National Bank, Account No. 62077141580, Branch Code 255-005, Ref. No. 29613 (+ your name) or by cash or credit card payment at the Alumni Office. WITSReview is published twice a year. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the editor, the Office of Alumni Relations or of the University of the Witwatersrand. ©Copyright of all material in this publication is vested in the authors thereof. Requests to reproduce any of the material should be directed to the editor. WITSReview magazine, Volume 51, April edition 2024 M A G A Z I N E Image: Chanté Schatz Image: Standard Bank 33 Witsie with the Edge Achille Mbembe 2024 Holberg Prize Laureate 60 International Witsie Kenichi Serino Rooted to journalism, biltong and blossoms 28 Witsie with the Edge Kgomotso Matsunyane 2023 Standard Bank Young Artist loves to play Witsie with the Edge Yaël Farber Conquering the Mount Everest of theatre 32
4 Wits Review April 2024 For more information visit https://wits100.wits.ac.za/ Wits. For Good

Citizens hold the key to our future

On 29 May this year, South Africans head to the polls in the seventh democratic general election in a very different mood to the euphoria and optimism that characterised the country’s first democratic election.

Three decades later there is deep concern and disappointment at the state of our country.

An initial period of growth and development that followed the historic 1994 election has been overshadowed by a devastating decline in service delivery, largely attributed to the impact and consequences of state capture.

However, while the deterioration of state services understandably dominates conversations, there is another story— and it’s not only that we have the best rugby team in the world! Research-intensive institutions like Wits have experienced continuous growth and development since 1994 and have remained centres of excellence the country can be proud of.

The enduring value of a Wits education is evident in the consistently high ranking the University achieves for alumni success. Currently, Wits ranks 21st globally for employment outcomes in the QS World University Rankings 2024, 98th for employability according to the Center for World University Rankings 2023, and 4th worldwide (outside the USA) for producing self-made Ultra High Net Worth individuals according to Wealth-X. Additionally, Wits topped the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings 2022 for its contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of decent work and economic growth. In a cutting edge field like AI, two Wits graduates,

Pelonomi Moiloa and Shakir Mohamed, made it onto Time magazine’s 2023 Top 100 AI per sonalities in the world list.

On Page 6, an actuarial graduate reflects that he was fortunate to take a tour of campus and concludes that Wits today is in far better shape than when he was a student in the eighties. This observation has spurred us to encourage alumni to visit campus to experience the beauty and tranquillity of the University first hand. In a world often fraught with conflict and division, Wits is a haven that ensures all students feel safe and their views, rights and beliefs are respected. Anyone wanting a tour of campus is welcome to contact the alumni office.

Beyond academia, the private sector, communities, neighbourhoods, and individual citizens are increasingly taking action to fill gaps in service delivery. While these initiatives cannot absolve government from its responsibilities, they are empowering civil society to play a greater partnership role in the development of the country and showing there is opportunity in adversity.

Throughout its history, South Africans have shown they are resilient and after 30 years we are no longer a naïve democracy. The stark reality and consequences of corrupt leadership have been laid bare, fostering hope that a more engaged society will demand ethical leadership and hold the corrupt accountable. Countless selfless individuals fought for a democratic, just, prosperous, and more equitable society. It is their example that we should remember and be inspired by as we reflect on the journey we should take over the next 30 years.


Stay in touch:

How I long to be back at Wits!

Thank you for the wonderful experience that has been my pleasure over the past two hours reading the October 2023 edition of the WITSReview.

The pressure of getting through each working day (and night!), while looking ahead to the pressures of the days to come, typified much of my 36-year sojourn at Wits from 1983 to 2018. In comparison to many whose exploits and reminiscences were detailed in the pages of the Review, I led a surprisingly narrow life amid the wealth of experience and stimulation that Wits offered.

Although I had the privilege of getting to know many fine and fascinating individuals, and was involved in many projects, served on numerous committees, led the University Cricket Club for 13 seasons and engaged in many aspects of the social, cultural and intellectual life of the University, the latest  WITSReview illustrates just how much more the University had (and still has) to offer. How I long to be back amid such a wide variety of stimulus and opportunity!

I greatly enjoy reading the news that you provide of the achievements of alumni in their many fields of professional engagement. The obituaries provide some comfort in the knowledge that so many fine people have led such productive and, presumably, fulfilling lives that have been strongly influenced by a Wits education.

Thank you for all your efforts to keep alumni informed of developments at Wits, the University’s ongoing drive to maintain and enhance its reputation, and to recognise the achievements of alumni both on and beyond the campus. Thanks for the entertainment and warm feelings derived from time spent with the Review

My very best wishes to all at Wits,

Barry Swartzberg (BSc 1987), CEO at Vitality Global & co-founder at Discovery Ltd, visited Wits in late 2023: “Fortunate to take a tour of Wits University yesterday. I was an actuarial student at Wits during the turbulent 80s. All I can say is that Wits today is in a far better state, developed in many new and exciting ways and making a positive contribution to the future of South Africa. It is a juxtaposition to the surrounding areas in Johannesburg. My hope is that the growth, optimism and excellence from Wits permeates into the rest of Johannesburg. I really encourage alumni (in fact anyone) that wants to be positively uplifted about the potential of South Africa, take a tour around Wits, it’s world class. It is a true asset of our city and South Africa.”

Distinguished software engineer Dr John Lazar (BSc 1982, BSc Hons 1983) was happy to see his name among the Rhodes scholars on the scholarship boards in the Great Hall earlier this year. Most recently the Royal Academy of Engineering an nounced that he is the society’s presidential candidate.


We regret two qualification errors in Vol 50 of WITSReview. Our apologies to Dr Brian Austin (BSc Eng 1970, MSc Eng 1977, PhD 1986) on Page 6 and Ruth Leas (BA 1993, BA Hons 1994) on Page 22

6 Wits Review April 2024 Letters
Image: Chanté Schatz


World-class training hubs

In 2021 a fire at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital interrupted training of dental science students at Wits. Since then, great strides have been made in pre-clinical training with the addition of two new training facilities in the Faculty of Health Sciences to affirm the faculty’s commitment to preserve and advance oral health science.

The first is the Phantom Heads and Prosthodontics Laboratories. The labs house the largest oral health simulation facility in the country. The phantom heads section is fitted with head simulators while the prosthodontic side aims to expose students to a range of dental techniques for replacing or repairing teeth: from oral hygiene procedures, to acquiring radiographs and even planning for corrective jaw surgery. The facility also exposes students to the latest computeraided design technology, such as digital intra-oral cameras, optical scanners, and microscopes, which all aid training for the diagnosis and treatment of dental diseases.

Alumni from the dental class of 1984 paid a visit to the new Phantom Heads Lab at the Faculty of Health Sciences in Parktown

The second addition is the Zola Dental Clinic (above), a refurbished and re-equipped 15-chair, state-of the-art facility for community-based training and clinical services in Zola, Soweto, officially launched in September 2023. It is a flagship Wits Centenary project made possible by a generous donation from the Stanley and Marion Bergman Foundation. The clinic has a staff complement of dentists, oral hygienists, dental assistants, and specialist dentists on a rotational basis, supervising around 12 students per rotation.

7 Wits News
Images: Chanté Schatz
‘Small acts have a big impact’

Wits was honoured to host renowned conservationist Dame Jane Goodall DBE for a fireside chat in the last week of February at the Wits Origins Centre. The event, organised by the Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation in conjunction with the Future Ecosystem for Africa programme at Wits, was titled “Protect, Manage, Restore”. It featured a conversation between Goodall and a panel of local researchers, including Professor Sally Archibald (BSc 1997, PhD 2010), the head of Future Ecosystems for Africa programme in the Wits School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences. Goodall gave a short talk reminding the audience that small acts make a global impact and there are many reasons to remain hopeful about the future.

She said: “Every single one of us has some impact on the planet every single day, and, certainly, we have the choice as to what kind of impact we’re going to make. If we start thinking of what we buy, what we eat, or what we wear, or if we ask ourselves whether a product was made by harming the environment, or through being cruel to animals, or whether it is cheap because of [people being paid] unfair wages, then we have a choice, and consumer pressure is beginning to change the way some businesses work.”

Wits News
Image: Chanté Schatz



A special place for four decades

In the first week of February 2024, the Wits Theatre welcomed distinguished guests, performers, and numerous alumni back to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

This venue has played a key role in the lives of drama students, alumni and Johannesburg since 1983. Formally part of the School of Dramatic Art and Music, now the Wits School of Arts, it still offers a space for students to learn, practise and experiment. The Theatre Complex includes the restored Chris Seabrooke Music Hall, the Great Hall, the Nunnery, the Old Convent Hall and the Downstairs Theatre.

“Looking through the archives of the Wits Theatre, it is important to note that this space has held a special place in people’s hearts,” said head of the School of Arts, Dr Rene Smith.

Among the numerous distinguished guests were: Malcolm Purkey (BA 1975, BA Hons 1976), who was involved with the theatre for over 20 years, Shannon Esra (BA DA 2004), Jerry Mofokeng (BA DA 1987), Mmabatho Mogomotsi (BA DA 1995), Sharon Spiegel-Wagner (BA DA 2006) and Fiona Ramsay (MA DA 2014).

As part of the celebrations, the theatre hosted the Pitso Ya Kalaneng (Call to the Theatre) Festival, which showcased 12 productions of mainly students’ work.

Images: Chanté Schatz




Bonds work with precision

Mechanical Engineering Class of 1968 celebrated the 55th Anniversary Reunion of their graduation on 27 October 2023. Every five years this group has gathered for festive encounters to share personal updates and recollections.

Five classmates Diego Sella, Peter Bennett, John Shaw, Francesco Sperotto and Oliver Martin met at a restaurant in Johannesburg to connect with friends further away via Zoom.

Source: Francesco Sperotto

Fireside chat with Dr Eve:

‘People long for connection’

Dr Marlene Wasserman (BA Social Work 1979) shared her expertise as a skilled clinical social worker, and family, couple and sex therapist to explore the topic of “intimate relationships” during an engaging webinar on 28 February. Popularly known as Dr Eve, she told the 260 guests that relationships should be viewed in the context of the environment they’re found in because of the “huge impact it has on how we relate to each other”. An increased awareness of extreme mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression emerged from COVID-19, as well as the concept of loneliness. “Whether you are in a relationship with somebody or single, there is an incredible experience of loneliness to the extent that loneliness is now seen as a form of mental illness,” she said. “People long for connection, safety and intimacy. People cannot survive without the connection, but it must be a connection where one feels safe.”

Dr Eve also provided insight into a range of questions, from romantic disengagement, infidelity, and childhood trauma to parenting. Some of the alumni comments included: “Thank you for such a wonderful and necessary conversation. Time wasn’t enough”; “A concise and informative session. The one hour was not enough”; and “As an alumnus overseas, I really appreciate the online event.”


International Reunion Dates

Wednesday 12 June: Vancouver I Thursday

13 June: Seattle I Saturday 15 June: Portland I

Monday 17 June: Atlanta

Sterkfontein Caves tour

Date: June 2024 I TBA

Founders’ Tea

Date: 8 September 2024

Venue: Gavin Relly Green

*Update your details to make sure you do not miss your invitation. Phone: (011) 717 1097 or Email: heather.bangwayo@wits.ac.za

12 Wits Review April 2024


Oh so lovely

On a glorious summer’s evening, Wits Alumni Relations hosted a Valentine’s Day Dinner for around 70 guests under the stars at the awardwinning Olives & Plates restaurant. Guests were treated to a delicious menu, a violinist, bespoke gifts as well as a photobooth, making

Images: Snippet Video / Quickpix


Exactly 6 300 new first-year students and their proud families were welcomed on campus on 28 January 2024. Students were introduced to University’s senior executive team and student leaders.

Images: Vivid


To officially mark the start of their lifelong journey as Witsies, first years enjoyed the 2024 Spirit Game hosted by Wits Student Affairs, Wits Sport and Alumni Relations on Friday 9 February 2024 at the Wits Rugby Stadium. Before enjoying an entertaining soccer match between Wits and Orlando Pirates, students were “revealed” as new Witsies.

Images: Snippet Video



Nail-biting clash

Wits and UCT players face off in a scrum during the epic 2024 FNB Varsity Cup clash on 18 March 2024. The visitors led 28-10 at half time, but Witsies flew out in the second half, scoring two tries in the first five minutes – one courtesy of fullback Setshaba Mokoena who ripped through the UCT defence. The scoreboard was 26-33 to the Ikeys with 10 minutes left on the clock, setting the stage for a nervy finale. The Wits crowd remained at full volume, and their spirit was rewarded when Wits prop Ronan Dutton, scrambled over the goal line in the final minute of the game. After a successful conversion, the game ended in a 33-33 draw.

Source: Wits Vuvuzela Image: SachindPN


40th reunion breakfast

Forty-five years ago to the day, on 15 February, a group of 60 young students started their academic journey at Wits Dental School. Of the original class, 45 went on to graduate as dentists in 1984. Fast forward to 2024, a group of around 20 former students, along with former lecturers and lab technicians, gathered for a reunion breakfast to remember the past and celebrate the present. The breakfast reunion organised by Dr Norman Cahill, included a virtual gathering of former classmates living abroad. There was a special nod to the professors, lecturers and technicians who were part of their journey to becoming the successful professionals that they are today.

Above: Dental class of 1984 at their breakfast reunion Below: Professor Veerasamy Yengopal, former head of community dentistry at Wits, and Professor Bill Evans, former lecturer, share a light moment Images: Chanté Schatz Marlene Dumas stands in front of the painting, Portrait of Elisabeth Eybers, donated by Dumas to the Wits Art Museum Image: Chanté Schatz

What’s in a gaze?

Marlene Dumas’s gift to WAM’s permanent collection strengthens the University’s connection with special alumnae.

Wits alumna and poet Elisabeth Eybers (BA Hons 1937, DLitt honoris causa 1972) made a remarkable “homecoming” to her alma mater on the day that would have been her 109th birthday on 26 February 2024. She returned in the form of a 130x110cm-sized portrait, painted by renowned South African/Dutch artist Marlene Dumas.

It was a balmy Johannesburg evening, complete with full moon, when Dumas officially handed over her Portrait of Elisabeth Eybers to the permanent collection of Wits Art Museum (WAM).

What made this donation especially meaningful and valuable is that it is the only oil on canvas painting by this major artist now owned by a South African museum. (Previously Dumas donated drawings from The Next Generation to the Iziko South African National Gallery and The Benefit of the Doubt to the Constitutional Court).

“Every now and again in Johannesburg, it seems like the stars all align and it feels like this is the best city in the world. And tonight, I feel is, one of those nights,” said Fiona Rankin Smith, special projects curator at WAM on the evening.

Elisabeth Eybers

Wits spaces
Image: Taalgenoot

Wits spaces

Opposite: Guests and VIPs enjoy the Dumas painting at WAM

Images: Chanté Schatz

*Toast by President Nelson Mandela at a banquet hosted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, 11 March 1999

Distance and connection

The donation was partly due to the interventions of Prof Ena Jansen (PhD 1992), a long-standing friend of both Eybers and Dumas. Prof Jansen, now based in Cape Town and Amsterdam, taught at Wits’ Department of Afrikaans and Nederlands for 16 years and her doctorate in 1992 was an analysis of the poetry of Eybers, which was later published as Afstand en verbintenis Elisabeth Eybers in Amsterdam (Van Schaik, 1996).

Dumas became acquainted with the work of Eybers through Prof Jansen’s work. All three women have succeeded in achieving influential positions in the Netherlands, while maintaining strong ties with South Africa.

“The connection to Johannesburg is the primary reason we reached out to WAM,” said Prof Jansen.

Eybers lived in Johannesburg for over three decades, moving to Amsterdam in 1961, where she remained until her death on 1 December 2007. She lived between poles of Amsterdam and Johannesburg with a separating distance, but also with an intimate connection in her imagination and memories. Eybers often compared the two cities in the form of alternate seasons; the past and present; sunsets and moonrises in her poetry. To illustrate this, Prof Jansen read from 1 Desember (Respyt 1993) in which the culmination of the poem compares a clear full moonlit winter’s night in Amsterdam to a “heavenly” July evening on the Highveld. As an immigrant, Eybers made use of the ambiguities of being “here” and “there”, refusing to abandon writing in Afrikaans, saying it was “a language created for poetry”. When former president Nelson Mandela (LLD honoris causa 1991) visited the Netherlands in 1999, he described Eybers as a “stewige loopplank” (steady walkway)* between the two countries.

Prof Ena Jansen

Eybers began her relationship with the University in 1932, at the age of 16. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934 and continued her honours degree in Afrikaans and Nederlands, graduating with a first-class pass. Thereafter she worked as a journalist, including as editor of Die Moderne Vrou (The Modern Woman) and published her first volume of poetry,  Belydenis in die skemering (Confession at Dusk) in 1936. She was the first woman to publish a collection of poems in Afrikaans. She returned to Wits in 1972 to receive an honorary doctorate for her “outstanding contribution to modern Afrikaans letters” and bringing renown to the University. “In honouring a woman of such intelligence and deep sincerity the University is evincing its interest and involvement with the creative side of Afrikaans cultural life,” the citation reads. Eybers remains the only non-Dutch writer to be awarded the PC Hooft Prize for Dutch Literature in 1991. She was also the recipient of the

Hertzog Prize (considered the highest accolade for an Afrikaans poet), twice, in 1943 and 1971. Thabo Mbeki awarded Eybers the Order of Ikhamanga (Gold) in 2007 for her exceptional contribution to literature.

A psychological landscape

Portrait of Elisabeth Eybers was included in Dumas’s retrospective exhibition Intimate Relations held in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2008. At the time, fellow Wits alumnus David Goldblatt (BCom 1957, DLitt honoris causa 2008) remarked:

“I went back again and again, beginning to learn something of the layerings and intricacies of the work. Perhaps the one that fills me most with wonder is the portrait of Elisabeth Eybers. Almost cartoonlike in its seeming simplicity, it evokes the lucid precision of Eybers’ vision and even the terrible clarity of the Witwatersrand light...”

Dressed in black on the evening of the handover, Dumas generously offered insights into the process of creating Eybers, which she painted from a photograph in 2007. It was the same year that both Eybers and Dumas’s mother died. “The painting itself is not of a live model, the scale is larger,” she said. No preliminary sketches were made. “The painting happens on the canvas”. The background colour in the portrait emerged as reminiscences of the dress Eybers wore on one of the only two chance meetings they had face to face.

For Dumas, emphasising “the gaze” was of interest, not merely recreating a physical likeness. She explained she was interested in the connection between two people meeting gazes, as artist and painter. In addition, she wanted to capture the “inner world” of Eybers, making it a “psychological exploration, an abstract portrait”. She said the black of the eyes were particularly overemphasised: “My brother as a baby had eyes that were totally black,” she said. “What was important was the intensity of the eyes and to contrast it with the rest of the painting.”

Although Eybers never saw the actual portrait, only a smaller reproduction, she provided the translation of the accompanying poem Geluk (Happiness) that Dumas used in the catalogue, shortly before her death later that year. “It was the very, very last poem she wrote,” said Prof Jansen.


“Ages ago it doesn’t matter when as I first encountered it doesn’t matter whom we fixed our gaze on one another at a moment unfettered to time.

Sometimes it flashes back in my consciousness blindingly sharp, an arrow of sheer light, token and warrant of I know not what.”**

**from Bestand, 1982, translated by Eybers on 3 July 2007



Rolling in sync

A recent study by dung beetle experts published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society shows the remarkable cooperative activity between male and female Sisyphus beetles when transporting a dung ball. It is believed to be a unique example of animals other than humans working together to move objects around without knowing their final destination.

Professor Marcus Byrne (PhD 1998) of the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Studies at Wits, and Dr Claudia Tocco from Lund University in Sweden, who have been studying dung beetles for decades, found that pairs of beetles carefully coordinate their actions when their path is blocked or faced with a series of obstacles.

“To climb tall obstacles with their common ball of dung, the female assisted the leading male in lifting the ball by steadying and pushing it upwards in a ‘headstand’ position during the climb,” the paper reads. Their results suggest that pairs of Sisyphus beetles cooperate in such a way that the male steers and the female primarily assists in lifting the ball.

Although ants coordinate to get food to their nests, and social spiders cooperate to carry prey to their shelters, both know where they are heading and when they have arrived. With dung beetles, couples start rolling their dung balls with no idea where they will stop.

When the male is removed, the female also becomes inactive, but she can be “reactivated” by making the ball vibrate. How they communicate with each other remains a mystery. “The mechanism that allows the beetle pair to communicate and coordinate their joint actions is currently not known,” says Byrne.

Source: Royal Society

Gallo/Getty Images

The 10-year (and counting) project that has been following a cohort of 5 059 adults over 40 in the Bushbuckridge sub-district of Mpumalanga province, Health and Aging in Africa: Longitudinal Studies in South Africa (HAALSA), is one of the longest running surveillance surveys in Africa. The study is a collaboration led by researchers from the South African Medical Research Council, Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Cape Town and the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network. Older adults have been periodically interviewed about their health and experience of ageing and key laboratory markers and clinical measurements are assessed.

Speedbumps for growing old

In the latest studies researchers firstly explored whether cash transfers and social grants improved cognitive health of respondents as they aged. They found that people who received the cash were better off than those who did not, showing slower ageing-related memory decline and lower dementia probability.

Researchers also examined the impact of the older person’s grant on men’s later-life cognitive health. They found that men who received the full extra years of pension income eligibility had significantly better cognitive function than expected. The additional cash transfers led to a significant reduced risk of mortality. These findings can inform health and development policies to achieve better outcomes for those ageing in South Africa and beyond.

Gallo/Getty Images Research

Clues come in shades of pink PLANT STUDIES

Professor Stephen Tollman (MBBCh 1984, BSc 1979, MMed 1999), director at Agincourt, said: “The resulting evidence from HAALSA will not only convey insights from a region of the world where ageing is not well understood but can be harmonised with other studies of dementia and ageing in low-, middle-, and high-income countries, helping to shed light on the nature of ageing within a global context.”

Sources: HAALSI, The Conversation

Prof Tollman received a Gold Medal at the South African Medical Research Council’s 10th Scientific Merit Awards on 7 March 2024.

Researchers have found that the shade of pink flowers found in the Drakensberg at the end of summer is directly related to the amount of rainfall and sunlight the plant receives; the darker the pink flower, the more sunlight and water it has had.

Masingitla Mtileni (BSc 2018, BSc Hons 2019, MSc 2021), from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits, was the lead author in the study of Rhodohypoxis baurii var. confecta published in Plant Ecology. According to the study single flowers of this species do not change colour over time, but some individual plants are potentially responding to changes in environmental conditions. The field data also showed that soil moisture along with an interaction between ultraviolet radiation and temperature best explained the change in the number of pigmented flowers over the flowering season. The plant produces pigments or anthocyanins to prevent tissue damage because of increased temperatures and ultraviolet levels later in the flowering season. The ratio of white to pink flowers will differ each year. The study didn’t support the assumption that a single flower changes colour over the course of the season.

Source: Nature, Image: Alamy

Above: Rhodohypoxis baurii has adapted its colour in response to conditions in the Drakensberg mountains


Unseen threat in our rivers

Dr Dalia Saad (MSc 2011, PhD 2013), researcher at the School of Chemistry at Wits, and Wits MSc student, Hadeel Alamin, provided the first data on microplastics in the Nile River in Khartoum, Sudan, published in ScienceDirect.

Africa is home to some of the largest and deepest of the world’s lakes and notable rivers, but not much is known about the extent of microplastics in the continent’s freshwaters. Microplastics are classified as plastic particles with a maximum size of five millimetres, all the way down to nanoscale. Tilapia is a popular African freshwater fish species which forms the basis for commercial fisheries in many African countries. In the 30 freshly caught tilapia fish researchers surveyed, a total of 567 microplastic particles were found, indicating the River Nile is contaminated with microplastics that can be consumed or absorbed in various ways by the tilapia and other aquatic organisms. The results echo a similar study of the Vaal River in 2022, in which 26 carp fishes’ digestive tracts contained a total of 682 particles – ranging from seven to 51 particles per fish. Both studies are important scoping investigations for future studies and have huge health and economic implications as the rivers are crucial to agriculture, breeding livestock and recreation.

Sources: Science Direct, The Conversation

A young fisherman tries to catch a tilapia fish along the Nile River. The fish species is particularly important for artisanal fishing along freshwater sources in Africa

26 Wits Review April 2024
Gallo/Getty Images

Witsies with the Edge

Image: Standard Bank

Kgomotso Matsunyane

“I love to play,” says Kgomotso Matsunyane (BA DA 2012), who prefers the name “MoMo”. This 35-year-old Witsie remembers the thrill of being on stage at the age of six and started acting professionally at the age of 14. From a family of artists, she is versatile as actor, singer, playwright, and director. Over the past six months her talents have been on display as head writer and performer in Hlakanyana: The Musical for which she was named Best Supporting Actress at the 2023 Naledi Awards. She’s also the recipient of the 2023 Standard Bank Young Artist Award in the Theatre category. Currently she is in her element directing The Cry of Winnie Mandela – a production at the Market Theatre based on the novel by Njabulo Ndebele. “It’s about what women have endured, particularly in the 80s,” MoMo says. “It’s a story about women in waiting; was Winnie a hero or villain? We explore this and other ways of being while waiting.” The work is an important storytelling project as South Africa reflects on 30 years of democracy. She is working alongside other Witsies Lesley Nkosi (BA Hons 2012, MA 2014) and Ayanda Sibisi (BAFT 2018) in this production. There’s no stopping her…





• 2023 ZWAKALA


Witsies with the Edge

Neo Hutiri


Neo Hutiri (MSc Eng 2015) was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering's Special Medal to mark 10 years of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, which is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation and supporting entrepreneurs. Described as an “outstanding alumnus”, Hutiri also received £50 000 (about R1.19 million) to further support his business, Technovera. His product, Pelebox Smart Lockers, is designed to improve access to chronic disease medication. Healthcare workers place prescription refills into the lockers and the Pelebox technology sends a one-time PIN to open the locker. This solution (an average of 22 seconds for collection) reduces queues in public healthcare facilities. It also helps to track patient compliance. Hutiri first started thinking about solving the queuing problem when he experienced the long wait for his own TB medication at a public clinic.

Images: Pelebox Image: James Oatway

Morne van den Berg


Wits Rugby's, Morne van den Berg (BA 2022) and Henco van Wyk have been called up to the 1st Springbok Alignment Camp 2024. The camp will blend youth and experience as the Springboks prepare for the start of their international season. Van den Berg, aka “Krappie”, wore the Wits jersey in 2019 and now has a professional contract with the Lions. Van Wyk, aka “Weapon X”, was a business management student who played for the Lions and the SA A in a tour match against Bristol in 2022.

Henco van Wyk

Wits student and midfielder Lesego Nkoane made her debut for Banyana Banyana in the Olympic Qualifiers final squad against Tanzania in February 2024. Banyana Banyana are set to face Nigeria in the 4th round.

the Edge
Witsies with
Image: SA Rugby Image: SAFA Image: Varsity Cup

Witsies with the Edge

Multi-award-winning director 1993) was among the finalists for the Coigney International Theatre Award recognises the exceptional work of theatre women around the world who are making a difference in their communities. Most recently she has been directing Shakespeare’s London, which is “considered as the Mount Everest of theatre”, to rave reviews. Farber says the play has many resonances for the world today: “We are in such a treacherous time now in the world. It feels like we’re moving towards some kind of precipice. And such vital choices need to be made about what we consider to be democracies…”

Ravelle Pillay


Ravelle Pillay (BA FA 2016) has been included in the trendsetting artists for the new year by leading curators. She held her first large-scale solo exhibition The weight of a nail at the Goodman Gallery earlier this year. This follows her residency at Gasworks London and her first solo UK exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery in Dulwich. This young Johannesburg-based artist was the first prize recipient of the 2022 African Art Galleries Association’s Emerging Painting Invitational. “A painter like Ravelle Pillay conjures magic from stubborn liquidity of oil paints as if they were watercolours,” says Zoé Whitley the director of the Chisenhale Gallery.

32 Wits Review April 2024
Image: Almeida Theatre Image: Goodman Gallery

CFO winners

Several Witsies were acknowledged at the 10th CFO Awards, the Oscars of finance, at the end of 2023.

Raisibe Morathi (HDipTax 1997), group CFO at Vodacom, walked away with three of the 10 prizes, including the CFO of the Year title, the Strategy Execution Award and the High-Performance Team Award. She leads a team of around 900 people across nine markets in which Vodacom operates, managing a budget of R16 billion per annum.

Isaac Malevu (BCom 1998), CFO at the Industrial Development Corporation, was awarded the Public Sector CFO of the Year title, as well as the Transformation and Empowerment Award. He turned the entity’s R7 billion operating loss into a R6 billion profit and sustained that profitability for three years in a row. He takes great pride in fostering an environment that encourages collaboration and teamwork. He has a zero-tolerance policy for dishonesty and fraud.

Harry Kellan (BCom 1994, BCom Hon 1995), Group CFO, FirstRand, and CEO from 1 April 2024, received the Compliance & Governance Award. In his acceptance speech he said: “Leadership is not about title or designation, it’s all about impact and inspiration.”

Achille Mbembe


Research professor of history and politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Professor Achille Mbembe, is the 2024 Holberg Prize Laureate considered the highest academic achievement in the humanities for a scholar. The prize celebrates his groundbreaking academic contribution to research for over four decades in the areas of African history, post colonial studies, humanities and social science. He will receive the prize officially on 6 June and the equivalent of R10 million. Describing the key purpose of his work, Prof Mbembe asks: “What are the conditions for rethinking the world in a way that opens up alternative ways of inhabiting it, of being-in-com mon and of nurturing a planetary consciousness?...how can life be repaired, reproduced, sustained and cared for, made durable and universally shared?” His latest work Brutalism has been released by Wits Press.

Image: Chanté Schatz




We track down the personalities behind Wits’ distinguished legacy of distance running as the Varsity Kudus Running Club turns 45 this year.


Ran over marathons all over the world

‘ We crave our regular dose of heroin-like endorphins.’
‘We just love to move’

April is the cruellest month. So begins TS Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land. And so begins the hardest month of training for the Comrades Marathon.

“The late Barry Ronge (BA 1968, BA Hons 1969) taught me English literature at Wits and I’ll never forget this line,” says Bruce Fordyce (BA 1977, BA Hons 1978, LLD honoris causa 2007), who mastered the world’s most famous ultramarathon, winning the Comrades nine times between 1981 and 1990. No other runner in the history of the 90km race has achieved this feat, earning Fordyce the title “King of Comrades”.

“If you train your hardest in April you will have a good Comrades; it’s a critical month. In the second half of May you start to throttle back ahead of the race,” says Fordyce, who held the down-run record for 21 years from 1986 to 2007 with a time of 5hr 24min 07sec. His best up-run time was 5hr 27min 42sec set in 1988, which stood as the record for 10 years.

Fordyce was a student at Wits during the 1970s legacy decade of marathon and ultramarathon running at the University. At that time, the Marathon Club was phenomenally strong, with three Wits runners in the top seven places at Comrades in 1971.

Five years later Fordyce’s historic running career started with a 10-minute jog around the Wits rugby field, part of which he walked “as I was so unfit”. After watching a post-Comrades insert on South African TV for the first time in 1976, he plucked up the courage to join the Wits Cross Country and Marathon Club. There he was encouraged by Wits’ crop of long-distance legends, including Dr David Levick (MBBCh 1975, DipPaed 1979), Trevor Parry (BSc Eng 1975), Sonja Laxton (BSc 1970, MSc 1973), Brian Chamberlain, David


Hodgskiss (BCom 1971) and many others.

“Running was calling me,” says Fordyce. Running was calling many Witsies at the time. Once they got hooked on long dis tance running they never stopped. It’s highly addictive. The feeling of being super-fit and able to run far and conquer hills with ease brings with it an inimitable physical and psychological high, known as the runner’s high. It comes with consequences, as do all addictions. While some runners have been fortunate to escape injuries, others have knee or other road-wear issues from many thousands of kilometres – but still they run, far and often.

Like addicts

30 races completed

won 1981–1990


Eight won in consecutive years

Fordyce won the London to Brighton race three times in succession between 1981-1983 Left: In 1986 he finished his fastest Comrades

Above: Deep in conversation with Johnny Halberstadt during the 1981 Comrades Marathon.

“Like addicts desperate for an illicit drug, I suspect many of us would run even if it were proved that it was a most unhealthy pursuit,” Fordyce explains. “We are addicted. We crave our regular dose of heroin-like endorphins. I can miss a day’s running, perhaps even a couple. But by the third day, I simply have to run. I hobble a bit now but I would go demented if I couldn’t run.

“I believe we runners just love to move, to experience running as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. They were the most magnificent runners and they handed this gift of running down to us. Moving sometimes

Ran in Wits colours years


Won in Wits colours in

1981 I 1982

1983 I 1984


held down-run record for 5:24:07


On the Great Hall steps as 1983 Wits Sportsman of the Year years

very quickly, sometimes slowly, gazing at sunsets and sunrises, running in rainstorms and with snow underfoot. There is also something special about embracing and mastering pain, making it a friend.

“Whenever I am slightly sad or depressed I run and, after a run, nothing seems to really matter that much. Running early in the morning in Parktown, Johannesburg (my favourite city), listening to the olive thrush greet the dawn and the fiery-necked nightjar calling from the Parktown Ridge with its mystical cry, ‘Good Lord deliver us, Good Lord deliver us’. ”

The blue and gold

10 1988

Fordyce ran the Comrades in Wits colours for seven years and won it in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 in Wits colours. He says he loved his time at the University and its marathon club: “There’s nothing better than competing in the gold and blue of Wits.” Eight of his nine Comrades wins (out of 30 races) were in consecutive years.

best up-run record for 5:27:42


He says the most difficult time for him as an athlete was the 1981 race, at 25 and wearing a black armband to protest against the 20th anniversary celebrations of the apartheid republic.

“I was a target of a lot of abuse, and I had eggs and tomatoes thrown at me. I was

‘There’s nothing better than competing in the gold and blue of Wits.’

a very unpopular winner that year,” he recalls. But he turned the crowd with his successive Comrades wins to become the darling of the nation.

In the 1982 down run, Fordyce and Alan Robb’s legendary 20km neck-and-neck duel marked the changing of the guard. Fordyce pulled ahead and took first place, eight minutes ahead of Robb. From then on Fordyce continued winning.

He had huge respect for his rival and shares an anecdote about how self-effacing Robb is.

“I was on a plane with Alan and a guy sitting next to him who had just run his first Comrades asked Alan if he ran. Alan replied ‘yes’. Then the guy asked if he had ever run Comrades and Alan said ‘yes’. The guy asked him what his Comrades time was, and Alan said 5:29. The guy looked shocked and replied, ‘With that time you could have won it!’. Alan softly said, ‘I did’.” Fordyce also won the London to Brighton in 1981, 1982 and 1983. He has run over 300 marathons all over the world.

Mental strength

Renowned for his mental strength, Fordyce says: “I think the fact that I was sent to boarding school at a young age played a large part in my mental strength. I learnt endurance there. The school was very old and had those old lead-lined window panes, and each one in my dormitory represented a week for me. I would tick off one week at a time in my head before I could go home so I learnt how to hang in when things were tough.”

In the context of running Comrades, he says: “Until half way you have a big group of runners around you, but I always ran a faster second

half. On the up run, by the time I got to Polly Shortts I’d be on my own and go up as strongly as I could. Polly Shortts was my friend; there is something wonderful about reaching the top of the hill in the lead and the next guy hasn’t started it.

“You think very intensely when you run – it feels like writing a helluva hard exam at university. You are continuously focusing on your tactics and thinking about how you’re feeling, why you are breathing so hard, whether you are feeling any cramps coming on, and when to adjust your running pace and style.”

Winning not the biggest thing

“The winning was wonderful,” says Fordyce, “and I treasure every memory I had of carrying the mayor’s baton across the finish line at the end of the Comrades Marathon. I would gladly sell my soul for one more opportunity to lead the Comrades field across the finish line.

“However, as special as the victories were, the winning has not been the biggest thing. The biggest is the gift that running has given to my life, the travelling and making great, great friends,” he says. “It is also the ultimate leveller – you can be winning one week and get thrashed the next.”

There was very little prize money then; nothing like now, but Fordyce is philosophical about it: “Of course it would have been good but that was how things were then, and no amount of prize money can remotely match receiving an award from Nelson Mandela, whose words still make me chuckle, ‘Ah, here comes Bruce, the man with more Comrades than my ANC’.”

Today, Fordyce is the CEO of Parkrun South Africa, which he started in November 2011 at Delta Park, Johannesburg. Parkrun is a five-kilometre free timed run or walk taking place every Saturday. It was first started in England in 2004. There is a parkrun at Wits, which began in 2018. https://www.parkrun.co.za/wits/

Two years ago, Fordyce started Fordycefusion to assist runners at every level with their training. He has authored two ebooks – Fordyce Diaries: The 1986 Comrades Marathon, Tackling a Down Run and Fordyce Diaries: The 1988 Comrades Marathon, Conquering the Up – and a guide to running your first Comrades, Winged Messenger (Kwartz, 2021). He is busy writing his third, which he aims to publish this year.

38 Wits Review April 2024 Feature
Above: Finishing second in 1980 in Wits colours. From 1981 he was first Below: Winner of the Vaal Marathon, 1979


‘It clears my mind’

am definitely addicted to running; if I don’t run, I feel terrible,” says Frith van der Merwe (BA 1986), who won the Comrades in 1988, 1989 and 1992 and Two Oceans in 1989. Her 1989 Comrades down run record of 5hr 54min 43sec stood for 34 years and was only broken last year by Gerda Steyn.

“I run every day of my life. I am paying for the sins of the past and I limp a bit, but running clears my mind and puts me in a positive framework,” Van der Merwe adds. “I feel good once I’ve run and so many problems are solved along the way. It puts things in context as I tend to overthink things. I turned 60 this year and these days I run 5km Monday to Friday and 8km over the weekend.

“I went into a complete trance while running the other day and thinking about my time at Wits. I loved Wits, the lectures, the running and the social side; it was such a happy time in my life,” she says.

A 2010 article about Van der Merwe in Modern Athlete, by Michelle Pieters, reads as follows:

Wearing a red ribbon in her hair, a slender Benoni school teacher astounded the running world when she broke the tape at the 1989 Comrades Marathon in a phenomenal time of 5:54. She not only won the women’s race, she finished 15th overall. Even more remarkable is that this was achieved only a couple of weeks after she set another course record that is also still standing at the Two Oceans Ultra. Frith is the Queen of Comrades and undoubtedly the best female ultra-athlete South Africa has ever produced.


Today, Van der Merwe is still a teacher of English to grades 10, 11 and 12 at St Francis College in Benoni. She started running when she joined the Wits cross country and marathon team in 1982 and initially got full blue for the 21km half marathon and cross country.

“I had the most fun with running as a member of the Wits marathon team. I saw myself as a social runner and enjoyed the parties afterwards more than the running, but our running coach Tony Frost made me realise I can do this running thing properly. Mark Plaatjes (BSc PT 1987) was also part of the team and it was so inspiring to be in the same team and to get running tips from him.”

A world class distance runner, Plaatjes won more than 20 marathons, including the 1993 IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany – one of his first races representing the United States, where he moved in 1988. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and in 2018 he opened In Motion Running, a business that sells running shoes and kit and offers physical therapy, training and support. He continues to run although no longer competitively.

Van der Merwe says their running team struggled to raise sponsorships to get to intervarsity in other parts of the country because of Wits’ anti-apartheid protests “but we managed to get there and we had such fun”.

Academically, she says, Wits opened her eyes. “We had fantastic history lecturers like professors Tom Lodge, Phil Bonner and Charles van Onselen (BA Hons 1971), and we learnt history from a different perspective. Until I got to Wits I also didn’t realise how bad education was for black people. It was such an important stage of my life, and I began to question everything.”

‘I saw myself as a social runner and enjoyed the parties afterwards more than the running.’

Running-wise she says: “I ran Comrades for the first time in 1987 and came sixth.

At the end of the race

‘As I finished they played Chariots of Fire. I felt tearful, ecstatic and emotional.’

– that I have the perfect build for distance running and that I’m a Witsie!

Recalling her 1989 Comrades super-victory in Pieters’ article, Van der Merwe said: “The night before Comrades 1989 I did everything nutritionists will tell you not to do! I had four glasses of wine and two toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches. I slept like a log!” The next morning she grabbed three chocolate bars and chugged down a cup of coffee before making her way to the start. She knew she had a good chance of winning, but little did she know that she would be making history.

“As I finished they played Chariots of Fire. I felt tearful, ecstatic and emotional. My mom was waiting at the finish line. It was for sure the best moment of my life – a day that I will never ever forget. Something like that happens only once in a lifetime.”

After South African athletes were able to compete again internationally from 1991, in 1993 Van der Merwe won the Tiberius Marathon in Israel, came fourth in the Paris Marathon in 1993 and finished seventh in the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany also in 1993.

“Unfortunately I was not at the same level as I’d been during my peak running era and it was disappointing that we were not able to compete overseas. In 1990 I was running better times than the winner of the New York Marathon. There were so many talented athletes in South Africa in the 1980s. Matthews Temane was one of them – he was a fantastic half-marathon runner and could have won world titles with the times he was running. But there was no point dwelling on it, and we did what we could in South Africa.” years 34 1989 Held down-run record for 5:54:43

Bruce Fordyce came up to me and told me I have the potential to win Comrades; that I have two major advantages going for me

40 Wits Review April 2024
Won Comrades Won Two Oceans Marathon 1988 1989 1992 1989

Sonja ran marathons and won several


It’s in the genes

Sonja Laxton née Van Zyl (BSc Hons 1970, MSc 1973) was Wits Sportswoman of the Year in 1969 and 1971. She ran 24 marathons and won several of them. She is retired in Somerset West and still runs every day at the age of 75. She says she feels compelled to run “because I adore it and my nature is competitive”.

An extraordinarily gifted, versatile runner and South African champion in a range of distances –from the 800m to marathons – Sonja won her first marathon in 1980, the Gold Reef Marathon in South Africa, and then ran the New York Marathon, where she finished 11th. She was entered as Zimbabwean as South Africans were not allowed to run internationally due to the sporting sanctions during apartheid. This also meant she could not take part in five Olympic Games. “It was very disappointing but I still managed to compete in a few international events. There were so many good athletes in South Africa in the same situation.”

Sonja says she was never “brave enough” to run Comrades “and I didn’t like training for such long distances, but I have always been an avid watcher of it. My husband Ian Laxton (BSc Hons 1973, MBA 1975) – whom I met at Wits when we both studied biochemistry – did the Comrades and Two Oceans commentary for 30 years on TV. I introduced him to running and he ran Comrades once but he said it was too far,” she laughs.

At Wits, Sonja was part of the running club and was coached by Jan Barnard. Because so few women competed at the time, the University didn’t have



Wits Sportswoman of the Year in

Wits Sportswoman of the Year in 1969





running kit for her. “So I bought a pair of boys’ soccer pants and dyed them yellow and found a dark blue T-shirt and I ran in Tiger shoes which cost R5. Jan subsequently got me an Adidas sponsorship.”

The Laxtons’ daughter Kim Laxton (MBBCh 2006, MMed 2017), now a psychiatrist in Johannesburg, was also a Wits marathon runner. Kim was Sportswoman of the Year in 2005.

Comrades is a unique aspect of SA culture

In response to what makes Comrades special, Ian says: “It’s one of those unique aspects of South African culture, like braaivleis, and it goes back to 1921. From the 1970s iconic runners started coming through such as Alan Robb and Frith van der Merwe. The whole country started following and participating in this crazy 90km race. It was a chance for the ordinary person to achieve something extraordinary, and it became a badge of honour. And once the SABC started covering Comrades live from 1985, the country was hooked, all the more so because it was the era of Bruce Fordyce who, in 1981, took over the baton from four-times-winner Alan Robb.


‘It was a chance for the ordinary person to achieve something extraordinary, and it became a badge of honour.’

Ian says: “When Bruce kept winning, he arguably became the most famous person in the country and a folk hero. He is a once-ina-lifetime phenomenon. He has the perfect genetics for running and he is a very clever guy with the mental strength to think and talk himself through Comrades. He was an incredibly tough competitor.”

Ian says he’s loved commentating on Comrades, as well as on the Olympic Games, which he covered in 1996, 2000 and 2004: “I loved telling the story to millions of people.”

He’s expanded his love of running to writing too, with his first novel, The Final Lap: Is Winning Enough? (Guide Book Publications, 2023). It explores the world of international track athletics, including the underbelly that exists “alongside fame, fortune, accolades and records”.

Searching for gold

van Glasenberg (BAcc 1982), former CEO of Glencore who now lives in Switzerland, was a marathon race walking champion. He was at Wits at the same time as Bruce Fordyce, who remembers him doing marathon training runs “with all of us Wits Comrades runners as background training for his race walking”. He has been a champion race walker for both South Africa and Israel,

and was good enough to have competed for South Africa in the 1984 Olympic Games if South Africa had not been barred due to apartheid. Race walking is an Olympic athletics event with distances of 20km for both men and women and 50km for men only. Race walking first appeared in the modern Olympics in 1904 and the men's 50km race became part of the Olympic schedule in 1932.

Ivan and Bruce reunited at Wits during orientation week on 6 February 2024

Won the Gold Reef Marathon and finished 11th in the New York Marathon in Above: Ian and Sonja Laxton Image: Chanté Schatz


‘I dreamed...’
‘It’s in the mind, I was born with it, and I’m from a rural village, so survival is part of it.’

endrick Ramaala (BProc 1994, LLB 1996) started running at Wits in 1993.

“It was really a fluke that I started running and it all happened at Wits,” he says. “I would run around the soccer field when the soccer guys were playing, simply to release the stress from studying. When the soccer field became too small I started running around the streets near Baragwanath Hospital as I stayed in Glyn Thomas residence. I found I just loved running and once you get into it, you can’t get out!”

Ramaala says he had always dreamed of going to Wits “and I managed to achieve my objective of getting admitted to Law School. I was afforded opportunities that I made the most of. One of the biggest challenges was arriving at Wits from my village in Polokwane and adjusting to the new environment and the rigours of studying law.

“After graduating I became a professional runner and my next dream was to win at track, cross country and marathons.” A phenomenal runner, he excelled at numerous races, from 5 000m to 10 000m to cross country to half-marathons and marathons. He won gold at the 1993 Australian Student Games, and became South Africa’s student cross-country and 5000-metre champion. He is a four-time Olympian, he was twice placed second at the World Half Marathon Championship and in 2004 he won both the New York City and Mumbai marathons, among many others.

Today, he runs 20km a day, six times a week but he does not compete. “My dream now is to coach and make sure we beat the East Africans,” he says. He trains professional South African and southern African running champions through the Hendrick Ramaala Sports Foundation. Every

43 Feature


Won gold at the Australian Student Games in

Won both the New York City and Mumbai marathons in 1993 2004 -time Olympian

day he is out there with a string of stars at the Zoo Lake Park 3,5km training circuit. Among the champions he trains are Givemore Mudziganyama (2023 Two Oceans winner); Nobuhle Tshuma Mahlangu (2023 N12Ultra winner); and Ntsindiso Mphakathi (2023 Soweto Marathon winner).

Ramaala could have settled overseas but he chose South Africa. “I love it here, I have travelled all over and stayed in many places that side, including London, Paris,

the United States, but I got homesick. I missed my family, the runners here, the sun, I missed everything.”

In response to how he rose so quickly to become a champion runner, he says: “It’s in the mind, I was born with it, and I’m from a rural village, so survival is part of it. People from tough backgrounds work harder and strive to win because of hunger.” He is very matter-of-fact with about the best advice he can give to current marathon and ultra-marathon runners, “it is to win”.


transport and accommodation.

“We partner with SANParks Honorary Rangers to raise the money. They manage a water table and, combined with donations from the runners and a contribution from Varsity Kudus, this year R19 504 was raised,” says Varsity Kudus race director and organiser, IT business analyst Thomas Hope (PDM 2008). He calls himself “an average runner” despite having completed four Two Oceans and 12 Comrades.

stablished in 1979, Varsity Kudus has always been big on Comrades, with numerous winners over the years. Janet Mallen (BA 1972, UDipEd 1980) won Comrades in 1979, with a new record time of 8hr 22min 41sec. The club offers a wealth of advice and support for ultramarathon runners. It also encourages runners at all levels to participate in the annual Varsity Kudus race.

This year’s Varsity Kudus race took place on 6 January 2024 in the Wits/Braamfontein-Westcliff area and 1 974 runners participated. The race, billed as “Your New Year’s Wake-up Call”, is the first on the Gauteng running calendar. For over 10 years it has served as a platform to raise funds for runners who cannot afford to get to Comrades, assisting with the qualifying fees,

The club has a wide range of runners, including former Comrades winners such as Caroline Cherry (MCom 2021), runners who finish with silver medals and runners who finish at the last minute or who don’t make the clock, as well as runners who simply enjoy running any distance. “The club wants to nurture the running talent of students at Wits and a community of runners,” says Hope. “The club’s numbers were knocked during COVID-19 and currently stand at 88 members, and we are building up again.”

The club does Wednesday late afternoon runs, around 5.30pm, starting from the Wits Club, as well as weekend runs. “We encourage all Witsies, alumni and non-Witsies to join. It’s an open club and we have a reduced annual fee for students.” Contact: thomas.adrian.hope@gmail.com

44 Wits Review April 2024
Image: SMacPix


Win 2009 to get back into shape after the birth of her first child.

placed 15th in her third Comrades and 6th in 2014. “The next logical step was to see how far I could go and how fit I could get,” explains Cherry. She put everything into her training and it paid off handsomely. In 2015 she won the 90th Comrades and the Two Oceans Marathon.

win Comrades in 14 years, and the second South African woman, after Frith van der Merwe in 1989, to win both the Comrades and Two Oceans in the same year.

mation that I was fit enough to win Comrades. It still feels like a dream. It was an amazing experience to train for and win those pres tigious events.

to achieve this as I started running late and within seven years I won Comrades,” she explains. “Coach Lindsey Parry put together a brilliant programme for me in the build-up to Comrades where I was doing 200km a week of hard running as part of my routine training, whereas when you are running socially you typically run about 60km a week.”

which she says: “I love Kudus; it embodies the Wits culture, it has a great history of distance runners and a wonderful group of people. Kudus is about far more than running, there is a whole community behind it and we have great fun and wonderful intellectual conversations.”

BSc Hons 1999, MSc 2002) of Varsity Kudus and lectures in the School of Statistics and Actuarial Science at Wits. He’s running his 16th Comrades this year, and Cherry has run eight.

15 th

6 th 2014



Image: Jetline Caroline Cherry winning the 2015 Comrades Marathon South African woman to win Comrades and Two Oceans in the same year in 2015
place in her 3rd Comrades in 2012 place in Comrades in
years in 1st South African woman to win Comrades in 2015



Jon Lang was third in the Athens Marathon. He won the South African Marathon in 1963 and 1964.


The ‘Double Standards’ Resolution


David Levick won the London to Brighton race, with fellow Witsies Trevor Parry second and Rob Gardner fourth.



Sonja Laxton won both the South African 1500 metres (in a new record time) and crosscountry championship. She was the first woman to be chosen for Springbok track, cross country and marathon teams.


In 1977 the South African Council on Sport adopted a resolution that forbade members to participate in multinational sport. During the 1980s, black students who chose to compete under the All Sports Council banner were ostracised. Transformation of sport at Wits began in 1986 when the Black Students Society requested the establishment of a non-racial sports body on campus. Extensive negotiations led to the decision that two sporting bodies would exist: the old ASC and the South African Tertiary Institutions Sports Council (Satisco), to be known as Satisco-Wits. Both would fall under the general control of the Sports Administration.

Plaatjes was barred from entering the 1988 Boston Marathon because of his South African nationality and the sports boycott of the time. Instead he ran a marathon in Port Elizabeth, breaking the South African and African record in a time faster than the Boston winner’s.

Frith van der Merwe set a new record for the women’s section of the Comrades Marathon and the same year reached the 30km and 50km marks at the Two Oceans in world-record times.

46 Wits Review April 2024
David Levick Rob Gardner
Dave Levick 5:48:53 6. Trevor Parry 6:10:15 7. Robbie Gardner 6:08:47 24. Derek van Eeden 6:32:47 53. John Vickers 6:58:48 69. Dave Hodgskiss 7:08:43 77. Pete Gordon 7:12:57 81. Brian Chamberlain 7:13:49
Comrades Marathon Placement of Wits runners: 2.


1981 1984

Bruce Fordyce won his first of nine Comrades, wearing his famous black armband in protest against the race’s inclusion in the Republic Day festival. He would also win three London to Brighton races, and the United States 50mile championships. He braved the Arctic chill in 1987 to win the 84km Midnight Sun Marathon of Hope on Baffin Island in a new record time. Thereafter, he won the inaugural Standard Bank 100km Challenge at Stellenbosch.


Mark Plaatjes became the South African cross country and marathon champion. In his Johannesburg Marathon victory, he equalled the world altitude record. Running at Port Elizabeth in 1985, he broke the South African Marathon record in 2:08:58. His time was the fastest run on the African continent and 13th fastest in history.



Hendrick Ramaala began running at Wits; he won gold at the 1993 Australian Student Games, and became South Africa’s student cross country and 5000-metre champion. He became a three-time Olympian and won the New York City marathon in 2004. Ramaala is one of South Africa’s most versatile runners of all time, setting six South African records, from 5000m to cross country to road running.

Plaatjes, who had emigrated to the United States, qualified for the United States team and, at Stuttgart, became the world marathon champion, the first American to win the title.

Caroline Cherry (formerly Wöstmann) won the 90th Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Marathon. She was the first South African woman Comrades winner since Rae Bisschoff in 1998 and the first South African woman to win the Two Oceans in 14 years.

Read more profiles of Rob Fryer, David Hodgskiss, Brian Chamberlain, Trevor Parry, and Chad Markgraaf in the online edition.


Image: Wits Vuvuzela

11 Comrades



‘It's part of me’


he worldwide long distance running boom started in 1972, when America’s Frank Shorter won gold in the men’s marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich,” says Rob Fryer (CTA 1969, BAcc 1987). Fryer is the Wits Fund treasurer and lives in Connecticut, United States. He is the author of the recently published Running For Your Life – Exploring the Amazing Benefits of Regular Exercise (Palmetto Publishing, 2023).

Erich Segal, renowned author of Love Story (Harper Row, 1970), was a marathon runner and passionate commentator on ABC television. He covered the 1972 Olympics and inspired people to take an interest in marathon running.

“Millions of people were watching that Olympic race and it ignited a running boom in the United States, which spread to the rest of the world, including South Africa and Wits,” Fryer says. “People started reading books by runners and magazines like Runner’s World became really popular. I started running in 1974 and new running clubs were starting all over what is now Gauteng. I joined the Rand Athletic Club as Varsity Kudus didn’t exist yet.”

In the 1970s and 1980s there was an explosion of big city marathons, including those in London, New York and Berlin, which have since become major events in the cities’ calendars. The Boston Marathon is the exception; it is the world’s oldest marathon, started in 1897, inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, which was run from the town of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40km. The standard marathon distance was set at 42.195km by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in 1921 from the distance covered at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

‘In the entire running world, Comrades is unique; it’s the pinnacle of ultras ’

“In the entire running world, Comrades is unique; it’s the pinnacle of ultras and no other country has the focus on ultras that South Africa has,” says Fryer. “Ultras generally attract small fields but Comrades attracts huge numbers of runners and spectators who watch the entire race, physically turning up from the early hours or watching it from start to finish on TV. There is nothing like it.

9 silvers
and ultra marathons
Ran over marathons

Above: Rob Fryer at the Boston Marathon in 2013, an hour before the bombing, as he describes in his book

DAVID HODGSKISS ‘It eases my brain’

D“When you run marathons people always ask if you’ve run Comrades. Never mind that you’ve run the London, Paris, New York, Boston or Chicago marathons, they want to know about Comrades. It’s a very special feeling running Comrades: the spirit, the companionship and the tremendous support. I don’t know anyone who says they ran Comrades and hated it. It is such a sense of achievement.”

Fryer earned nine silver medals in the Comrades over 11 years and one silver at Two Oceans, between 1977 and 1988. His running career spans five decades and he says: “I have run over a quarter of the distance to the moon, including 120 marathons and ultra-marathons, and hundreds of shorter distance races.”

Over the course of his career, Fryer worked for Deloitte all over the world and is now consulting from home. About his role as the Wits Fund treasurer he says: “I owe my entire career as a professional accountant to Wits and you want to give back. So many people on the Wits Fund feel the obligation and responsibility, and encourage others to do the same.”

Fryer is now 77 and he continues to run marathons in his age group. “You remain competitive and want to make sure that no one older than you beats you,” he laughs. At age 70 he ran a 50km race in Connecticut and was first in the over-60 age group.

“As you get older you naturally get slower but you can still put in the hours to train,” he says. “There are not a lot of marathons for the over-80s, where I’m heading, but I think this will change as a lot of people want to run for their whole life. I don’t intend to stop. Running is part of me. I want to run. I love it.

avid “Smooch” Hodgskiss (BCom 1971) was one of the driving forces in starting the Varsity Kudus Running Club at Wits in 1979. Kudus was for runners who wanted to focus on marathons and ultramarathons, as the Wits Athletics Club was more focused on track running. The club quickly grew to a record of 250 members.

Hodgskiss competed in the Comrades 23 times (achieving ten sub-7:30 silvers), the Cape Town Cycle Tour (Argus) 18 times and the Dusi Canoe Marathon 28 times.

“I need to do long distance because it eases my brain,” says chartered accountant Hodgskiss, who lives in Emmarentia, Johannesburg. “When I’m worrying about something I run. I really need it in my life and lots of people do. After a long run you gain clarity and feel like a new person.”

He was given the nickname “Smooch” in 1972 by the late SABMiller CEO and chair Graham Mackay (BSc 1977, BSc Hons 1978), who was secretary of Ernest Oppenheimer Hall residence at the time. “He said he would only second me at Comrades if I accepted the nickname Smooch because of the ‘kiss’ part of my surname. So I did and in the Comrades results lists I am listed as Smooch Hodgskiss. Mackay seconded Hodgskiss twice.

“To this day if anyone comes up to me that I don’t know and calls me Smooch, I know they are Comrades runners,” he smiles.

His Witsie wife Dorothy, née Brodie, (BA Hons 2003), also ran Comrades in 1994 and 2000.

Running For Your Life – Exploring the Amazing Benefits of Regular Exercise Opposite: Fryer during the 1988 Comrades Marathon at Botha's Hill
Above: John Bush and David Hodgskiss were leading members of the Wits Cross Country and Marathon Club during the 1970s Comrades 10 silvers


‘It's a good stress reliever’

Brian Chamberlain, who studied towards a BSc in 1967 and 1968 at Wits, won the Two Oceans Marathon in 1977 and 1978, and the South African Marathon in 1977.

At the age of 74 he is still a member of Varsity Kudus. Four years ago, at the age of 70, he came second in the 70+ age group in the 42km South African championships marathon in his age group and is fortunate to have had very few injuries over the years.

Chamberlain, who has been in IT his whole career and who now lives in Montgomery Park, Johannesburg, says: “Running is an honest, straightforward sport. It’s you against everyone else, whereas with team sports there are often issues with selection and you don’t necessarily get the recognition. Running is also a very good stress reliever. After a long run I am far more relaxed about stressful situations that come up.”

When Brian started running in the 1960s, they ran in takkies

Chamberlain says he loved the camaraderie in the Wits running club in the 1960s and 1970s. “It was a very special time as we seemed to get a group of runners together who could run well and enjoyed each other’s company. Some live in UK, US, Australia and New Zealand now but we still keep in contact regularly and see each other as often as we can.”

When he started running in the 1960s, like Ian Laxton, they ran in takkies – the same ones they would use for tennis or other sports. “The era of running shoes started in the late 1960s with the Bostons made by Tiger, which evolved into ASICS,” he says. “In the early days we had no cushioning, nothing like the running shoes today, but luckily my body is built for running. I have had very few injuries.”

Two Oceans Marathon wins 1977-78

In 1975, two years before Chamberlain’s first Two Oceans win, the marathon was given “multi-national” status. George “Goodenough” Qokweni from Welkom became the first black runner and Ulla Paul the first female runner to officially complete it.

“South Africans could not run in Springbok colours abroad at the time but I was able to run a few international races with Goodenough as we were first and second in the selection race in Port Elizabeth to compete in races in Puerto Rico and England in 1975.

“The 32km race in Puerto Rico stands out for me as it was an international field of about 1000 runners and I came in second behind Bill Rodgers, who won the New York and Boston marathons a few times, and was one of the best marathon runners in the world at the time. In 1976 they stopped us altogether from running outside South Africa.”


‘It's my physiology’

Trevor Parry (BSc Eng 1975), a top-10 finisher in marathons and ultras in the 1970s, says: “Wits was fantastic, we had a really good time and the club spirit was top notch. Comrades was the big thing. I realised my strength was distance; the longer the race, the better I seemed to do. It’s my physiology: I’m six foot but light and my muscle makeup is suited to running. Having said this, my first long training run while at Wits was disastrous. I was so exhausted that Brian Chamberlain had to fetch me in his car. I had gone too fast. That was when I realised the necessity of pacing yourself and it made me determined to prove myself.”

6 th place in Comrades in 1971

He ran his first Comrades in 1970 and in 1971 he came sixth, while his Wits compatriots Dave Levick came second and Rob Gardner seventh. The Wits Marathon Club raised money for the three stars to go and run the London to Brighton in 1971, where Levick came in first, Parry second and Gardner fourth. “It was amazing being in London, coming from a ‘verkramp’ society to a free country,” Parry recalls. “I was interested in rock music and we went to see rock bands such as Deep Purple and Credence Clearwater Revival. It was the flower child era and we also went to see shows like Hair.”

He was nicknamed “Eat Soup” after an intervarsity

he was “a little bit over enthusiastic with the wine during supper and I had never had wine before. I wasn’t feeling so good and was staring at my soup,” he smiles.

During his time at Wits the first official running shoe was brought out, called the Boston. “Before then we ran in takkies, and although the Boston was nothing like today’s running shoes, it was wonderful,” says Parry. He is still running “the odd marathon” at 74 and benefits from hand-me-downs from his son Lindsey Parry, renowned Comrades coach, who is sponsored by New Balance. “He got me into strength training with weights, which is something we never did.”

Below: Trevor Parry of Varsity Kudus wins Gold Reef Marathon Bottom: Comrades 1979
Trevor Parry (left) with Bruce Fordyce, Hosea Tjale (right) and Basie van Staden (back)
‘I really love running, it is truly my passion and it’s taken over my life.’

100 marathons in 100 days


‘For a good cause’

In 2023, Witsie accounting science student Chad Markgraaf committed to running 100 marathon-length runs in 100 days to raise money for his friend Kyle Dally’s skin cancer treatment. “I started on 1 July and finished on 8 October and raised R25 000,” says Markgraaf. “I ran a 10km circuit four times every day for 100 days around Alberton, where I live. The Alberton Running Club organised a whole lot of runners to join me and it was incredible.”

He said he had heard about people who ran marathons to raise money and he wanted to do something similar. “I was already running 21km most days for training so I thought why not double it, which I did.

“I took it day by day as 100 marathons was too much to digest, and I emphasise the role that God played in it as I cannot explain how I maintained all the mileage.

“It was incredible, even former Springbok rugby captain John Smit sent a donation, and a lot of local businesses sponsored the last 30 marathons at R100 per km or R4 200 for the full marathon – my mom came up with this model.”

Beyond the fundraiser, Markgraaf has ambitions for his running: “I really love running, it is truly my passion and it’s taken over my life. I’m being coached by a trainer who works with Bruce Fordyce in his running training business FordyceFusion.

“This year I’m chasing my trail running dream and competing in the 45km Bain’s Kloof Pass2Pass in March and the 100km Ultra-Trail Cape Town in November.

“I also have future aspirations of running Comrades, inspired by a runner named Eddie Moleleki who often joins me on my morning training runs and who is looking to complete his first Comrades this year at the age of 70.”

Feature 52 Wits Review April 2024

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A well-known radio host in South Africa shares intelligence and empathy over the airwaves. It’s the . . .


In a world of content bias, fake news and social media agendas, John Perlman (BA 1981, BA Hons 1982), is a seasoned journalist with a trusted opinion, who is interested in all points of view.

“I love the immediacy of radio; it’s a blessed job,” says Perlman, who hosts the afternoon drive show on 702. “It puts you in direct contact with what so many different South Africans are thinking and feeling. There are always robust political debates, but people also phone in with profound and amusing anecdotes about everyday life.”

A recent example: he asked listeners what little things they kept after a family member passed away. “This guy phones in and says he kept his recently deceased mother’s last pay slip,” Perlman recounts. “He said it was for R2 000 a month compared to his salary of more than R100 000 a month, and it always reminded him of what she had done to give him the opportunity to be where he was now.”

Then there was the question he posed as to whether traffic cops took bribes. “One guy calls in and says, ‘John, have you ever seen a traffic cop at an ATM?’.”

55 Profile

This is his 26th year in radio and he has been inducted into South Africa’s Radio Hall of Fame after winning numerous national awards. Prior to 702 he was with Kaya FM for 13 years, and before that he presented the news programme AM Live on national radio at SAfm for nine years. He left SAfm after standing up to the SABC and publicly opposing political censorship at the national broadcaster. This prompted a commission of inquiry, and in October 2006 the report confirmed what Perlman had said, finding that there was a blacklist of commentators whom SABC staff were instructed not to consult.

Perlman’s colours have always been nailed to the mast of freedom of the media, equality and democ racy. He says this ethos was honed at Wits, where, in 1977, he started a BA in history, politics and south ern Sotho. “It was a time of huge turbulence in the country, the Soweto uprisings were the year before and Wits was a contested space,” he says.

“I come from a liberal family, but being at Wits deepened my understanding of apartheid, democ racy and freedom of thought, and I learnt to read, research and think. It was incredibly interesting be ing at Wits; every element was aimed at encouraging maximum use of your brain to grapple with ideas.”

To help fund his studies he did a number of parttime jobs. “I made toasted sandwiches in the Senate House canteen in the evenings and on Saturday mornings for the part-time students. I did market research, I was a waiter, a barman and a door-to-door dishwashing liquid salesman. Wits had this wonder ful ‘jobs book’ and I got all my jobs this way.”

On weekends he could be found watching football games in township stadiums. “I loved football from a young age,” he says. His decision to study Sesotho was inspired by football as he wanted to be able to communicate and connect with fellow fans in the stadiums.

He was also involved in the South African Voluntary Services, and during varsity holidays they would go to the rural areas to build classrooms. “As a student I gained a rich connection to township and rural South Africa and this has been a thread throughout my life,” says Perlman.

He returned to many of these communities after he founded The Dreamfields Project in 2007. The NGO provides football and netball equipment, coaching and league programmes for primary school children in South Africa’s townships and rural areas.

Over the past 17 years, Dreamfields has invested more than R160-million in these communities, about 70% of that in rural areas, and has emerged as one of the best sports development projects in the country.

tiful spectacle and wonderful opportunity for a country, but it also brings out the worst in human behaviour. It brings out a lot of greed and hypocrisy because fundamentally it is driven by money and big business. Ahead of our World Cup, ordinary South Africans were told there would many opportunities for small businesses, but there were very few.

“I decided I could either complain about what wasn’t

56 Wits Review April 2024
“I started Dreamfields with a view to making sure that township and rural children got to share in the dream of the 2010 World Cup.”

being done, or go out and do it myself. I wanted Dreamfields to have strong South African roots, so almost all of our fundraising focused on SA companies, because they would stay with us once the World Cup show moved on. We’ve had incredible support over the years but there is still so much work to be done.”

He managed to secure two founding partners for Dreamfields: Old Mutual for three years and BHP Billiton for eight. From there it became easier to attract other sponsors, most recently the Roy McAlpine Charitable Foundation.

The entire Dreamfields Project is run by a team of nine. One of the founding members is entrepreneur Graham Bath (BCom 1976), who started the Woolworths MySchool programme. “He has been the spine of Dreamfields, bringing with him all the systems and financial skills

that I didn’t have,” says Perlman. “Another is Silas Mashava, an astoundingly brilliant man who has been with us since the outset and who brought Dreamfields to life in the township and rural areas.”

Initially they built about 25 football fields in communities throughout the country. “We don't do that anymore, partly because fields cost a lot, but also because we handed these facilities over to municipalities and that brought lots of challenges in the longer term.”

Today they run 22 programmes in nine provinces, involving 396 schools, over 70 000 children and 63 community football and netball clubs. They provide young football and netball players with all the equipment they need: boots and sneakers, full sets of kit, medals and trophies, goalposts and netball poles.

Above: Many of the kids come from very stressed environments where their dreams are constrained, and they really enjoy the five-a-side games.

Above, below and top right:

Over the past 17 years, Perlman’s Dreamfields project has invested more than R160-million in township and rural communities, and has emerged as one of the best sports development projects in the country Images: Dreamfields project

“We believe that every child who wants to play should play.”

“We believe that every child who wants to play should play. So we set up mass participation DreamLeagues in every participating school, with well-organised five-a-side football and mini-netball games every week. We have hired around 200 young adults from the communities to coach and run the DreamLeagues. To develop their coaching skills, we have workshops throughout the year, including accredited qualifications from Netball South Africa. We also inspire excellence by running special clinics for the best players in each sport, and by hosting DreamEvent tournaments.

“We want all kids to enjoy football and netball, not just the kids who are selected for teams. We all know that sport is so good for their health and discipline, it helps them focus better in class and they have a lot of fun. Many of the kids come from very stressed environments where their dreams are constrained, and they really enjoy the five-a-side games.”

One young player is now in the Orlando Pirates junior team, another at Sundowns and three at AmaZulu. Several other young footballers are being considered for the School of Excellence and several young netball players

have made provincial sides and gone on to the national championships.

In northern KwaZulu-Natal, Dreamfields began working in the KwaMbonambi area in late 2022. Within a year, the girls of Umbonambi primary had made astonishing progress. Their under-12 and under-13 netball teams finished the season as provincial champions, which qualified them for the national finals. The older girls finished fifth out of 56 teams , a remarkable achievement. And the under-12s came home with the bronze medal, finishing third out of 47

58 Wits Review April 2024
Image: © Old Mutual Foundation

Life with John

coaching in partnership with the University of Pretoria,” says Perlman. “Over 250 teachers and community coaches from 100 schools in Limpopo and Mpumalanga have done the first level athletics coaching course.”

After 17 years Dreamfields continues to inspire him: “Every time we present kids with their school’s kit it is special. On one occasion on the Cape Flats, one of the sponsors came to me and said the boots were too small. I found it really strange as we check all the sizes in advance and so I went to investigate and found the boots still had the paper in the toes. In that moment I realised that these children had never had anything new.

“In a similar vein, we often get kids still playing with the labels in their shirts long after they have received them. They don’t want to cut them off. They absolutely love their kit even though it belongs to the school. They love that they come out on the field looking like a team, like professional players, even if they are playing on a very rough field.”

Dreamfields continues to grow steadily without any funding from government but Perlman says the Department of Basic Education has backed the project strongly since they launched, and they work well with the district officials for schools.

“What we have built is an inclusive, sustainable model for all kids to play sport and we are really proud of this,” says Perlman. “It’s something positive in a country where the yard by yard grind for so many is very tough and it’s hard for people to believe in South Africa. We have to build positive things and we need all the smart ideas and brilliant people we have in this country to step up. That is why our universities are so important. There is a profound understanding there of the need for knowledge and tools that have a wider benefit in society.”

Perlman lives in an apartment in Joburg with his wife Dr Helena Dolny, who is a business and life coach. She is the founder director of LoveLegacyDignity, an NPO that helps people think about how to live well in the context of the inevitability of dying. She has also authored a book on the subject called Before Forever After.

“During the week I have a very busy radio schedule and I only get home at about 7pm, so we don’t socialise much during the week. We both like to cook and I read a lot and listen to audiobooks and podcasts by people like Terry Gross (‘Fresh Air’), Ezra Klein of The New York Times and Marc Maron (‘WTF’). I learn a lot from them and I enjoy the precision with which they ask questions. I’m working on improving this myself.”

To keep healthy he cycles and goes to gym and he loves watching sport. “Helena is used to me losing it and screaming at players and the ref on TV.”

Travel-wise, he loves the bush and they go to Kruger National Park several times a year. “I’m the guy other people hate as I can sit there for hours waiting for things. I love lions but they only reveal themselves to you if they choose to do so. I like that as a general life philosophy. There are no guarantees in the bush. So much of life is about achieving results, so it’s good for me to be in a situation where I can’t make anything happen. The same applies to red wine, which I enjoy. You don’t know exactly how good a red wine will turn out to be because it changes all the time.”

For more information about Dreamfields

https://sites.google.com/dreamfields project.org/dreamfields/home


International Witsies to journalism

Kenichi Serino (MA 2009) is the deputy news editor for digital at PBS NewsHour in Washington DC. He shares how his experiences of Johannesburg, remain part of what he values.

Kenichi Serino had graduated from George Washington University in the US and, to top up his starting income in a media job, was working at a Japanese restaurant in Washington DC. Sitting in the bar after his shift one day, he started chatting to a woman who had grown up in South Africa.

“We exchanged emails and corresponded, and some time later when I was thinking about where to do postgraduate studies, I got chatting to her about this,” he says.

“I wanted to go somewhere new, and she suggested South Africa and Wits, where she had a friend in the Wits Journalism Department, Professor Lesley Cowling (BA 1983, BA Hons 1984), who coordinates the master’s programme. So I applied, got accepted and off I flew to Johannesburg in 2006.”

Serino booked into the Braamfontein Hotel for the first three days, then found a place in Melville and subsequently in Yeoville. So began his South African sojourn. He completed his master’s and worked as a journalist in Johannesburg, covering stories for a range of publications on subjects from sexual violence to race and rhino poaching. From 2013 to 2016 he returned to Wits to lecture in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. “I loved it that Wits and South Africa in general have such lively public platforms and spaces for discussion and thinking,” he says. “In the US at the time, issues like race and equity were not mainstream as they are now.

“Also, while Joburg is not an easy place to live in, the camaraderie of Joburgers is really special, and the connecting of so many cultures and people from all walks of life appealed to me.”

The neighbourhood where he now lives in DC reminds him of what Yeoville was like in 2009 when he lived there. “I live in Columbia Heights, which is a very mixed neighbourhood, with a combination of young professionals, wealthier professionals with families, black Washingtonians and a large immigrant community, many from El Salvador. The restaurants, eateries, bars and shops reflect this mix.”

It takes him an hour to get to work each day.

Prior to joining PBS NewsHour (NH) he worked in media in New York, Detroit and the US Virgin Islands and freelanced for numerous news outfits worldwide.

“PBS NH is a public media organisation and we have a strong ethos of informing the public rather than pandering to them or chasing ratings and web hits. As an editor and writer I’m committed to solid

Below left: Cycling to work Below right: First in the office

Opposite: Serino at home in DC’s Tidal Basin area in West Potomac Park with its magnificent display of cherry blossoms

Images: Supplied

“I loved


that Wits and South Africa in general have such lively public platforms and spaces for discussion and thinking”

journalism. It’s a great job and a privilege to be able to ask people whatever you want and they answer you.

“The problem is that solid journalism is dying because of the pressure from many news media owners about the business side. South Africa is very familiar with this. The traditional advertising side of the business has blown out because of digital platforms, and many media companies have moved to subscription models or they offer content for free.

“The problem is the quality sites cost money to read and all the terrible sites are free. Quality journalism needs to be properly financed, it always has, and it is terrible to see good journalists being laid off. Social media companies also don’t want to take responsibility for what they put out because it’s expensive to do this. All this has an impact on well-researched, responsible journalism.”

Serino’s journalism roots can be traced to his childhood in the village of Vanderbilt in northern Michigan where he was born and raised, and where his father was the mailman and ran the community newspaper. His interest in news and what affects people’s lives grew from here.

His name, Kenichi, is Japanese as his mother is Japanese; her family is from Hokkaido. His parents met after his father was honourably discharged from the US air force – he was stationed in Japan during the Vietnam war and stayed on afterwards. They married and moved to America in 1977. “I’ve been to Hokkaido several times to see family. It’s a beautiful natural environment with lots of forests.”

Cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japanese culture and the annual Hanami ceremony in Japan celebrates the fleeting beauty of the blossoms, and the association with mortality. Serino is able to experience this at home

in DC’s West Potomac Park with its magnificent display of cherry blossoms in spring from thousands of trees. The Japanese government gave the American government the cherry trees as a gift of friendship in 1912.

He enjoys the fact that “DC culture” is a mix from all over the world.

In his downtime Serino cycles, goes to gym, reads a lot, hangs out with friends and frequents one or two bars, despite not being a drinker.

“I’m currently reading The Djinn Waits A Hundred Years by a South African friend of mine, Shubnum Khan, who lives in Durban, and Vincent Bevins’ new book If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution.” Bevins looks at the 2010 to 2020 period, when more people participated in protests and uprisings worldwide than at any other time. Yet this has not led to more just, democratic societies.

“I’m interested in what the alternatives are, including alternative economic models,” Serino says. “I’m currently writing about zero growth, based on the idea that GDP growth is not a useful metric for measuring growth at a time when we should be freezing growth in the West and focusing on living within planetary boundaries.”

Many animated discussions on alternative political and economic systems take place at one of his favourite bars, Lyman’s on 14th, which he describes as “a hangout for younger generation comrades and socialists who see the inadequacies of the current system and are trying to figure out what could replace it.”

In the meantime Serino has figured out something far more immediately gratifying: how to make biltong. “I really enjoy it,” he smiles. “I researched a lot of recipes after I left South Africa and I’m currently drying some in my apartment.”


Wizard The

Dr Jenny Gray (BSc Eng 1986; GDE 1988; MA 2008), the CEO of Zoos

Victoria in Australia, says she draws on her background in ethics to guide her life and work.

International Witsie
Image: Melbourne Zoo

As if on cue, as we start talking a kangaroo hops through Dr Jenny Gray’s garden at her home in Mount Macedon in the hills outside Melbourne.

“We’ve been here for a year as we felt like a country change. Before this, home was a ninth-floor apartment in the inner-city area of Port Melbourne. Now we’re on one acre and surrounded by animals and trees.”

Mount Macedon is a 45-minute drive for Gray to her office in Melbourne at Zoos Victoria where she has been the CEO since 2009. Zoos took Gray to Australia in 2008 when she made a career move from the Johannesburg Zoo, where she was CEO for four years.

“My husband Richard is Australian and we lived in South Africa for 12 years before moving to Melbourne, so it was an easy transition and I’ve been able to do a lot of wildlife conservation work here, which I really love.”

She had a diverse career before joining the world of zoos. She worked in municipal governance, banking and transport, and has a string of associated degrees. In addition to her Wits degrees she has a master’s in transportation from the University of California Berkeley, US (1989), an MBA from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (1996) and a PhD from the University of Melbourne (2015).

“I focused on ethics for my master’s and PhD because I like that it poses the question ‘how should I live a good life?’ while morality asks ‘how should I treat others?’. Working with people and animals one spends time thinking about both.”

Gray has studied her entire life. “I always wanted to start off studying civil engineering because it teaches you to think and problem-solve across sectors. This has afforded me the privilege of career choice, for which I have Wits to thank,” she explains.

“I loved being at Wits, I loved the camaraderie and the spirit of learning and growing, and I played a lot of hockey at a social level right through university.”

She was one of three women in her first-year undergraduate class of 60. By fourth year there were still three women but only 20 men. “Not a lot of women chose civil engineering then, so I suppose you had to be really good at maths and science to be admitted to the programme,” she laughs.

After graduating, she joined the Johannesburg City Council, which gave her the opportunity to study at Berkeley: “The City of Johannesburg ran a bursary programme and would send young staff to study abroad. I applied to do my master’s in transpor tation engineering at Berkeley, which was the leading school in this field at the time. I was on a fully paid,

Above: Koala, Werribee Open Range Zoo Below: Dr Jenny Gray’s home, Mount Macedon, Melbourne Image of Koala: Unsplash
“Some of the most incredible diving in the world is a couple of hours away.”

full-time master’s bursary for a year, which was an incredible time. I got to see a bit of America during the breaks and the programme set me up for computer modelling of transportation systems which I did within the Johannesburg and Durban city councils.”

In 2003 she joined the Johannesburg Zoo where she developed a 10-year strategic plan to drive its upgrade and growth, and achieved an increase in visitors from 285,000 to 440,000 in three years.

Today, Gray is a key player in the international zoo community, and past president of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She has been instrumental in transforming Zoos Victoria into a world leading zoo-based conservation organisation. Victoria Zoos’ four diverse zoos include Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, Kyabram Fauna Park and Werribee Open Range Zoo – the latter is a conservation area where the animals roam free in large habitats, and where they are currently relocating the elephants from the Melbourne Zoo.

“Through zoo-based conservation we use our skills to look after critically endangered animal species in Victoria,” she explains. “We are like an intensive care unit for species. With some of the species there are literally only a handful left in the wild. We care for them on our properties, breed up the numbers and work with the state-run parks and private landowners to make sure there is suitable habitat for them when we return them to the wild. It’s the most incredible experience to release them and to revisit areas where they were almost extinct and see them thriving again.

“We are currently working with 27 indigenous species, one of which is a small reptile called the Victorian grassland earless dragon which hadn’t been seen for 54 years and was thought to be extinct. We found it in February 2023 and now we have 22 individuals at the Melbourne Zoo that have started to breed, so we could have 100 or 200 in the next few years.” She naturally doesn’t say where they found it, other than that it was in Victoria, because there is a huge illegal global trade in reptiles and this is the most endangered on the planet.

In addition to the conservation work, they focus on achieving excellence in animal wel fare, making sure the animals receive the best possible care and environment, and that the visitors have the best possible visitor experience. During her time with Zoos Victoria, the annual visitors have grown from 1.5 million to over 2.6 million visitors. And annual memberships have increased from 72,000 to 365,000.

To achieve public support and keep improv ing the zoos, she says, she works very closely with staff.” listen to what they think needs to be done and I walk around the zoos with them to address issues together and make sure we’re all doing our best to have everything running as it should. I’ve done this throughout my career. When I worked in municipal bus transport in Durban, I would go to the townships to see how the buses were running; you have to be out there to see how the business you are in is operating, to be part of it, to see what level of service your customers are experiencing.”

For example when she was at the Johannesburg Zoo she shared her vision of how the lawns should look. “My approach is that every part of the zoo needs to be well managed, and it gave me great pleasure during a visit to South Africa to see small school children relaxing on those same lawns.”

An important part of her work is engaging with the community to share what people can do to reduce the threats to species and the natu ral environment. “We do a lot of education with kids who become such wonderful little cham pions of conservation,” she says. Her team also works with zoos worldwide to help address the state of captive animals in countries without re sources and sufficient knowledge of animal care.

“We work with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and organisation such as Wild Welfare, which has a strong presence in Africa,

66 Wits Review April 2024
Above: Diving with manta in Indonesia Below: Graduating at Wits, 2008

Brazil and the Far East to develop skills and work on what good animal care and a good zoo should look like. At Zoos Victoria we have a sister relationship with zoos in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Uganda Wildlife Centre. Our respective staff visit each other and we do skills exchanges.”

For her contribution Gray has received a Public Sector Medal for ‘outstanding public service in the field of improved animal conservation and modern zoo management in Victoria’, the San Diego Zoo Global award for conservation. Most recently, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in January for her “significant service to wildlife management, and to zoological industry organisations.”

Having lived in Melbourne for 15 years now, and she’s gained a bit of an Australian accent but you can still hear her home roots coming through. “I’ve really enjoyed living here. It’s a very cosmopolitan city with lots of art, culture and sport. We attend the Australian Open tennis each year and it’s special to see the big names up close in your hometown. Roger Federer has come to the zoo with his children and no one harasses them. It’s an easy place to live... But I also adore South Africa, so this isn’t a comparison.”

She adds that they are geographically well positioned for scuba-diving: “It’s a joy here as we are so close to Indonesia and the coral triangle, and some of the most incredible diving in the world is a couple of hours away.” They have dived all over the world, including on South Africa’s south coast during the sardine run, which she describes as “mind-blowingly spectacular”.

They visit South Africa fairly regularly as they still have friends and family here and they always make a point of visiting one of the game reserves. “A bit of wildlife and a bit of friends. Sometimes they coincide,” is how she puts it.

She misses South Africans: “There are so many incredible people and I miss the singing and the laughter despite the hardships,

and that people tell you straight out when they are angry. I’m also so proud of how far South Africa has come in so many ways. I know the problems but when he Wits Vice Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi says the university is all about creating the citizens of the future and I see all the talent and potential of young South Africans, it strengthens my enduring hope for the country and for humankind.”

Image: Zoos Victoria

Images: Unsplash

Above: Champions of conservation at the Melbourne Zoo Below: Endangered species at the Melbourne Zoo, the Victorian grassland earless dragon and Tasmanian devil


The Near North

“The bodily sense of where you stand in relation to a place is deeply ingrained and mysterious. How does this sense develop?” asks the narrator in The Near North, the latest work by Professor Ivan Vladislavić (BA 1978, BA Hons 1979).

Vladislavić is distinguished professor in the Creative Writing Department at Wits and has lived in Johannesburg since 1977. The city’s been at the heart of much of his work. In 2013 he moved from a house in Kensington, on the eastern side of the city, to an apartment in Riviera, in the northern suburbs. The narrator in The Near North seems to be trying to find his bearings or re-route his inner GPS both literally and figuratively. Readers join the exploratory journey “from the stony ridges of Langermann Kop in Kensington to the tree-lined streets of Houghton”, through a series of vignettes – part autobiography and part literary reference – covering different time periods. A large part of the narrative deals with unforeseen events that uproot and displace: the pandemic, a home invasion, caring for ageing parents.

Understanding the new terrain comes via walks along pavements and verges of a tarred road, paying attention to everyday things and discovering new ways of looking: “I had to learn to pay attention to things that are not out of place, that do not disturb the peace or threaten the public order, that are not portends of calamity…I had to rediscover the boring.”

There are numerous wonderful, often humorous, observations that readers from Johannesburg will find familiar, even reaching for a map to trace the narrator’s routes. Textures come in the form of the tiny polyphagous shot hole borer beetle, gnawing away at decades old trees, to the hand-painted signs on trees offering the services of tradespeople, as well as the miniature objects found and treasured:

“We pause to examine it. The shiny dome is the size of a twenty-cent piece. I prod it with the toe of my trainer. ‘What’s a nail doing here?’ “That’s not any old nail,” says Minky, “it’s the nail.”

“One of them anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“The nails that are holding Joburg together.”

At the book launch in Johannesburg in the first week of March, Vladislavić said he was guided by the work of Lionel Abrahams (DLitt honoris causa 1986), Herman Charles Bosman and Lewis Nkosi, who have “previously interpreted what makes a great city”. In part The Near North reads like a love song for Johannesburg and its people, changing daily in small and monumental ways.

Background: Which way is North? Are there ancient paths or rights of way in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg?

Gallo/Getty Images

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AI

Journalist, author and tech commentator Arthur Goldstuck (BA 1984) is considered the doyen of technology reporting and an expert on all things digital. In this accessible guide on artificial intelligence (AI), he says it has been around for ages and many people have been using it without realising it: “If you use a smartphone, you use AI. The moment you turn to Google Maps, Apple Map or Waze to give you directions and help you avoid heavy traffic, you are using AI. When you use predictive text in WhatsApp and iMessage, and grammar-correction tools in Gmail and Word, you are using AI.”

Goldstuck heads the World Wide Worx research organisation, and has led research into ICT issues like the impact of IT on small business, the role of mobile technologies in business and government and the technology challenges of the financial services sector. His original love for technology was sparked by reading science fiction novels and wishing there was a world in which all the exciting inventions could be real. The title of this book is a nod to Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and follows his earlier Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Internet (Zebra,1995).

The publisher says the book is “useful for consumers, academics, professionals and anyone in business who wants to get up to speed quickly and practically” as Goldstuck provides useful technical explanations and anecdotes. His key message is that when we understand both the potential and limitations of AI, we have a powerful competitive advantage.

“In truth, AI has been practising on you, preparing for the big game when it comes out to put its skills on display in ways we never imagined possible,” he writes. “When they are fully trained and integrate learnings from the training of numerous other AI tools and models, they will transform any activity one can imagine. AI will make us all superhuman if we want it.”

“In truth, AI has been practising on you, preparing for the big game when it comes out to put its skills on display in ways we never imagined possible”

The Political Economy of

Fortune and Misfortune: Prospects for Prosperity in Our Times

Found in translation

Henrietta Rose-Innes (BSc Hons 1995), who has degrees in archaeology and biology, has been recognised as the dis tinguished winner of the 2023 UJ Prize for Translation in October 2023 for her translation of Etienne van Heerden’s biblioteek aan die einde van die wêreld ( A Library to Flee , Tafelberg 2023) from its original Afrikaans into English. This prestigious award is pre sented for the translation of a text from any language into any one of the official South African languages, emphasising the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of the country. She was praised for “her exceptional contribution to the world of translation and for her dedication to fostering greater cultural understanding through the art of language.

Luck plays a major role in determining one’s quality of life, yet our politics rarely examines how institutions can amplify good or bad fortune in ways that exacerbate inequality. Scott Timcke (BA 2005, BA Hons 2006, MA 2008), a senior research associate with Research ICT Africa, says too often debates about inequality focus on data and modes while ignoring the deeper issues of ethics and exploitation. In his latest book he examines the role of luck in redistributive justice in 21st-century capitalism. As the gap grows between the top 1% and other classes, this book combines political philosophy and social theory to offer a much-needed perspective on life chances. He writes: “Economic growth has not been evenly beneficial, arguably masking troubling underlying trends around inequality. The super-rich profit from globalised capital while the poor face ongoing precarity. This is no accident.”

He says there is a social distance between ordinary people’s life chances and their comprehension of them. This leaves people vulnerable to institutional allocation of good and bad fortune in ways that seem natural. “Luck” becomes a default explanation, which substitutes a true examination of the social forces that shape

“Her remarkable work will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the world of literature and multilingual communication.” Rose-Innes has worked in publishing and scriptwriting and as a creative writing teacher. She is the author of four novels and an acclaimed writer of short stories.


Darlings of Durban

Previously, the fictional work of Shafinaaz

Hassim (BA 2000, BA Hons 2002, MA 2004) was set in Johannesburg, where she’s spent much of her adult life. “The story of Durban was always brewing in the back of my mind,” she says. From the city she found “a unique creative energy” and a well of fond memories, making Durban a central character in her latest book. “One can’t help notice the vast differences, from the very affluent, glamorous areas to the more neglected and dilapidated ones.”

The novel revolves around four women friends: Natasha, Sofia, Farhana and Razia, connected

The Hidden

Fiona Snyckers (MA 1995) is a voracious writer –she keeps a rigid routine and has produced more than 20 novels: some self-published e-books and others through traditional publishing houses. “I like to keep it fresh by hopping across genres. I’ve written young adult books, romantic suspense, thrillers, social satire and literary fiction, among others,” she says.

In 2020 she won the South African Literary Award and the Humanities and Social Science Award in the Best Novel category for Lacuna (Picador Africa, 2019). Her latest novel, The Hidden, is a suspense novel, described as an “FBI thriller and domestic noir”, which she wrote in response to the craziness in the news about America a few years ago. “Some of that craziness seems to be seeping back into American life,” she says. The plot centres on the aftermath of another terrorist attack on the US, following FBI Special Agent in

through a WhatsApp group called “Darlings”. Together they commiserate, celebrate and support each other as they navigate the complexities of love and life.

This is Hassim’s 15th book – she is an independent sociologist and has published short stories, poetry and academic work, which covered a range of topics from domestic violence to human trafficking and Muslim women living in South Africa. Her work has been commended for local awards, including the 2013 K Sello Duiker Award and the UJ Prize for Creative Writing.

Hassim hopes readers’ stereotypes will be smashed and that they will enjoy her novel because it was “great fun to write”. One reviewer says: “Every encounter between characters is punctuated by leisurely meals and recipes that will have the reader want to hunt down classic Durban Indian food with the modern twists provided in the novel.”

Charge Aalia Knox and her team as they come under intense pressure to locate and arrest the ringleaders. Their targets are survivalists, skilled at melting into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Reviewers say it is compelling and compare it to “watching a newsreel” with numerous twists. Snykers is hosting a third season of her podcast The Hidden Lives of Writers with co-host fellow alumna Gail Schimmel (BA 1995, LLB 1997).

72 Wits Review April 2024

Must read award-winning titles

Several Wits alumni were shortlisted and among the winners of the 9th Humanities and Social Sciences Awards hosted by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences held on 14 March 2024 at the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria. The awards recognise members of the broader community who “are undertaking the necessary work of creating post-apartheid and post-colonial forms of scholarship, creative production, and digital humanities outputs.”

Craig Higginson (BA 1994, BA Hons 1995, MA 2010, PhD 2018) was the winner in the Best Fictional Novel category for The Ghost of Sam Webster (Picador Africa, 2023). It is “a war novel, a murder mystery, a multi-layered love story and a robust reassertion of what it is to remain human during the most challenging times”.

Dawn Garisch (DOH 1986) was the winner in the Best Fiction: Short Stories category for What Remains (Karavan Press, 2023). She said: “I am very grateful for the award, as the money supports my writing life, buying me time to follow the story. I am working on a collection of poetry, and a memoir. Several novels are jostling in the background.” Her novel Breaking Milk (Karavan Press, 2019) has recently been published in the UK.

Ashti Juggath (MSc Med 2008) was a joint winner in the Best Fiction: Emerging Author for Peaches and Smeets (Modjaji Books, 2022). Juggath is a pharmacist based in Johannesburg and this is her first novel, written because “stories of the past need to be captured for posterity”. The judges said: “This is a serious contribution and offers insights into ‘ordinary and neglected’ voices on the pain and experiences of apartheid in South Africa. This will be appreciated by all South African communities.”

73 Books

In Memoriam

We fondly remember those who have gone before us



Petherbridge (BA FA 1960)

Deanna Petherbridge, née Schwartz, who died aged 84 in her London home on 8 January 2024, was described by The Guardian as “the prime example of an artist celebrated within her field but rather less well known outside it”.

Throughout her life she stuck firmly to the single medium of drawing and built a career around it. “I had come from a country with immense poverty and discrimination,” she once said in an interview. “Drawing is a way of thinking visually at a democratic level. It’s the poor person’s way of inventing.”

Although she was small in stature, the scale of her work was “monumental”. Her work featured urban landscapes, often in pen and ink, characterised by novel perspectives “untethered from gravity”. She was a chronicler of wars, natural disasters, political and economic forces.

The Destruction of the City of Homs (106cm high by 228cm wide) and The Destruction of Palmyra (each triptych 142cmx122cm), exhibited in 2017, were drawings about the horrors of the conflict in Syria. Most of her work didn’t contain people and was instead a study on what she called “urbicide” or death of a city. Her book The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (Yale University Press, 2010), remains a standard text on the subject. Petherbridge was born on 11 February 1939 in Pretoria to Frieda and Harry Schwartz, the youngest of three daughters who all graduated from Wits. Her eldest sister Claire Lazar (BA Logopaedics 1956) remembered that Petherbridge played the piano beautifully as a child and had “an impish personality and was always fiercely independent. Her doodles were magical.”

74 Wits Review April 2024
The Destruction of the City of Homs, 2017

Petherbridge matriculated from Pretoria High School for Girls and was one of only eight graduates who completed a Fine Art degree in 1960 at Wits under the guidance of Professor Heather Martienssen (BArch 1947, BA Hons 1948). She left South Africa in the same year, taking on various jobs ranging from “working on an oil rig to spending a protracted time in India”. In 1967 she acquired a house on the Greek island of Sikinos and divided her time between a studio there and London. Her dual interests in architecture and travel added the geometric elements of Islamic building dimensions to her sketches. “I discovered that pen and ink was more portable and have stuck with it all my life, really,” she said. “Even large drawings like mine can be rolled up and carried over the shoulder.”

After a brief early marriage, she was in a relationship with Guy Petherbridge, whose name she adopted.

She lectured at Reading University and then Middlesex Polytechnic in the 1980s and was appointed professor of drawing at the Royal College of Art in 1995. She launched

the Centre for Drawing Research, the first doctoral programme of its kind in the UK. She was an honorary fellow of the Warburg Institute, and research fellow at both Yale University in 2007 and the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002. In 1996, she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

She is survived by her sisters Claire and Pamela (BA 1957), and brother Lesley as well as their extended families.

The Destruction of Palmyra, 2017 Sources: The Guardian and Lazar family On Shifting Sands: Viewing History, 2020 Untitled, Islamic Series, 1977



Webster (PhD 1983)

Distinguished sociologist Professor Edward Webster, fondly known as “Eddie”, died on 5 March 2024 at the age of 81. Three weeks prior to his death, he completed his 200th Parkrun and was known to play squash and swim regularly. Eddie was described as “a perpetual motion machine – a windmill” because of how much he managed to accomplish in a day. On news of his death, tributes poured in from people from all walks of life with anecdotes that demonstrated his curiosity, kindness, and integrity as an academic. He was the professor who used “Sociology Madala” as his social media handle on X.

Eddie grew up in the Eastern Cape, the youngest son of two schoolteachers, Enid and Lionel Webster, who worked in Healdtown School near Fort Beaufort and later settled in Durban. At the age of 13 he was sent to boarding school, an experience he described as “rough and often violent”. Other formative experiences included hitchhiking across Europe and the Middle East at the age of 17 and a boat trip back to South Africa along the east coast of Africa.

Eddie went on to complete his undergraduate studies at Rhodes University, where he played rugby and was a member of the National Union of South African Students. After a stint at Unilever and teaching history at a high school in Johannesburg, Eddie completed an MA in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and a Bachelor of Philosophy from York University soon after.

Fellow academic Prof Andries

Bezuidenhout (PhD 2004) wrote that one insight that defined Eddie’s work and contribution as a scholar was “the understanding that any form of oppression and exploitation can be challenged”. This propelled his actions as scholar-activist.

ln 1976, Eddie joined the Department of Sociology at Wits and remained “at the chalk face at Wits for over forty years”, serving as head of the department for ten years, and providing leadership to transform the curriculum and nurture many young, African scholars. He called for a critical engagement on how social institutions maintain and perpetuate inequality, even casting his critical gaze on Wits itself. In 1986 Eddie led the historic research report Perspectives on Wits, which revealed the disconnect between perceptions disadvantaged people had of Wits and the image the University wished to portray as a progressive opponent of apartheid.

In 1983 Eddie founded the Sociology of Work Project, which was recognised as a strategic asset to the University’s research and developed into an institute. He formally retired from Wits in 2009 but remained an active researcher and author, with

countless papers and books, most recently Recasting Workers’ Power: Work and Inequality in the Shadow of the Digital Age (2023, Bristol University Press).

In 2017, Eddie was appointed interim director of the then newly established Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, where from 2019 until 2023 he also served as distinguished research professor. He was regarded as a top sociologist globally and when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2017 he paraphrased lines from a favourite poem by Constantine Cavafy: “Now that I am old, rich in all that I have gained on the way, but not expecting that Wits will give me wealth. Wits has given me a splendid journey, without it I would not have set out. I have acquired such wisdom, so much experience.”

Eddie cultivated a rich circle of friendships and was a devoted family man. He is survived by his wife biographer and historian Luli Callinicos (BA 1964), as well as his children Kimon (BA 1996) and Alexia (BA 2001); and two grandchildren.

Sources: The Conversation, M&G, AfricaIsACountry; Wits archives

In Memoriam 76 Wits Review April 2024


John Steele Chalsty

(BSc 1953, BSc Hons 1954, MSc 1955, DCom honoris causa 2005)

prowess as a member of the Wits Rugby First XV.

In a 2007 interview he said: “I had turned in work at Wits on a PhD in chemistry and thought I could pick it up at Harvard. I heard I would have to start all over again. Another four years of chemistry was appalling. I looked around for something to do and discovered the business school. I found I had somehow stumbled into the right career.”

Dr Chalsty was born in 1933 and began his academic journey at Wits, completing honours and master’s degrees in chemistry and physics. He is remembered for his sporting


Robin Poustie

(BSc Eng 1969)

Robin Poustie

Bay on 26 October 2023.

chanical engineering degree, Poustie joined Rand Mines ini tially as a section engineer at East Rand Proprietary Mines and later as a consulting mechanical engi neer at the company’s head office along with the legendary John Neville Gallie (BSc Eng 1952). He remained there until his stipulated retirement at 55. The later part of his career was at Roymec, where he “was the driving force in guiding the bulk material handline field”. At the time, the company held a record for the design, construction and commissioning of the longest single flight belt conveyor in Africa and possibly

In 1957, he earned his MBA from Harvard Business School, graduating with high distinction as a Baker Scholar. He worked at Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon) for

in the world.  The conveyor transported 600 tonnes of coal per hour over 15.9km, from Zibulo Colliery to the Phola Processing Plant in Ogies, Mpumalanga. He saw through several bids for projects in Mozambique before retiring officially to Plettenberg Bay. He was a qualified scuba diver, participated competitively in mountain bike races into his 70s and enjoyed being near the coast. He is survived by his wife Marilyn and their two children Ashley and Audrey.

Sources: Malcolm Royal (BSc Eng 1970, GDE 1977)

ranks to become president and chief executive in 1986 and chairman in 1996. He also served in leadership roles with other prominent institutions, including vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, president of the New York Society of Security Analysts, and board member of Occidental Petroleum, Metromedia International Group, Inc, and Sappi

A dedicated philanthropist, Dr Chalsty held prominent positions in organisations such as Lincoln Center Theater, American Ballet Theater, New York Philharmonic, Overcoming Obstacles, Teagle Foundation, New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, Harvard Business School, Columbia University, and Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

He remained a supporter of South Africa. He helped to establish the University of the Witwatersrand Inc. (the Wits Fund) in the United States. The Chalsty name is on one of the outstanding meeting spaces on West Campus, associated with the Mandela Institute and the School of Law, because of his pivotal and founding donation to the Institute.

Dr Chalsty’s many achievements and generosity were widely recognised, including with honorary doctorates from Wits in 2005 and the Medical University of South Carolina in 2015.

He is survived by his wife Jill Siegal Chalsty and extended family.

Sources: Wits archives, The Post and Courier and Dignity Memorial

In Memoriam 77
John Steele Chalsty, business leader, former chairman and chief executive officer of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Inc and founder of the Wits Fund in the US, passed away at the age of 90 in his home on 12 November 2023.


Benjamin Staskun

(BSc 1949, MSc 1951, PhD 1955, DSc 1992)

to Heterocyclic Synthesis and to Synthetic Methodology in Organic Chemistry”.

Prof Staskun met Mina Friedman (MEd 1980) during her final year at university and they married in 1959 and were blessed with one child, Jonathan, and three grandchildren. He was granted sabbatical leave during his tenure at Wits: as post-doctoral associate at Stanford in 1968, visiting professor at the University of Delaware in 1975, the University of California in 1981, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1989, and Rutgers University in 1994 and 1998. Prof Staskun made a significant contribution in the field of chemistry, publishing over 70 research papers in international journals.

Long-serving professor in the Wits Chemistry Department, Benjamin “Bennie” Staskun passed away in Sydney on 31 October 2023.

He was born in Lithuania on 29 August 1925 to Sender and Dora, who immigrated to South Africa in 1934. After matriculating from Athlone Boys High School, he enrolled at Wits in 1944 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1947, followed by an honours degree, a master’s, a PhD as well as a Doctor of Science in 1992, all at Wits. He was among the early PhD graduates who became long-serving senior members of staff. The PhD degree, or “junior doctorate”, awarded for supervised research, was introduced in 1949. Prior to that, only the DSc, or “senior doctorate”, for original, self-directed research, was available. His PhD was under the supervision of Professor Henry Stephen, OBE and his senior doctorate was titled: “Contributions

He continued doing research in the Chemistry Department post-retirement and after his wife Mina retired from her senior tutorship, and in 2003 the couple moved to Australia to be closer to family. He remained an active researcher and held an honorary position at Macquarie University in Sydney from 2003 to 2016.

In 2006, Prof Staskun was awarded the Merck Medal of the South African Chemical Institute. He was also an Emeritus Member of the American Chemical Society.

Prof Staskun will be remembered as a “caring and dedicated lecturer, ensuring the courses that he taught to his honours class were up to date, spending many hours in the library combing the latest literature for results to be incorporated in his lectures.” He was also a devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather. He had a gentle, kind and humble nature, with a great sense of humour.

He is survived by his wife Mina, son Jonathan and family.

Sources: Staskun family and Wits Chemistry Department


Harold Seftel

(BSc 1949, MBBCh 1952, LLD honoris causa 1995)

An advocate for healthy lifestyles decades before it was fashionable, professor of medicine Harold “Harry” Seftel died in Johannesburg aged 94 on 3 December 2024.

Prof Seftel was a teacher, clinician, researcher and broadcaster who taught generations of doctors,


Alfred William Stadler

(BA Hons 1962, PhD 1971)

Former professor and chair of the Department of Political Studies at Wits, Alfred William Stadler, died on 29 December 2023 at 86 years old. He was a public intellectual, providing analysis and commentary on election results and political events; he acted as an expert witness for the defence of his students who were charged with “terrorism” by the apartheid regime; and, for a time, he chaired the Institute for the

In Memoriam 78 Wits Review April 2024

nurses and other health practitioners at Wits as well as hosting popular health education shows on Radio 702 and the SABC.

Born in Johannesburg on 28 December in 1928, he matriculated from Jeppe High School for Boys with distinctions in Latin and Greek in 1945. Prof Seftel became an intern at Baragwanath Hospital in 1953. Thereafter he was appointed as registrar and medical officer and was awarded the specialist qualification of diploma in medicine. In 1964, he was appointed as physician in charge of the department of medicine at what was called the Johannesburg non-European Hospital and was elevated to a chair as ad hominem professor of African Diseases in 1971. Finally in 1982 he was appointed as Professor of Medicine and Chief Physician at the Hillbrow Hospital. He was an outstanding clinician who made major contributions to the categorisation of infectious and other

Advancement of Journalism.

Prof Stadler was born in Durban in 1937, the son of a former dairy farmer who worked for the South African railways and who died when Alf was 10. The family relocated to Johannesburg; he recalled the train ride to the Reef as deeply depressing: the cold, dry and treeless khaki veld of the Rand was a stark contrast to the sub-tropical forests and rolling cane fields of Natal. In Johannesburg, his mother washed and ironed clothes in exchange for backyard accommodation.

At Highlands North Boys High, Stadler’s academic performance was mediocre. His principal suggested that he take up a less intellectually demanding trade of some kind. But he had long

He was an outstanding clinician who made major contributions to the categorisation of infectious and other diseases

diseases. He was one of the best undergraduate teachers in the Faculty and was awarded the prestigious Tobias and Convocation Medal for undergraduate teaching in 1991. He was also a distinguished researcher. In addition to his mainstream interests, he established the Renal Unit at Baragwanath Hospital in 1960, was a co-founder of the Liver Unit at the Johannesburg Hospital and founder and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of South Africa, founder president of the Aspirin Foundation of Southern Africa and chairman and past president of the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa, the Lipid and Atherosclerosis Society of Southern Africa, the

nurtured a keen interest in English literature. He enrolled in a BA and studied English and Politics. Politically conscientised, he joined the Communist Party, joking wryly about his failed attempts to mobilise residents of Alexandra township and avoid arrest.

At the time, the Political Studies Department was managed by Godfrey “Copper” LeMay, and Stadler was one of a few PhD students. LeMay held supervisory sessions at the Wits cricket nets to practise Stadler’s batting, and hosted “seminars” at the Devonshire Hotel bar in Braamfontein. Following LeMay’s retirement in 1966, Stadler was appointed acting head of the department but was only granted full professorship and the chair

Southern African Hypertension Society and the Southern African Council Against Smoking.

He remained in the Department of Medicine as Emeritus Professor and honorary professorial research fellow with a part-time appointment at Hillbrow Hospital. He still taught, continued his research, seeing patients and educating the general public.

He is survived by his ex-wife, Dr Effie Schultz (BSc 1953, MBBCh 1954, DTM&H 1979, DPH 1980, DOH 1989), four children, and three grandchildren. His memory lives on through the lives he touched, the knowledge he shared, and the compassion he exemplified.

Sources: BusinessLIVE and Wits archive

in 1981. By the early 1980s, he had transformed the department. Prof Tom Lodge described the atmosphere as a “considerate and hospitable setting for an apprentice lecturer”.

At home, his family remember that he was constantly busy. An accomplished carpenter, he built bookshelves, constructed dry walling, and fitted out the family kitchen all from scratch; he was a great cook, he loved opera, was an avid reader, and refused to own a television set.

He leaves his wife, Jenny, his daughters Josie and Cathy, his son Jonathan (BA 1989, BA Hons 1990, MA 1995), his sister Francis, and his seven grandchildren. Source: Jonathan Stadler

In Memoriam 79


Gianni Mariano

(BCom 1986)

Co-founder and CEO of the Mastrantonio group of companies, Dr Giovanni “Gianni” Mariano died on 2 October 2023, following a battle with cancer.

Mariano’s father, Paolantonio, and extended family came from the small Italian region of Abruzzo; his heritage was steeped in food and his father came to work at the original Eloff Street Carlton in Joburg in 1954. As a child he spent time in the family restaurant Chez Mariano. He was educated at Marist Brothers Observatory Prep School and later matriculated from Highlands North Boys High School in 1978. The “Marcellin ethos” of simplicity, authenticity and humility stayed with him throughout his life.

He completed a bachelor’s degree in commerce during the heady 1980s at Wits. In 1996, Mariano, along with Paolo Scalla (BSc Eng 1988), founded Mastrantonio, an Italian restaurant in Illovo that grew into an integral part of Joburg’s restaurant scene for a quarter century.

Mariano played an active role in several non-profit organisations including the Italian South African Chamber of Commerce, Business and Arts South Africa, St David’s Inanda Foundation, Wits Art Museum, Academy of Chefs of South Africa, the Chaine des Rotisseurs and The Dante Alighieri Society.

At the time of his death, he was chair of the board of Artist

The “Marcellin ethos” of simplicity, authenticity and humility stayed with him throughout his life

Proof Studio, a position he held for 15 years. He provided the vision to transition the studio from an NGO to a successful Public Benefit Organisation, which employs over 25 staff members and supports up to 15 part-time interns and assistants who are training to enter the professional art industry and a growing student body. The gallery holds the work of over 150 artists, many of whom receive an income from sales.

Mariano received numerous awards, including the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the President of Italy in 2019.

He is survived by his wife, Manuela (BA 1986), and three children, Romina (MBBCh 2012, Rhodes scholar), Gianpaolo (MSc Eng 2015) and Francesco (BA 2019, BA Hons 2020).


Agnes Odhiambo

(MA 2002, PhD 2005)

Agnes Odhiambo, née Muriungi, was a researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch since 2009. She focused on maternal and reproductive health, violence against women, and child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa.

Her work entailed documenting the human rights implications of obstetric fistula in Kenya, researching sexual violence affecting Somali women and girls in Kenyan refugee camps, in vestigating South Africa’s inadequate response to abuses against maternity patients by health workers, and documenting the severe consequences of child and forced marriage in South Sudan and Malawi.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Dr Odhiambo worked with the media to promote women’s rights and provide a space for women’s voices.

She was described as “a creative, thoughtful and strategic colleague and was known for her powerful and principled advocacy”.

“Agnes was a great advocate for the underdog and underprivileged. Her work to advance education for pregnant girls in Africa was particularly brilliant, and we will remember her as a dedicated and passionate activist,” said  Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.

She is survived by her two daughters Ruth and Munene.

Sources: Artist Proof Studio, Da Vinci Business School, Financial Mail and Wits archives

Source: Human Rights Watch

In Memoriam 80 Wits Review April 2024


Selma Browde

(MBBCh 1959, DSc

Professor Selma Browde away on 26 December 2023 in Johannesburg. She dedicated her life to the promotion of health – as a cancer therapist and academic, working to improve living condi tions that determine the health of the poor, and as a politician and activist. She did it as a caring human being, spreading the word that suffering can be alleviated.

Professor Browde was born on 21 July 1926 to Adolf and Frieda Meyer in Cape Town into a mid dle-class family with roots in Odessa (Ukraine) and Lithuania.

After earning a first-class pass from Rustenburg High School in Rondebosch in 1943, she began her medical studies at the University of Cape Town. At the end of her fourth year in 1947 she married Jules Browde (BA 1940, LLB 1948, LLD honoris causa 2000) and moved to Johannesburg. Her initial application to complete her medical degree at Wits was declined and she spent the next eight years raising her two sons Ian (BA 1970) and Alan (BA 1975).

She reapplied to Wits in 1953 and completed her degree in 1959, specialising in radiation therapy and eventually taking up the role of professor and head of the Department of Radiation Therapy and Oncology from 1983 until 1986. Her third son Paul (MBBCh 1984) was born in 1961.

In addition to her administrative and teaching duties, she maintained a research programme and became deeply involved in organisations that would influence the profession. She was a committee member of

Her commitment to disadvantaged communities is reflected in the many organisations on whose boards she sat, offering guidance, raising funds and giving of her time

the National Cancer Association, a member of the advisory board of the Family Life and Marriage Society of South Africa, chair of the executive committee of Hospice Witwatersrand and a member of the Hospice board.

Her commitment to disadvantaged communities is reflected in the many organisations on whose boards she sat, offering guidance, raising funds and giving of her time.

In 1972 she embarked on a political career when she was elected to the Johannesburg City Council, where she served until 1979. In that year, along with Dr Nthato Motlana (MBBCh 1954, LLD honoris causa 1999), she founded the Hunger Concern Programme which evolved into Operation Hunger.

After her retirement from Wits and

from party politics, her career took a new direction when she became involved in pain relief, pain management and palliative medicine. She established the first pain clinic in Hillbrow Hospital. Her work shifted increasingly to AIDS related issues, with education activities focused not only on doctors and nurses, but also on health facility managers, communities and patients.

In 2004, Professor Browde was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Wits.

As a loyal Witsie, she attended the 2023 Founders’ Tea, with much enthusiasm and excitement.

She is survived by three sons, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Sources: Wits archive and Daily Maverick



Johnnie Holly

(MBBCh 1974)

A respected and valued general practitioner to the Cessnock commu nity in New South Wales, Australia, Dr Johnnie Holly died on 4 December 2023.

Dr Holly was born on 9 April 1944 in Vereeniging, the second youngest in a family of seven brothers and sev en sisters. His was a home birth, delivered by a midwife, who also chose his Western, English-sounding name “Johnnie”.

entrance exam, earning one of the two places reserved for Chinese students to study medicine at Wits.

According to his younger brother, Peter, they worked three nights a week as waiters or wine stewards to supplement their tuition and “have plenty of fun”. During this time Dr Holly met his wife, Mailan.

His formative years were marked by many upheavals. In 1946 the family moved back to the Guangdong Province in China, and most of his childhood was shaped by the 1950s cultural revolution. He shared stories with his children of rationed meat, manual labour in rice paddies and freezing showers. These experiences


Conrad Mueller

(BSc 1975, BSc Hons 1976, PhD 1989)

Prof Conrad Mueller, a pioneer of computer science at Wits and in South Africa, died on 23 November 2023. He was born in Johannesburg in 1949 and matriculated at King Edward VII School.

informed his outlook throughout his life, as he savoured working with his hands, planting fruit trees and learning how to make the most of a situation so that “simple things became thrilling”. He returned to South Africa at the age of 17 on a Dutch ship, a journey which lasted 29 days, via Durban. He couldn’t speak any English or Afrikaans, but “locked himself in his room” and through diligence and intellect passed the University

After completing his honours degree, he spent a short time in industry, and after completing his master’s degree at Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg), he returned to Wits in 1981 in response to a call to help a new division as it was emerging into an independent Department of Computer Science. He spent the next 33 years at Wits, rising through the ranks to associate professor. He served as Chair of the Governing Committee and then Head of School for about 10 years.

Prof Mueller’s great strength was the time and interest that he put into the people around him. As a teacher he is fondly remembered for the one-on-one work that he did with students. In the

After graduation he worked in hospitals around Johannesburg, “with his fellow classmates, working in the same hospitals, doing the same job, sharing the same responsibilities, yet at the end of the month, Johnnie would only get a quarter of the paycheque. He then decided to emigrate to Australia,” Peter recalled at his memorial service.

Dr Holly worked in Sydney for a while, but settled in Cessnock, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales and served the community for 46 years. In 2015 he was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award during the annual Australia Day celebrations. The same year he also received the NSW Rural Doctors Network Honours in recognition of more

1980s and 1990s it was common to find a queue of students outside his office getting help. He would spend hours with students helping them debug terrible code, and more importantly teaching them and fostering independent thinking. Prof Mueller mentored young members of staff, advising them on teaching strategies and how to deal with various teaching and administrative problems. He was an old-fashioned scholar – he read widely and deeply and had an open sense of enquiry. After he reached mandatory retirement age, he taught at Tshwane University of Technology and continued to supervise postgraduate students at the University of South Africa. He was also elected to the Wits Executive Committee

In Memoriam 82 Wits Review April 2024

than 30 years of medical service to rural communities.

He was described by family members and colleagues as “passionate and playful, with a joyful irreverence. Through his many experiences he learned that struggle, a bit of suffering and hardship makes one value hard work and what it takes to get things done.”

He never seemed to slow down and engaged fully in new experiences well into his seventies. His hobbies included tai chi, perfecting elaborate recipes, hiking, sky diving as well as renovating cottages and cultivating a grape and olive plantation in Hunter. He responded to the suffering of others with compassion despite his own experiences of hardship. As a loyal Wits supporter, he enabled a bequest to Wits in his will as well as a donation to student financial aid.

Dr Holly is survived by his wife Mailan, three children Justin, Gerrard and Nicolette and two grandchildren.

Source: The Holly family of Convocation and was one of the Convocation members on the University Council. He gave great service to the University and could be relied upon to take on unglamorous jobs. He showed commitment and personal courage during the Fees Must Fall protests.

He is survived by his partner Judy Backhouse (PhD 2009) and sisters Ann-Christine Andersen (BA 1967) and Dr Jane Mueller (MBBCh 1969).

Sources: Adapted from The South African Computer Journal by former colleagues Scott Hazelhurst (BSc 1985, BSc Hons 1986, MSc 1988) Bob Baber, Yinong Chen, Philip Machanick (BSc Hons 1981, MSc 1988) and Sarah Rauchas


Tom Lodge

Respected former Wits academic and lecturer Professor Tom Lodge died at the age of 72 on 8 November 2023. He was a dominant figure in charting South Africa’s modern political history, in particular the history of its anti-apartheid liberation movements. At the time of his death he was Professor Emeritus in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Born in Manchester, Professor Lodge was the son of Roy and Vera Lodge (née Kotasova). He was schooled in Nigeria, North Borneo (later part of Malaysia) and England, travels dictated by his father’s British Council work, which, according to his brother, Robin, provided an early impetus for his later interest in developing countries heading towards independence. He joined the University of York as an undergraduate student in 1971, obtaining his PhD at York in 1985.

He first came to South Africa in 1976 as a research fellow of York’s newly opened Centre for Southern African Studies, visiting Soweto in the company of a local Anglican

priest. Two years later he was employed as an assistant lecturer in the Wits Politics Department.

Professor Lodge closely studied South Africa’s anti-apartheid movements in opposition and then, after 1994, in power. He also followed political developments in post-apartheid South Africa, analysing, among many other things, corruption and election results. His work on the ANC, PAC and other liberation movements, based on rich fieldwork, established him as a key political and social historian. He was a member of the Wits Politics Department for 25 years and published key texts on South African black opposition politics, South African post-apartheid politics, the figure of Nelson Mandela and, most recently, the South African Communist Party.

In 2005, he left South Africa and took up the position of professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Limerick, before becoming dean of arts there in 2012. He retired to Saint Seurin de Prats, near Bordeaux in France, in 2021, but continued to travel to South Africa, where he served on several trusts and commissions. At the time of his death, he was close to finishing a work on Walter Sisulu.

In the 1980s students flocked to his lectures and he rarely locked his office door. In response to the suggestion that students might help themselves to his impressive book collection, he replied: “I wish”.

He is survived by his wife Carla and their two sons, Kim (BAS 2002, BArch 2005) and Guy (BA 2004, BA 2005).

Sources: The Guardian, Prof Daryl Glaser (BA 1982, BA Hons 1983, MA 1989), Wits archives

In Memoriam 83


Solomon Liknaitzky

(BA 1950, BA Hons 1951, LLB 1954)

Solomon Liknaitzky, fondly known as Zamie, passed away at the age of 92 in Johannesburg on 5 October 2023.

Zamie’s family was of Lithuanian origin and came to South Africa in the late 19th century. As a young boy, he helped in his grandfather’s general dealer store in Germiston, Grolman’s Stores. His father died when he was 11 years old.

He matriculated at Germiston High School at the age of 15 and enrolled at Wits at the age of 16. He earned his first Bachelor of Art degree from Wits at the age of 18 and thereafter achieved a BA Honours degree in English. He enrolled for a law degree and became an articled clerk in the firm of Kane-Berman and Zimerman. He was awarded an LLB degree in 1954.

Zamie practised as a Johannesburg lawyer: Johannesburg was his city. His professional career started with the firm of Sloot, Broido and Hesselson in 1954 and he ultimately became the senior partner of the firm of Sloot Broido Hesselson and Liknaitzky. In April 2004, after a 50-year career in the firm, Zamie established his own new practice, Zamie Liknaitzky Attorneys, in partnership with his daughter Cheryl Burt, and was still working at the time of his death. It was a remarkable career record of 69 years.

He remained “a Wits man” throughout his life. He was one of four trustees of the Ginger (Hilda) Spiegel Trust. The late Leo Spiegel was a supporter and benefactor of Wits and after his death, Zamie drove donations to the refurbishment of the Wits Disability Unit (it was then named the Ginger Hilda Spiegel Resource Centre) and to special projects for disability studies to the Ginger (Hilda) Spiegel Bursary Fund. The Stein-Lessing Scholarship was also awarded from the estate of the late Leo Spiegel to four recipients in the History of Art Department in 2011 and 2013.

Zamie is survived by his wife of 66 years, Natalie, and their three children, Cheryl (BA 1980, LLB 1983), Julian (BA 1983, LLB 1986, HDipTax 1989) and Alan (BCom 1987, BAcc 1988), 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Sources: Kathy Munro and the Liknaitzky family

See more:


1929-2023 1955-2023

Nathan Kobrin Sidney Kobrin

(BDS 1952) (MBBCh 1978)

Sidney Kobrin, the medical director of the dialysis unit in Penn Medicine and an associate professor of medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, died on 30 October along with his 94-year-old father, Nathan Kobrin, when they were struck by a car rolling unattended down a driveway.

After earning his medical degree from Wits, Sidney joined the University of Pennsylvania’s faculty in 1989 as a lecturer. In 1992 he became an assistant professor and in 1996 an associate professor, a position he held until his death. In 2010, Sidney earned Penn Medicine’s IS Ravdin Master Clinician Award.

“Dr Kobrin is known for his skill as a superb diagnostician, a talented and skilled nephrologist, and a compassionate and dedicated physician,” said his citation. “He is widely regarded as the ‘doctor’s doctor’ amongst nephrologists, with an outstanding knowledge of medicine and nephrology. He is also known as a physician with genuine compassion, always willing to spend as much time as necessary with everyone and possessing a distinctive combination of clinical excellence and sincere empathy.” Sidney also earned the Tow Humanitarian Award and the J Russell Elkinton Faculty Teaching Award.

His father Nathan was clinical assistant professor of general restorative dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He received the Robert E DeRevere Award for excellence in preclinical teaching for several years in a row.

Source: University of Pennsylvania Almanac

84 Wits Review April 2024

Work will follow you

Academics laboured in their pyjamas long before it was trendy, but they can't so easily fall in line with other 21st century work habits.

These words come to you, dear reader, from the side of a sports field. My son is playing in a cricket match (don’t ask me for the score). I guess this is one of the perks of the 21st century – if you can work remotely, you can work remotely anywhere. But it is also, of course, one of the worst things about the digital age. Because if you can work any time, any place, then work goes with you everywhere.

Wits End

This is how we live now: never entirely present where we are, with our minds or our virtual selves always partially somewhere else. Still, I have to catch myself before I fall into self-pity. Tapping away whimsically on a laptop, occasionally looking up to watch bright young things sprinting across green grass under a blue sky, hardly seems like the stuff of a tech-dominated dystopia.

And perhaps it isn’t about technology anyway. There has always been something paradoxical about the academic life: never fully at work, never fully at rest. Never fully at work because we scholars are so passionate about our fields (aren’t we?) that research and teaching are, if not always a pleasure exactly, then at least a labour of love. To be fair, email and spreadsheets are mostly just labour; there isn’t much love involved. And marking, well, that’s not so much about labour as it is about torture.

Okay, so passion and pleasure may not feature as strongly in our vocation as we imagined would be the case when we heeded the clarion call of academia. But it is nonetheless a vocation, a calling – and that’s why we’re never fully at rest. Weekends? Public holidays? That week around Christmas when the university is definitely, officially, unambiguously closed? These are the times when, rather inconveniently, ideas strike – when you suddenly find you want to spend hours on a computer or in a lab or on a research site, reading and testing and thinking and experimenting.

standard academic persona – we like to be able to lock our office doors and pretend we’re not there. For the same reason, you won’t find a staff common room at a university that boasts foosball or a mini basketball hoop. Hot desking? We’re not big fans of this, unless the desk in question is a table at a coffee shop halfway between home and campus, and we’re on our third cup of the morning.

in not keeping up with fashionable habits and “best practice” in the business world. Now it isn’t so easy to be disdainful, especially because we are all being encour aged to embrace academic entrepreneurship. This was a terrifying prospect to those who thought it meant we would no longer have a reliable salary and would have to learn how to use start-up jargon like “bootstrapping” and “market penetration” and “sweat equity”.

“Passion and pleasure may not feature as strongly in our vocation as we imagined would be the case when we heeded the clarion call of academia.”

This is one of the reasons that it’s very annoying being married to an academic. It’s also why trying to get us to follow due process with things like leave is a fruitless exercise. I know colleagues who, much to the chagrin of HR, haven’t applied for a day’s leave over the course of a 40-year career. What’s the point of taking leave if one’s “work” and one’s “life” are basically the same thing?

A sabbatical is a different story. You don’t mess around with sabbatical leave. Sabbaticals are vitally important because they allow you to carry on working as you have done, but in your pyjamas. Or at another university. Or sometimes, at another university and in your pyjamas.

In fact, were it not for the mild inconvenience of the Great Online-Hybrid-Blended-Learning Perma-Pivot™ of 2020 (and 2021, and 2022) ... and were it not for, you know, the terrors of a global pandemic ... the COVID years would have suited most academics down to a tee. Academics were pioneering working 18 hours a day while wearing pyjamas long before it became trendy. When it comes to some other work trends, we don’t fall in line as easily. Open-plan offices don’t match the

useful term and concept: academic entrepreneurs pursue a unique goal, writes Gooneratne, because they “seek to incorporate aspects of commercial engagement into their research work with the ultimate goal of accelerating the actual implementation of their research in order to advance the health of the general population”. Those of us who aren’t medical scientists might want to replace “health” with “wellbeing” in that definition, but there’s a lot about this particular spin that appeals.

research at a university who does not seek to perpetuate the ivory towers mythos has been an academic entrepre neur without even knowing it. And let’s be candid: this is not bad work if you can get it. Sometimes you can do it in your pyjamas. Sometimes you can even do it while sitting beside a cricket field.

* Chris Thurman is Professor of English and Director of the Tsikinya-Chaka Centre in the School of Literature, Language and Media

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