Curiosity Issue 12

Page 1


Research . Rethink . Relearn




Reinventing Higher Education

8 FEATURE No place for politics in bricks and mortar 12 Building a better city 14 Pay the taxman his dues 16 What adds up when teaching maths?


18 Getting serious about gaming 20 Zoom in. Team up. The new era of therapy 22 Love in the boardroom 24 Mathematics solutions to boost tourism numbers 26 Photographing ghosts in space 28 How the brain solves problems 36 2



30 FEATURE Think big to heal South African society

44 COLUMN Social media regulation: Can we trust the tech giants?

34 Sense and sensuality in people with disabilities

46 What the world needs now …

36 Enabling engagement 38 PROFILE Nabeel Vandayar: Engineering empathy 40 Healing South Africa’s public health headache 42 Another brick in the pay wall


48 Repurposing drugs to treat dangerous diseases 50 Philanthropy as an answer to Africa’s growth problems 52 COLUMN Make South Africa great again! 54 HISTORY Weekend theatrics so the show could go on

Q 2 2021 3


It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the way we live, work, and play. Amidst this new reality, structural, political and socioeconomic challenges persist in South Africa.


et the current situation also presents opportunities, and now is the time to galvanise our collective strengths towards addressing multiple challenges. That is why this issue of Curios.ty is themed ‘Solutions’. Our first feature story (pg. 8) interrogates both infrastructural frustrations around energy, water, roads and buildings and – importantly – presents research-based suggestions of how to overcome these. Our second feature, on how our economic reality adversely affects vulnerable South Africans, is a sobering indictment of the complicated interplay of politics, economics and people (pg. 30). Solutions proposed by Wits researchers are backed by translational research that drives life-affirming and empowering policies. Wits scholars suggest we consider the kind of society we want to create and envisage new ‘knowledge architectures’ from the Global South (pg. 6). As a key player in higher education in Africa (and, increasingly, globally), we would be remiss not to continue interrogating our role and relevance. How can higher Curios.ty is a print and digital magazine that aims to make the research at Wits University accessible to multiple publics. It tells Wits’ research stories through the voices of its academics and postgraduate students. First published in April 2017, Curios.ty is issued three times per year. Each issue is thematic and explores research across faculties that relate to the theme. Issue 12 of Curios.ty is themed SOLUTIONS. Our feature stories suggest solutions to SA’s crumbling yet critical utilities and infrastructure, and interrogate inequality and poverty. In higher education, academics envisage new ‘knowledge architectures’, advance mathematics education in classrooms, while mathematics students number-crunch to save tourism. As migration drives people to cities, we imagine a future Johannesburg that meets equity and universal healthcare needs. Online, we explore transformative therapy, note red flags that threaten privacy, and get serious about game design. Our stories suggest care-led solutions for our environment, people with disabilities, and in the boardroom, while inspirational stories of new frontiers in space, in biomedical engineering and lifesaving drugs give hope.


education remain relevant for good? In the classrooms, Wits educators are advancing mathematics education (pg. 25), while mathematics postgraduate students are number-crunching creatively to boost a tourism sector decimated by travel restrictions. Wits is inexorably part of the history and fabric of Johannesburg and as we approach our centenary in 2022, our urban architects suggest how the City’s spatial geography can be reconceived for inclusivity and development (pg. 12). Yet cities and classrooms globally are now mostly remote and online, and Wits scholars explore if online platforms can help therapists and tutors transform care and teaching beyond the pandemic (pg. 20). In the Digital Arts sandpit online, academics get serious about gaming, with game design that creates empathy by exploring themes such as sexual identity and privilege (pg. 18), even as we’re cognisant that insidious forces exist online that threaten democracy and demand vigilance (pgs. 42, 44). Empathy and understanding are critical to advancing society for good. This means care and concern for the environment while making tough decisions (pg. 46), and considering people with disabilities and how they are required to negotiate their intimate and lived realities (pg. 34). In the boardroom, Wits academics explore the abstraction but no-brainer that love should drive strategy and the ‘bottom line’ (pg. 22). With South Africa reduced again in June 2021 to a level 4 lockdown to limit transmission of Covid-19, revisiting our values provides pause for thought. The stories in this issue make courageous efforts to address both unprecedented and persistent problems – a ‘wealth tax’ to end poverty (pg. 14), philanthropy to advance Africa (pg. 50), and the complexities of a National Health Insurance (pg. 40). But I’m encouraged by astounding evidence of ‘moonshot moments’ – Witsies are advancing science itself and photographing black holes in outer space (pg. 26), devising biomedical engineering devices to enable understanding of those who stutter (pg. 36), reimagining the way vaccines and lifesaving drugs could be delivered in future (pg. 48), and thinking deeply about how our brains solve problems (pg.28). These solutions are grounded in the values that characterise Wits University – on the edge of research excellence and exceptional academic standards, and a commitment to societal good in Africa and beyond. Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

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RESEARCHERS AROOP CHATTERJEE Aroop Chatterjee leads the research agenda on wealth inequality at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits. He is currently developing a strategy to bring together disparate streams of related research across disciplines and countries under the lens of wealth inequality. Chatterjee was previously the senior economist on labour issues at the National Treasury of South Africa. He is a chartered accountant and holds an MSc in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

ROGER DEANE Roger Deane is the Director of the Wits Centre for Astrophysics. He holds the Department of Science and Innovation/ National Research Foundation Square Kilometre Array Chair in Radio Astronomy and is a Professor in the School of Physics. He completed his PhD at the University of Oxford in 2012 and has held research positions at several South African universities, including the University of Pretoria where he established the radio astronomy research group and now holds an Extraordinary Professorship.

SHIREEN HASSIM Shireen Hassim is a Visiting Professor at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) and Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and African Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She has written and edited several books: Women’s Organisations and Democracy: Contesting Authority (2006) and Go Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Politics of Difference in South Africa (2008). Her interests lie in feminist theory and politics, collective action and histories of mobilisation of women in Africa, and social policies and gender.

JUDE IGUMBOR Jude Igumbor is an Associate Professor and the Academic Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary PhD Programme in Public and Population Health in the School of Public Health. He is the University Focal Person for the Consortium of Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA). Jude has a growing research portfolio in doctoral education and knowledge

A number of Wits experts are featured in this edition of Curios.ty. View the profiles of all the researchers and contributors at:

development in public and population health in Africa. He is developing practical recommendations, crosscutting requirements, and mechanisms to support the development of a multi-consortia public and population health data sharing framework for Africa.

JOANNE NEILLE Joanne Neille is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology in the School of Human and Community Development. Her work centres around the notion of providing a voice to those living on the margins of society and in so doing, contributing to evidence-based practice and clinically relevant research which has the potential to influence policy, practice and teaching methodologies. Specifically, her research focuses on the lived experience of disability, human rights, and shared decision-making, through the use of qualitative research methods.







MARY SCHOLES Mary Scholes is a Professor in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, where she holds a Research Chair in Systems Analysis. Her research focuses on improving the productivity and sustainability of South African plantation forests and natural savannah ecosystems by applying ecosystem-based scientific approaches. She is involved in monitoring water pollution, food security, and health access and policy implementation in South Africa. Scholes is the previous recipient of the University’s ViceChancellor’s Award.

PATRICIA THERON Patricia Theron is an architectural designer, editor, writer and researcher, and PhD candidate in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits. Her doctoral research involves a study of the Lagos megalopolis, focusing on the layering and complexity in urban infrastructural projects, with a view to the exploration of the paradoxical nature of planning in relation to the realities on the ground. In 2017 she was managing editor and contributed research on smart cities, knowledge economies, city-regions, and the benchmarking of African cities for the Future African Cities supplement to Domus International.




Alex van den Heever holds the Chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits and is an adjunct professor in the Wits School of Governance. He has worked in the areas of health economics and finance, public finance and social security since 1989. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Council for Medical Schemes, and advised the Department of Social Development, the National Treasury, and the Interdepartmental Task Team on Social Security on taking forward the recommendations of the Taylor Committee of Inquiry into Comprehensive Social Security.



HIGHER EDUCATION We need to rethink higher education by asking what kind of society we want to create. BETH AMATO


hen the University of the Cape of Good Hope (now UNISA) was established as an examining body in 1873, it was modelled in the image of the University of London, and shaped by the views and desires of the Philosophical Society of South Africa. The Society’s objective was to “promote original research and record its results, especially as concerned with the Natural History, Physical Condition, Geography, Statistics, Industrial Resources, Languages and Traditions of South Africa.”


Fast- forward 148 years to a country altered by immense political and social feats. No longer are lecturers and students, with their drapery and austerity, advertisements for a Rembrandt painting. Education is theoretically open to all, profound questions have been asked about the colonial-era content and format of the academy, technology has infiltrated every aspect of life, reshaping the relationship between institutions and


communities, and the Covid-19 pandemic has destroyed and renewed social, political and economic pacts. How can higher education remain relevant and impactful in an era that requires deliberate and urgent efforts to address the unprecedented upheaval caused by humankind? Professor Ruksana Osman, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, explains that the pandemic has allowed the academy to pause, reflect and propose new knowledge architectures. “The pandemic underscored the important role of universities in conducting research, developing vaccines and potential treatments, influencing policy decisions, documenting the disease, adapting pedagogies for remote teaching and learning, and producing personal protective equipment … It brought to light the capabilities of the academy to create quality knowledge while saving lives,” she says.


The Consortium for Advanced Research Training (CARTA), an initiative led by the Wits School of Public Health and the African Population Health and Research Centre, aims to build a vibrant African academy to lead and implement multidisciplinary research that improves public and population health. “Our goal is to ensure that we have an interdisciplinary, Afrocentric research community responding to regional health challenges,” says Professor Jude Igumbor, Public Health Specialist and the Focal Person for CARTA at Wits. Igumbor notes that while African countries bear a disproportionate burden of infectious and noncommunicable diseases, less than one percent of the world’s research is produced in Africa, while investment in the capacity to do health research in African universities has been inadequate. CARTA, which runs a doctoral training programme, comprises eight African universities, four African research centres and northern partners. These cross-disciplinary and continent-wide initiatives, are building research capacity. Igumbor adds that “contextually-focused research conducted by CARTA fellows provides evidence-based information to guide policies and decisions aimed at addressing current disease burdens and future epidemics in Africa”. Osman says that tackling local and global challenges requires a multiplicity of voices, methods, and framings. It must forge inclusive communities of scholars across the world. She adds that environmental and financial stability are key too, upheld by agile and visionary leadership.

A (RE)-IMAGINED COMMUNITY IN A THRIVING CITY Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor of Wits University, believes that resilient and robust universities are those that drive multidisciplinary collaborations, nurture budding communities of research practice across Africa, and reconstitute their images to speak to their immediate environment. Wits University in particular has the opportunity to inform and reform the cityscape. “The University is not far removed from the grime and precarity of Joburg’s city centre and can capitalise on the many dynamic opportunities in the space – this is unique in this country. UCT is located in the wealthier suburbs, for example. We can’t be passive occupants of the inner-city. In other parts of the world, such as New York and London, the university campuses

“If we want to have a democratic, safe, educated society, then we need to prioritise higher education.” seamlessly flow into the city. Columbia University in New York in particular is interesting because it is located in Harlem, an area that was historically precarious and crime-ridden,” says Vilakazi. Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, within the IBM Africa Research Lab, is an example of the relationship the University has with its local context. Not only is the Precinct’s work responding to changing work and social realities, but it promotes entrepreneurship and relevant applied research. Importantly, unemployed youth are incubated and equipped with digital skills. The University is intimately involved, through the Reimagining Braamfontein programme led by award-winning social entrepreneur Taffy Adler, with changing the south-western part of Braamfontein where the university and the urban merge. “We have between 40 000 and 50 000 young people living in the area. We must therefore make the most of this opportunity, partner with organisations and government entities that develop residential communities for students and staff, promote commercial activity, and nurture invention and innovation in the area,” he says.


Universities were traditionally set up for those ‘gentlemen’ who could afford the cost of higher education. It was seen as a privilege. But in a country plagued by historical exclusion, and inequality and poverty, university is seen by many young people as an essential path to escaping social and economic distress. “The traditional university funding model – that of students being able to pay – is misaligned with our real-life context. In fact, we have many more ‘non-traditional’ students enrolling. These are women, older people, mothers, poor students and poor rural students,” says Jerome September, the Dean of Student Affairs at Wits University. The government-funded National Students' Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has stepped in to help poor students, but September says that universities in South Africa must focus on ensuring that students in the so-called ‘missing middle’ category are not excluded – these are students not ‘poor enough’ to qualify for NSFAS aid but not wealthy enough to afford university fees. “We need to make funding available for these academicallydeserving students and we need to find innovative ways to do this, whether it is with a low-interest government loan scheme, or through other means,” says September, adding that higher education should be seen as a public and social good. “When there is an educated population, there is a higher economic growth rate and a more peaceful society. In order to reinvent and fix higher education we need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want … if we want to have a democratic, safe, educated society, then we need to prioritise higher education.” C




South Africa’s infrastructure seems to be falling apart at the seams. Charlotte Mathews looks at what needs to be done to save the country from further deterioration.


ntermittent electricity and water supply, potholes in the roads, lengthy waits at hospitals, sewage in rivers, weeds along railway tracks … there’s no need to tell the South African government that infrastructure is badly in need of renewal. High-level plans were drawn up years ago, and subsequently refined. But some practical steps could be taken immediately to kickstart action.


The National Planning Commission, which is responsible for implementing South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) 2030, has identified various priorities in key infrastructure sectors. In energy, it is to explore gas, diversify the energy mix and suppliers, improve municipal electricity distribution, address electricity pricing and consider ‘the timing and/or desirability of’ new nuclear energy and a petrol refinery. In water, it is to establish a National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency, reduce demand in urban areas by at least 15%, better manage agricultural demand and investigate water use and desalination. In transport, the priorities are to devise a workable urban transit solution, strengthen freight corridors, provide long-distance commuter transport options, and improve rural mobility. In ICT, the priorities are to drive public and private investment in networks, establish a common carrier network and implement open access policies to encourage the sharing of parts of the fibre network. Since Covid-19 devastated the economy, government has put another plan in place, the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP), which is also guided by the NDP, but has a particular focus on creating jobs, mainly through a major infrastructure programme. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation address in February, said that the current project pipeline for the ERRP was R340 billion, for network industries such as energy, water, transport and telecommunications, and work was underway to finalise project finance.


Professor Rod Crompton, Director of the Energy Leadership Centre at The Wits Business School, says that the biggest problem facing power generation is Eskom’s debt of about R488 billion that it is unable to service, of which about R350 billion is guaranteed by government. “Either taxpayers or electricity customers, or a combination, will have to pay Eskom’s debt,” he says. The second problem facing SA’s power sector is frequent loadshedding, which could be addressed by accelerating delayed projects under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPP) and allowing more small-scale power generation. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy recently made announcements to partially do this. “The most immediate practical step would be for the policy makers to allow market forces to help solve the electricity crisis,” Crompton says.



Mike Muller, Adjunct Professor in the Wits School of Governance, says problems in the past have highlighted the need to have unified, disciplined and accountable management to develop major water infrastructure and ensure that it is properly funded. Although the country’s rainfall has always been variable and unpredictable, reliable supplies could be provided to urban and industrial water users – and irrigation farmers – if storage and transmission infrastructure is built with enough capacity to cope with regular dry periods and is properly managed. The recently-proposed National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency is responsible for building new infrastructure and managing the dams and transmission currently being operated by the Department of Water and Sanitation, as well as specialist services like acid mine water treatment. But it is not able to address issues at the municipal level, other than as an adviser. Muller emphasises that the underlying problems in local water supply and sanitation services for domestic and commercial purposes in different parts of the country were often not the same. “There’s no single prescription. Each municipality must understand and address its own particular circumstances. The critical challenge is usually not to build new infrastructure but to build the capacity to operate and maintain what they have and plan its systematic upgrading as and when needed.”


Covid-19 underlined the big digital divide in SA, with its ‘digital haves’ and ‘digital have-nots’, particularly the gap between urban and rural access, says Professor Barry Dwolatzky of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JSCE) at Wits University. He says once connectivity is addressed, it will have massive economic benefits for the country and will solve other issues, like the shortage of IT skills and reluctance to adopt new technology. Connectivity roll-out should be made a top infrastructure priority. There is an excellent precedent for this. In the 1990s Eskom led a massive household electrification programme (in which Wits University was involved) which connected about 1 000 households a day to the grid, and changed the country. Data connectivity is far easier to do, since wireless can be used for the ‘last mile’. “Wits has a lot of capacity to support such a programme, both in technical and economic advice,” Dwolatzky says. But it cannot be left to the private sector, he adds. Mobile networks are driven by profit, not development. They make a lot more money from rolling out 5G to Clifton than bringing low-cost broadband to Lusikisiki, which is where government (specifically the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies) needs to step in. “Connectivity supports education and government services and benefits citizens in many ways – it should be a no-brainer,” he adds.

“Project planning needs to move away from short-term thinking, which results in standalone projects, to longerterm, integrated planning.” 10


Dr Ron Watermeyer, Visiting Adjunct Professor at the School of Construction Economics and Management at Wits University, says government needs to fundamentally change the procurement system. SA has two examples of successful project delivery: the REIPPP, and the completion of SIPs 14. This was number 14 in a series of 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) which have been identified as key drivers of economic growth and social development in the country. SIPs 14 was managed by Wits University and focused on developing higher education infrastructure. The first intake of new students took place within 28 months of the political decision being made to provide two new universities. What differentiated those projects was the quality of procurement and client delivery management. Delivering a successful infrastructure project (that fulfils its purpose and remains within time and budget constraints), whether in transport or any other sector, depends on taking a strategic, rather than administrative approach to procurement, Watermeyer says. Administrative procurement is usually the task of the finance department and is more appropriate for obtaining general goods and services for internal consumption. Strategic procurement is needed when dealing with the specific environment of the construction industry, where every project involves different combinations of funders, clients, site conditions, materials, technologies and risks. The law and policy of public procurement needs to be revised, he says. It is over-complex, fragmented and inconsistent, with an emphasis on box-ticking, which makes it vulnerable to fraud. The

Image courtesy Skypixels

The Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highveld supplies water to South Africa, but development on the project has been delayed.

regulatory framework for public-private partnerships also needs review, since it has attracted unacceptably low levels of private sector investment in public infrastructure. “Capacity building needs to begin with accounting officers in all organs of state, who must put in place an effective system for infrastructure management and delivery,” says Watermeyer.


The failure of infrastructure delivery in health is illustrated by two recent examples, says Professor Alex van den Heever, Adjunct Professor in the Wits School of Governance. The first is the fire in the Gauteng Health Department’s building a few years ago, in which firemen were trapped and died, because the building was unsafe. The budget for maintenance of that building was under the control of the Department of Infrastructure Development, not the Department of Health, so it had not been spent appropriately. The second example is that despite R1 billion having been spent to upgrade the Department of Health’s Civitas building in Pretoria, it had to move out 10 years later because the building was decreed unsafe and unhealthy. The problem, at the national, provincial and municipal level, is twofold, Van den Heever says: incompetent project administration and corruption. “Project planning needs to move away from short-term thinking, which results in standalone projects, to longer-term, integrated planning,” says Van den Heever. “There has to be a centralised process at each level of government, involving a mixture of skills,

“There’s no single prescription. Each municipality must understand and address its own particular circumstances.” to identify infrastructure needs and take accountability for projects through to completion.” The immediate practical step to ensuring better infrastructure project delivery would be to de-politicise government bureaucracy, says Van den Heever. “Ministers should have no say over civil service appointments, which should be made on the basis of qualifications and competence.” C


MORE INFORMATION: assets/Documents/NPC%20background%20paper%20 -%20Infrastructure%20delivery%20Watermeyer%20 Phillips%206%20March%202020%20FINAL.pdf


BUILDING A BETTER CITY A ‘world class African City’ begins and ends with history and geography. SHAUN SMILLIE


egregation began the process of the dislocation of Johannesburg. This was formalised and enforced by apartheid legislation in 1948, and followed by the demolition of places like Sophiatown. By the 1950s, Soweto absorbed those forcibly removed people who had once enjoyed the benefits of living close to jobs and services, but who were now over 20km from the City. “You had concentric circles made up of skin colour – Indians are allowed to live closer, then coloureds, then blacks. All locked


into townships and barred off from the City,” says Professor David Everatt, the former Head of the Wits School of Governance. “And apartheid engineers ensured that highways, industrial plants and the like further emphasised the boundary between ‘white’ city spaces and black townships.” Nearly three decades on, apartheid is history, but it still scars the urban landscape and looms large in the psyche of South Africa’s largest city. Its legacy is seen everywhere and is felt in the pockets of the poor.

“It is ‘hardcreted’ into the physical landscape of every South African town and city,” says Everatt. Black workers still have to travel long distances from far-off townships to their places of work. It is also seen in the living conditions of new migrant families forced to get by in cramped, partitioned-off rooms occupied by multiple households, as they seek their fortune in the City of Gold.


To dismantle this legacy is no easy task, but it can be done, experts believe. It needs dedication and some careful planning. One of the biggest challenges facing the City in its efforts to address inequality is simple geography. Johannesburg lies in the smallest province, in which is crammed a quarter of the country’s population – and growing. In 2017, it was estimated that 547 people a day relocated to Gauteng from other provinces. This is why Patricia Theron, a PhD candidate in the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, believes that Johannesburg cannot be considered in isolation from the other cities in Gauteng when it comes to creating equality for all its citizens. "You can't develop one area alone and you can't consider the cities as competitors, but rather take a province-wide approach that is economically inclusive and holistic,” says Theron.


There are efforts to work across these metropolitan boundaries and to address, in particular, integration of transport modes and high transport costs. The Integrated Public Transport Network Plan is a long-term strategy that aims to reform public transport across the three adjacent metropolitan municipalities bordering Johannesburg. An important part of the plan is fare policies. But to introduce such plans and improve the lives of all Johannesburg’s citizens requires a strong inclusive economy that is not centred only in hubs like Sandton and the City’s northern suburbs. An effort is needed to boost township economies that have already been established but haven’t necessarily been recognised and encouraged.   Just like in the rest of Africa, the informal economy in Johannesburg has exploded in recent years. The World Resources Institute released a report in 2018, titled: Including the Excluded: Supporting informal workers for more equal and productive cities in the Global South, that found that 76% of the workforce in Africa was in the informal sector, compared to the global average of 44%. Policies and regulations, says Theron, need to better enable the daily operations and innovation in the informal sector – either to assist these businesses to become formalised if they want to, or to help in creating better opportunities and supporting collaborative networks. Regulations of these businesses could improve quality control, while formalisation enables the expansion of the tax net, she added. “There has to be a mechanism for transforming the way the economy operates so that we are able to invest in different sets of skills bases that exist in townships,” says Everatt. “Create the jobs where the people are, rather than making them pay to get to jobs.”


Over the decades, local government has introduced initiatives to try to speed up the transformation of the economy and stamp out

“Create the jobs where the people are, rather than making them pay to get to jobs.” racial inequality. Last year, the metropolitan government launched its nodal review, where the Department of Development Planning began a process of reviewing the ‘boundaries and controls of the urban nodes’ within the City. This followed the approval of the Spatial Development Framework 2040 for Johannesburg and the City’s Nodal Review. “This identifies the best located areas in the City, where land is still reasonably affordable, and is best located in terms of access to jobs and services. And it plans to intensify in those nodes, … some of them adjoin middle class areas so there is resistance [including] threatened legal action by residents’ associations,” says Professor Philip Harrison, the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning in the Wits School of Architecture and Planning. “But you are not going to change the City, unless you do that.”


Changing the City requires transcending short-term politics and planning deep into the future. The problem, however, is the nature of local politics. Governments run on three-year budget cycles, says Everatt. Many of the long-term plans for the City were based on an assumption that the ANC would be in power 20 to 30 years from now. When the DA-led alliance took over the City, initiatives such as the Corridors of Freedom were downgraded. For these long-term plans to work, they need limited goals that survive political regime changes. “If you want to change this, you have got to have the courage to make investments in infrastructure that should have a 50 to 80 year window,” says Everatt.


A problem facing urban planners now is the Covid-19 pandemic. Funding has dried up. This means that, for the time being, Johannesburg will continue to be the most unequal large city in the world. It is a city still gouged by racial lines. The new divide is between north and south. To the south are the poor blacks who, as during apartheid, are gathered on the periphery of the City, this time around places like Orange Farm. Meanwhile, north of the city ‘white flight’ has moved into the endless new developments of townhouses and cluster homes. The irony, Everatt points out, is that studies show that both racial groups take the same amount of time to commute to work, albeit from opposite poles of the province and the City. “The apartheid spatial design has incredible powers of endurance – it has barely shifted an iota. The middle and the upper classes have been fine and have integrated in suburbia, but life in the townships is becoming harder and harder.”  C


PAY THE TAXMAN HIS DUES A wealth tax could make a significant contribution to alleviating South Africa’s ailing fiscal situation. CHARLOTTE MATHEWS



or as long as most people can remember, the word that has tripped off the tongue of government ministers most often is probably ‘jobs’. Job creation, skills development, addressing extreme income inequality – together these make up the Holy Grail. Yet they can only be found in economic growth. Instead, for the past decade South Africa’s GDP growth has been well below government’s stated target of 6%, which is needed to dent unemployment. Unemployment has worsened dramatically as a result of the economic fall-out from Covid-19. Over the years, government’s finances have deteriorated to a point where it is unable to meaningfully spend on social services or play a central role in infrastructure development, which is essential to economic growth. Government debt is now at 80.3% of GDP, and debt service costs are around 20.9% of gross tax revenue. There’s a range of possible solutions, all of which have both positive and negative consequences. The National Budget presented in February proposed cutting government spending, while embarking on a programme of infrastructure investment in partnership with the private sector.


Michael Sachs, Adjunct Professor in the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits University, says that the crisis cannot be resolved solely by fiscal consolidation. The path of consolidation that the government is proposing to follow is so extreme that it is neither feasible nor desirable. An attempt at large fiscal adjustment is likely to impose unsustainable social pressures and choke off the recovery, imposing a second blow to livelihoods on top of the Covid-19 catastrophe. Without action to restore the regulatory, policy and institutional weaknesses that have debilitated the public sector, an infrastructure investment strategy is unlikely to succeed, says Sachs. But it will take time and effort to make these reforms. In the short term, the inertia blocking a resumption of growth can only be overcome with private investment in the lead, he says. “First, the resolution of the fiscal crisis depends on faster economic growth, which will need to be led by private investment. Fiscal consolidation is necessary but debt will not stabilise without growth. Second, even if growth accelerates, the current structure of the public economy will have to change. This is likely to entail increased levels of taxation and reductions in public consumption.”


One of the proposed solutions to raising more tax revenue has been raised by Aroop Chatterjee, a Research Manager at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, together with colleagues Léo Czajka and Amory Gethin. They propose a wealth tax, and in a joint paper discuss the various choices for designing it (including whether it is once-off, annual, or some other recurring period), each of which has its design benefits and disadvantages. They estimate that a progressive wealth tax, using conservative assumptions, levied on the richest 1% of South Africa’s population (about 350 000 people, who have net wealth of over R3.8 million) could raise revenue equivalent to between 1.5% and 3.5% of GDP. That is roughly two-thirds of what is raised from corporate income taxes or about 40% of what is raised from VAT. “Depending on the extent of evasion, we estimate that a

“We estimate that a moderate wealth tax could raise about R70 billion to R160 billion.” moderate wealth tax (with rates ranging from 3% to 7%) could raise about R70 billion to R160 billion.” Specifically, it could start at a rate of between 1% and 3% of assets in the lowest band, rising to 3-7% in the middle band, and 3-9% in the top band. Those individuals with wealth below the first threshold would be exempted. “We believe that the tax should cover the top 1% of wealth owners, whose wealth mostly consists of tenant-occupied housing, pension assets, and bonds and stock. This ensures that they could easily find sufficient liquidities to pay the tax. Also notice that our proposal only taxes excess wealth above the threshold that we propose: this limits the well-known incentive to ‘bunch’ below the threshold,” they say. Critics of the proposed wealth tax have suggested that it would be complex to administer, beyond the current capacity of the South African Revenue Service, and prone to avoidance. But Chatterjee says any administrative costs should be weighed against potential benefits – and in this case, the potential revenue is significant enough to warrant investment, if needed, in beefing up the capacity to administer. “In terms of current capacity, SARS is already well placed. Crucial to administering any tax, especially for anti-avoidance, is the development of third-party reporting systems. SARS already receives third-party reporting from banks and financial services firms for current taxes. Only the information requested would need to be adjusted,” says Chatterjee. “To improve this system, SARS is currently developing a Third Party Data Platform to accommodate bulk submissions of Third Party Data for certain types of taxes on the new Direct Data Flow channels. So collecting information on financial assets, which account for two-thirds of wealth, seems eminently practical.” Chatterjee argues that all personal taxes suffer from tax avoidance, including the current personal income tax and other capital income taxes (for example, offshoring applies equally to income taxes as it would to a wealth tax). “To reduce avoidance for personal and, especially, capital income taxes, the information and systems needed for a wealth tax will also help to reduce avoidance on other taxes.” How quickly a wealth tax could be implemented only depends on the level of political and financial support to implement these systems, says Chatterjee. C


MORE INFORMATION: uploads/2021/03/Devil-and-the-Deep-Blue-Sea-Marchversion.pdf The following article was first published by New Frame (under a Creative Commons Licence): sas-budget-and-the-absence-of-social-solidarity/ research-entities/scis/documents/WorldInequalityLab_ WP2021_02_SouthAfrica_WealthTax_2b.pdf



The first two years of high school are crucial for a learner’s development in mathematics. But to help close the maths gap in South Africa, Wits experts believe the focus should lie on the teacher. BUHLE ZUMA


ess than a third of learners registered for the national senior certificate have core mathematics as a subject, which spells disaster for an economy in dire need of mathematics, science and technology skills. In 2018, only 43% of the 629 141 candidates who registered for the national senior certificate had core mathematics as a subject. This dropped to 28% out of 788 717 the following year. In 2020, only 32% of the 725 034 candidates opted for core mathematics.


Experts from the Wits School of Education are firm in their belief that part of the solution lies in improving what happens in Grades 8 and 9 – the first two years of high school. “These are critical grades that lay the foundation for concepts required for learners to understand maths in senior classes,” says Craig Pournara, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Director of the Wits Maths Connect Secondary (WMCS) project, which focuses on research and development in secondary mathematics education.


The WMCS project developed out of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in Mathematics Education in the Wits School of Education. Professor Jill Adler, who held the Chair from 2010 to 2019, says changing the outcome in Grade 12 (matric) requires an intervention beginning in Grades 8 and 9. In many schools these earlier grades are taught by less experienced or less qualified mathematics teachers, as schools allocate the more experienced teachers to the further education and training (FET) Grades 10 to 12. “This is why it is critical for


interventions to focus on the lower grades,” says Adler. Adler and Pournara had many years of researching and working with schools in Gauteng before the WMCS project began in 2010. Together with teams of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, the project has focused on supporting mathematics teachers, and particularly those teaching Grades 8 and 9, through an integrated research and development initiative. The Transition Maths 1 (TM1) course, the most successful component of the project’s work to date, is designed to deepen teachers’ mathematical knowledge and to improve their teaching practice so that there is greater learner participation and ultimately better results. The course focuses on algebra, functions, geometry and trigonometry. More than 150 teachers from about 80 schools across Gauteng have completed this course.


“We tested the learners of these teachers and compared their performance with that of learners whose teachers had not done the course. The results show statistically significant gains for the learners of the teachers who completed the course,” says Pournara. “This shows the potential of this course to make a difference, not just to teachers’ knowledge but to their teaching and to their learners’ attainment.” Demelda Pillay, Head of the Maths Department at Palmridge Extension 6 Secondary School in Katlehong, a township south-east of Johannesburg, completed TM1 in 2016. The course helped her to find different ways to improve learners’ conceptions of maths. “In maths, we rarely focus on the ‘why’ and yet it is so essential to learners and to their appreciation of maths application in everyday life,” she says.


Understanding teacher knowledge, and how this can be enhanced through a professional development programme, is just one of the factors that contribute to the success of the project. A project of this nature depends on support from the stakeholders such as participating schools, the provincial education department and outside funders. Time pressure is one of the biggest challenges in solving the maths teaching and learning crisis. “The curriculum is overloaded. Teachers don’t get to spend enough time on key concepts,” Pournara says. “There is always pressure to move onto the next section. Many learners have large gaps in their mathematics knowledge, but time is typically not allocated to deal with these backlogs.” Time is also critical for teachers’ professional development. They need time to attend courses like the TM1 course and then they need to set aside more time to consolidate their learning from the course. The impact of the TM1 on teachers’ knowledge and their learners’ results is substantially linked to the additional time that teachers put in after the course. Lack of time challenges the widespread adoption of the model. And time in school has been significantly eroded in the COVID-19 context.

“In maths, we rarely focus on the ‘why’ and yet it is so essential to learners and to their appreciation of maths application in everyday life.” “There are no quick answers to mathematics education problems, even more so now,” says Adler. WMCS, like many other projects, has had to adapt over the past two years. Aspects of the course, while ideally run in real time, over time, and face to face, have been reproduced in materials by Pournara and the WMCS team, and made widely available for teachers. C


DID YOU KNOW? The WMCS project has developed online resources for learners and teachers of Grade 8 to 10 mathematics. Visit




GAMING Games from the Game Design programme at the Wits School of Digital Arts tell important stories, and allow for solutions to many realworld problems. SHIVAN PARUSNATH



lay is a concept as old as work. Many species, including ours, play often during childhood. The games played serve as a vehicle for lessons needed later in life, such as hunting or defending themselves. In today’s world, gaming is perhaps the most popular form of play. However, it is generally seen less as lesson learning and more of an escapist pastime – delving into worlds or systems that differ drastically from the one in which we live. Educational games are not new, but they tend to be veneers of the promise of fun pasted over a conventional learning system. These veneers tend to be thin, and are seen through by the intended audience who quickly realise they are being duped into learning something. “Just sprinkling game design on top of learning content doesn’t make it a game – it is still a multiple choice test if you take away all the effects and visuals,” says Henrike Lode, who heads up the Serious Games course offered as part of the game design degree in the Wits School of Digital Arts. Serious games are those that have a narrative that is educational or informative without compromising on the quality and enjoyment of the gameplay itself. Importantly, games of this nature can bring empathy to other human experiences – helping people understand what it’s like to be someone else, by exploring themes such as sexual identity, language and privilege.


“I struggled with education and authority in high school. It killed my love for learning, because it was about authority, and not about the excitement of finding out more,” says Lode. This drew her to the idea of making games that offer education through playful interaction. “Gaming can transform education with joy,” says Lode.


Many of Lode’s students were drawn to game design for the same reason: learning through games is more effective than traditional teaching methods. Alice Seremane, a 2019 alumnus of Wits game design, chose to take this course because of her challenges with traditional teaching methods for complex subjects like physics. “Schooling is not something that people typically describe as enjoyable – but if you can incorporate fun into teaching, where the person is unconsciously learning, you can expose learners to more information without them even realising it,” says Seremane. “I found physics very challenging in school and there were many concepts I just couldn’t grasp – but seeing physical models and demonstrations made it so much easier.” This made her think that if physics could be explained in a more fun and practical way, it would be so much more accessible and easier to understand. Seremane designed a game called Time’s Up!, in which players use a variety of electrical components such as electric wires, batteries, resistors and switches to create a closed circuit with a specific set of components and requirements. Levashan Pillay, a 2020 alumnus of game design at Wits, found a gateway into gaming through difficulties with traditional learning at school. “I found that my maths skills improved dramatically when I started playing on an educational gaming console in my spare time,” says Pillay. “Aside from the fun that you experience when playing an educational game, there is a real sense of feedback and accomplishment when you get something right, and that is missing in traditional learning systems.” Pillay’s game Code Wiz centres around teaching the player the logic of programming which can be transferred and used in any form of programming language.


Serious games can extend beyond just learning content in a different way. They can also be used to explore complex or taboo issues that may otherwise be difficult to broach in casual conversation. Janharm Labuschagne, a 2019 alumnus, developed a game called birthright which explores the topics of gender and racial privilege. “I learnt so much about social context when I arrived at Wits, and it was important to me as a white Afrikaans person to explore and learn more about the concept of privilege,” says Labuschagne. “This can be a difficult concept to talk about, but hopefully my game allows for this concept to be explored through play.” In birthright, players start the game with a roll of the dice that determines their race and gender. Each identity has different rules for how they play the game and move across the board – and so players experience the game differently. There are some barriers or paths that are more difficult to cross depending on the identity you have been given. When the rules are in your favour you may not notice the injustices in the system, but you might find the game frustrating when the rules are holding you back. “My hope is that serious games can lead to a higher level of consciousness and awareness in our society,” says Labuschagne. “There are a lot of difficult conversations we need to have about topics that may be abstract to some, and games can make these concepts feel tangible.”


Game design is still a relatively new field to be taught at university level in Africa, with Wits being the first university on the continent to introduce it into its curriculum. Since its inception in 2012, Wits

“Gaming can transform education with joy.” has produced many award-winning industry experts who have gone on to work at leading international game design houses. In that relatively short period of time, the game design field seems to be transforming. “There are a lot more females and people of colour in game design since the degree was first offered at Wits,” says Seremane. “Perceptions of what it means to be a game designer are changing, and with a more diverse group of game designers out there, we can experience different stories from unique perspectives.” Although the games designed within the game design programme are not released to the public, the new Digital Arts building has incorporated a ‘playtest’ area, where the Wits student body and members of the public can get a chance to play the games. Games alone aren’t enough to provide solutions to education, discussion of taboo topics, or achieving true empathy. “Discussion after playing a serious game is key to the experience,” says Lode. In that way, these games may serve as sparks to further thought and discussion on problems we face in our society and how we can overcome them. But we have to be the ones to work on them, to keep the fire for learning, for debate, for empathy burning when the game is over, and perhaps in that way we can arrive at the solutions we need. Game on. C

Game design students engage in a thoughtful discussion after playing a serious game about important environmental matters.


ZOOM IN. TEAM UP. THE NEW ERA OF THERAPY Can online platforms help therapists and tutors transform teaching and care beyond the pandemic? TAMSIN OXFORD


he COVID-19 pandemic transformed the world. It shoved organisations into a digital space, it thrust students and tutors into online learning, and it shifted global goalposts on everything from therapy to care to business. Tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams became the de facto meeting standard as the world leveraged connectivity and technology to stay in business, online and engaged. Over the past year, these tools and their usage have evolved and mushroomed. They have become more than just the sum of the connectivity parts, providing people with access to services and solutions that they never had in the past. From speech-language therapists to individuals discovering their potential working from home, these new platforms are opening doors and creating opportunities, but they have come with their fair share of complexities.


“This is a novel and exciting period for speech language therapists,” says Doctor Joanne Neille, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Wits. “Online wasn’t something we really engaged with prior to COVID-19 and we needed to embrace these platforms quite suddenly and make significant adjustments. We’ve made some significant achievements, but there are challenges that [we] continue to encounter, and some ethical dilemmas.” For Neille, online teaching and supervision have opened many doors, specifically with regards to training, teaching, and providing students with fresh skills sets that equip them to work in different contexts. It has improved students’ and lecturers’ abilities to approach teaching and learning from a global perspective, and given them more access to conferences and continuous professional development (CPD) events that previously may have been too expensive or out of reach. Jennifer Watermeyer, Associate Professor at Wits and Director of the Health Communication Research Unit, agrees: “The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) had an online conference together with our local South African Speech Language Hearing Association (SASLHA) in November 2020, with local and international speakers and input that normally wouldn’t happen without huge funding and costs. This has opened up other opportunities for learning and CPD that were not necessarily that easily accessible or affordable in the past.”


Currently, students in the Speech Pathology department are learning about cleft palate care on an international online course that is immediately accessible and that does not require the department to hunt for local lecturers at cost.


Online teaching and training have handed local students a global perspective on a virtual and accessible plate. It has also allowed for therapists to potentially engage with, and treat, people who previously couldn’t access therapy due to distance, time and logistical limitations. “Being able to offer therapy face-to-face online has broadened the scope for enlarging [the] practice as we can target anybody, anywhere in Africa,” says Watermeyer. “We have a wellestablished speech therapy and audiology profession in South Africa, but in other countries skilled professionals are few and far between. Now we can easily connect with patients and colleagues across the continent.” Neille agrees: “We can access greater numbers of clients for remote interventions, potentially moving beyond the borders of South Africa to countries that have limited access to speech language therapy services. Two of our biggest challenges are accessing people in remote areas due to logistical challenges and the shortage of skilled therapists – with only 3 266 registered speech therapists to a population of 60 million, you can see that there aren’t enough therapists to service the needs of the people.” People in urban settings have greater access to services while those in remote areas have to travel long distances, sometimes up to a day, for a 45-minute session. This is where the real value of online therapy emerges. Patients can log in, connect and undertake therapy without travel or extensive costs. But there are limitations. People with neurological impairments, those who aren’t confident using technology, or who have limited data or poor connectivity are at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to online therapy. Their experiences can be challenging, and these limitations impact on the one factor that makes this therapy so valuable – the connection with people. “Relationships are key to our profession and with online it isn’t always possible to read people, or target issues remotely,” says Neille. “We have to engage with patients to help them become

“Now we can easily connect with patients and colleagues across the continent.” more confident with the technology before we can even begin to think about offering a language intervention service.” In addition to engaging with the technology, there is the need to consider the therapy environment as a whole. When patients attend sessions, the tools and equipment needed to support the therapy are on site, while in the online environment these often have to be sourced by patients and carers. In addition, there is the risk that the therapist will engage more with the carer than with the patient if the latter has cognitive impairment.

“Assisting with materials and technology is one side of the coin, but we have found that there is a risk of the carer becoming too involved in the therapy, or clients not setting up their sessions in the right setting, like on the bed or sofa, for example,” says Watermeyer. “If the line is bad or there is poor connectivity, or if there is excessive background noise – all these factors negatively impact on a session.” There is a lot that still has to be overcome to turn online into as engaging and capable a tool as face-to-face. Captioning, carer engagement, assisted therapy, connectivity – these are evolving in the online environment. Yet patients in complex situations and with challenging disabilities still struggle to receive the right levels of care. Certainly, online has opened the door, but to truly realise the full capabilities of online therapy and training a lot more needs to be done to ensure that online shines as brightly as it should. C


LOVE IN THE BOARDROOM Can love be the central guiding value in big business and in complex decisions? BETH AMATO


he executive team of a corporation went away on a strategic retreat. Bonding around a late-night fire, they talked about the company they wanted to create – caring, inclusive, compassionate, fair, transparent … A young male executive asked, “Aren’t we just talking about love?” The company now operates in a culture of love and research reveals love in the smallest of big corporate places. Could love alter the course of late capitalism, which has revealed exploitation, degradation of the environment, and the entrenchment of poverty and inequality? This is what Julie Courtnage, part-time Lecturer in the Wits Business School and Wits Mining Institute aims to answer


through her research: Small Stories of Love and Sustainability in the Boardroom. She interviewed directors and board members of big companies, with the purpose of investigating the lived experiences of love, or not, in business. “The research so far shows that love is indeed present in big companies and that it acts as a challenging and useful decision support frame,” says Courtnage. Ordinarily, love is a nebulous concept to define – and even more so in the workplace, where love and business seem an oxymoron. How is it clearly articulated? “When a company operates in a culture of love, relationships come first. It takes a lot of time to learn to be vulnerable with

one another and to find a purpose beyond making money,” says Courtnage. “Essentially, caring and love for self, others, and the world is paramount. Love goes beyond purpose and passion: you can pursue these without love and be ruthless and damaging, so there is a triangle of love, purpose and passion, to deliver ‘good work for good’. Every interviewee linked love to the driver behind high-performing people and teams.”


Decisions made in love, she notes, consider the effects on financial value, shareholders, other stakeholders, the environment, a specific operating team, or product offerings. If using love as a starting point for anything in business is obviously beneficial, then why isn’t it done more? Responses to Courtnage’s question included that the habits of capitalism are entrenched and difficult to change. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are often solely graded on financial performance. “There is a lot of indoctrination in the masculine competitive and combative mindset, which holds ‘love’, ‘teamwork and connection’ and ‘vulnerability’ as weak,” she says. Interestingly, the preliminary findings show that companies using love as the core of their business are doing well financially. “Obviously, instilling love as a company’s central value is a process, as it is so different to what we’ve always been told about being a man and making money,” says Courtnage.


We’ve already desecrated so much of the earth, and so much of the human spirit through the capitalist market and profit system, so how could love as the Holy Grail in business begin to untangle this mess?

“There is a triangle of love, purpose and passion, to deliver ‘good work for good’.” “It is never too late to make changes, [but] if we make the changes from a place of expectations about specific outcomes, we will be disappointed. Everything is connected and so we cannot predict with any certainty what the outcomes might be. But we know that running the linear economy on the current rules has failed most people and the environment … If we now shift the paradigm to love, we will definitely have a different perspective on the problems, and the possible solutions,” she says. In the wake of the pandemic, it became apparent that common health and wellbeing can, with political will and societal buy-in, trump business as usual. As an example, business competitors joined forces to produce technical equipment. “The most important thing that love brings is an openness to others – to hearing what is important to them, to considering this in business decisions, and creating something that takes all sources of value – people, the environment and money – into consideration. Love fundamentally reconnects us with what it means to be human.” Having been in the sustainability space for 30 years, and seeing how little has changed, Courtnage thinks that speaking out openly and vociferously about love in business as an alternative is, perhaps, the vibrantly shocking wake-up call that may just provide us with the necessary energy, drive and perspective to solve some of the problems that fear, lack, and exclusion have produced. C





Numbers in tourism translate into revenue for the sector. Mathematicians are now number-crunching creatively to solve tourism challenges. REFILWE MABULA


outh Africa has a healthy tourism industry that contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), but the Covid-19 pandemic has had dire financial consequences for the sector and led to substantial job losses. The travel ban imposed in March 2020 as part of the government’s lockdown measures led to a massive decline in tourism activities. International and interprovincial travel was prohibited to curb the spread of the virus, which adversely affected the tourism sector’s revenue. Statistics South Africa says that the tourism sector contributed R130.1 billion to GDP and 4.5% of total employment in 2018. Due to the pandemic, the number of tourists plunged from 10.2 million in 2019 to 2.8 million in 2020. Although travel restrictions have started to ease in 2021, the sector is battling to recover. It may seem an unlikely solution, but a group of maths wizards are using their skills to tackle South Africa’s tourism challenges. The wizards convened in February 2021 at the annual Mathematics in Industry Group (MISG) hosted by the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits. The MISG is a five-day workshop where leading applied mathematicians and graduate students work collaboratively with representatives from industry on research problems.  This year, four problems were submitted of which two related to the problems affecting the tourism sector.


SPECIALISED PACKAGES FOR DOMESTIC TOURISM As the lockdown levels eased towards the end of 2020, the Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane re-opened tourism activities in a quest to save jobs and to restore economic activity. But foreign travel was still curtailed and domestic tourism uptake has been low. Dr Precious Shabalala from the University of Mpumalanga submitted the problem of low domestic tourism in Mpumalanga, which relies on tourists from other provinces. The MISG group members, Mathew Aibinu, Keegan Anderson, Kesaobaka Moipolai, Beaullah Mugwangwavari, Zachary Njuguna and Patrick Tchepmo investigated how customised packages of tourism products and services could be used to attract the domestic market. Using eight industries that support the tourism sector as variables, the group took a generalist approach to solve the problem of encouraging domestic tourism and creating value for money. “We asked the question: What would encourage a local person to be a domestic tourist? This question is more specifically aimed at touring within their own province rather than visiting another province,” said the group members. However, the solution could be applicable to other provinces, which is why the group took a generalist approach. The group made use of mathematical modelling to build

affordable customised packages that could revive the tourism sector and contribute to economic growth. They modelled the package cost function using the number of tourists as the only independent variable. The solution was to offer packages to smaller groups of three to four people, and to cater for locals who do not need accommodation.


Several factors contribute to tourism numbers and activities, one of which is climate. Tourism is seasonal and peaks during warmer weather and declines in colder conditions. Tourists consider climate when choosing their destinations. To simplify the decision for tourists, the MISG group attempted to classify destinations using climate. The problem-solvers, with participants from South Africa and India, were tasked with developing a southern African Tourism Climate Index to assist the tourism sector with marketing and tourists with choosing their destinations. The development of a climate index in SA will “allow the tourism sector to effectively market for the optimal touristclimate seasons, to adapt to ensure comfortable and pleasant climactic conditions for tourists, and to develop tourist routes to maximise periods of optimal climate for specific attractions and activities,” says Professor Jennifer Fitchett from the Wits School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Sciences. Fitchett,

whose research interests include the analyses of the impacts of climate change on tourism, submitted the tourism and climate problem for MISG 2021 to solve. Study groups modified the Tourism Climate Index (TCI) used in Europe to suit South African weather conditions. The team used five climate indices – maximum temperature, minimum temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and wind speed – as the inputs to estimate the values of the Tourism Climate Index for South Africa. The study group recommended additional specific tourism indices such as the Holiday Climate Index, Beach Climate Index and Camping Climate Index for South Africa. “Research on tourism and climate change is heavily reliant on indices to quantify the role that climate plays in determining the suitability of a destination for tourism and tourists’ enjoyment of their stay at a given location,” says Fitchett. A locally developed TCI is important given the uniqueness of our climate. Professor David Mason, a celebrated academic in the field of applied mathematics and founder of the MISG in South Africa, says that the MISG has been effective. “It has introduced new problems for teaching and research. It has had an impact in industries, for example the sugar industry. Sometimes representatives from the sugar industry present our results at conferences. In the mining industry, we have worked on problems related to safety and mines.”  C


PHOTOGRAPHING GHOSTS IN SPACE Set with the virtually impossible task of photographing a black hole in space, 55 million light years from Earth, a group of scientists went to unprecedented lengths to overcome this challenge. SHAUN SMILLIE



lack holes are probably some of the most mysterious, scary and fascinating phenomena in space. These dark lords of the cosmos have the power to give birth to or destroy stars – or even prevent them from forming. Being invisible, they pose a challenge to find, and an even bigger challenge to photograph. A multinational team of 300 scientists put their minds together to find their way around the problem: how do you photograph an object that is 55 million light years away, that you are not even able to see? The team included Wits Professor Roger Deane, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)/National Research Foundation Chair in Radio Astronomy and Wits/ SARAO postdoctoral fellow, Dr Iniyan Natarajan – the only two scientists from Africa that were part of the collaboration. Black holes are regions of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape from them – even light. The gravity is so strong because large amounts of matter is squeezed into a tiny space, creating an extremely dense body. This can happen when a star is dying, or is found at the dense centre of a galaxy.


As the gravity is so strong, black holes emit no light. They have been mathematical mysteries since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity. According to this theory, a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. Black holes remained mere mathematical theories until the early 1970s. Then, several researchers independent of each other, identified the first black hole called Cygnus X-1, that is located about 6 070 light years from Earth. Over the past three decades it has become clear that black holes are not some fantastical interesting, exotic thought, but they actually influence the growth of our galaxies dramatically. “If a black hole gets all violent and angry, it can shut off all star formation in its galaxy. But it can also trigger some star formation,” says Deane. Research has shown that there is a clear correlation between the mass of a central black hole and the speed at which stars and gas move around within the galaxy.   As black holes cannot be seen, scientists study the behaviour of objects – such as stars – around them to locate them. Each


Astrophysicist Professor Roger Deane observes the South African night sky in front of the Wits Physics building.

Image courtesy EHT Collaboration

A view of the M87 supermassive black hole in polarised light.

galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its centre. The one in our galaxy – the Milky Way – has a black hole called Sagittarius A*. It has a mass equal to about four million suns and could fit a few billion earths in its space. In their attempt to capture the first ever image of a black hole, the group of scientists that collaborated to form the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) focused their attention on a black hole, called M87*. This black hole sits in a galaxy about 55 million light years from Earth. The team selected it because of its enormous mass and its relative proximity on cosmic scales. This combination gives it one of the largest black hole shadow sizes in the sky. M87* is 300 million times more massive than the first black hole discovered, Cygnus X-1. It is also 6.5 billion times the mass of our sun, and roughly the same size as our solar system.


The sheer size of M87* demanded an imaging system that has never been seen before. The team virtually connected an array of eight telescopes, situated at very dry sites around the earth, to create the EHT. The telescopes were able to synchronise their recorded data and exploit the rotation of the Earth. By stitching together the data streams caught by the telescopes, the EHT formed a virtual telescope that could be equated to the size of Earth. “The sharpness of the images [that] a network of antennas can make is determined by two things, how far apart they are, and the wavelength of light they are tuned to. So while the Square Kilometre Array in the Karoo will make images of similar sharpness to the Hubble Space Telescope, the EHT sees details 1 000 times finer by placing antennas across the globe and capturing light waves barely one millimetre in size,” says Deane. The synchronisation of the telescopes had to be so precise that atomic clocks were used. Each telescope produced about 350

terabytes of data per day, which was then fed into specialised super computers to synthesise the data streams. EHT members then used the data to reconstruct the image with purpose-built algorithms. “The resulting EHT achieved mind-boggling resolution. It would be the equivalent of the ability to read a newspaper in Cairo, while sitting in Johannesburg,” says Deane. In creating the actual image of M87*, the scientists decided to focus not on the black hole itself, but on capturing its shadow. They did this by imaging the halo-like ring of hot material that encircles M87* as light is bent around it or disappears into it. “The problem is that the shadow feature or the deficit of light caused by M87* is so small against the sky it is basically like trying to photograph a doughnut on the moon.”


On 10 April 2019, the EHT collaboration released the first ever image of M87*. The image shows a large dark spot in the centre of a ring of light. It could be said that the image captured is 55 million years old – almost as old as the oldest dinosaurs – as that is the time that it would have taken the light to travel to Earth, for us to witness it. In March this year, the EHT team went a step further, and announced that they had once again taken an image of M87*, this time catching the black hole as it appears in polarised light. This image will help to understand how magnetic fields behave around black holes and help explain the mysterious jets associated with these galactic objects.   For Deane, studying black holes is just one of many projects that he is involved in that examines the bigger picture of the evolution of galaxies. One day these mystery objects might even assist in humankind’s great quest to find life in the universe.  “The radiation from a black hole could break down any complex life, and that may give us a sense of where best to look,” says Deane.     C


HOW THE BRAIN SOLVES PROBLEMS The connections among areas of our brain and how they interact is what counts when trying to find solutions to problems. DELIA DU TOIT




n trying to think of an introduction for this article it occurred to me that had I been inside an MRI, the screen would have showed several brain regions lighting up like Times Square as my mind was attempting to solve the problem. First, the prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia and thalamus would recognise that the blank page meant that there was a problem that needed to be solved. The thought that the editor might not favour this first-person account in a science article would send the limbic system, the primal part of the brain where emotions are processed, into overdrive. The amygdala, that little almond-shaped nugget at the base of the brain, would look like a Christmas tree as anxiety ticked up. Finally, as words started filling the screen, the prefrontal cortex behind the forehead would flicker and flash. The hippocampus would access memories of previous similar articles, the information-gathering process and even school-level English classes decades ago, to help the process along. And all this activity would happen at once.


Depending on the problem in front of you, the entire brain could be involved in trying to find a solution, says Professor Kate Cockcroft, Division Leader of cognitive neuroscience at the Neuroscience Research Laboratory (Wits NeuRL) in the School of Human and Community Development. “You would use many different brain regions to solve a problem, especially a novel or difficult one. The idea of processes being localised in one or two parts of the brain has been replaced with newer evidence that it is the connections among brain areas and their interaction that is important in cognitive processes. Some areas may be more activated with certain problems – a visual problem would activate the visual cortices, for example. “All this activity takes place as electrochemical signals. The signals form within neurons, pass along the branch-like axons and jump from one neuron to the next across gaps called synapses, with the help of neurotransmitter chemicals. The pattern, size, shape and number of these signals, what they communicate with, and the region of the brain in which they happen, determine what they achieve.” Although problem solving is a metacognitive ‘thinking about thinking’ - process, that does not make it solely the domain of the highly evolved human prefrontal cortex, adds Dr Sahba Besharati, Division Leader of social-affective neuroscience at NeuRL. “This is the most recently evolved part of the human brain, but problem solving does not happen in isolation – it’s immersed in a social context that influences how we interpret information. Your

background, gender, religion or emotions, among other factors, all influence how you interpret a problem. This means that it would involve other brain areas like the limbic system, one of the oldest brain systems housed deep within the cortex,” says Besharati. “Problem-solving abilities are not a human peculiarity. Some animals are even better than us at solving certain problems, but we all share basic problem-solving skills – if there’s danger, leave; if you’re hungry, find food.” None of this would be possible without memory either, says Cockcroft. “Without it, we would forget what it is that we are trying to solve and we wouldn't be able to use past experiences to help us solve it.” And memory is, again, linked to emotion. “We use this information to increase the likelihood of positive results when solving new problems,” she says.


It has been proven time and again that just about any brain process can be improved – including problem-solving abilities. “Brain plasticity is a real thing – the brain can reorganise itself with targeted intervention,” says Besharati. “Rehabilitation from neurological injury is a dynamic process and an ever-improving science that has allowed us to understand how the brain can change and adapt in response to the environment. Studies have also shown that simple memorisation exercises can assist tremendously in retaining cognitive skills in old age.” Of course, all these processes depend on your brain recognising that there’s a problem to be dealt with in the first place – if you don’t realise you’re spending money foolishly, you can’t improve your finances. “Recognition of a problem can happen at both a conscious and unconscious level. Stroke patients who are not aware of their motor paralysis, for example, deludedly don’t believe that they are paralysed and will sometimes not engage in rehabilitation. But their delusions often spontaneously recover, suggesting recognition at an unconscious level and that, over time, the brain can restore function.” If all else fails, there might be some value to the adage ‘sleep on it’, says Cockcroft. “Sleep is believed to assist memory consolidation – changing memories from a fragile state in which they can easily be damaged to a permanent state. In doing so, they become stored in different brain regions and new neural connections are formed that may assist problem solving. On waking, you may have formed associations between information that you didn’t think of previously. This seems to be most effective within three hours of learning new information – perhaps we should institute compulsory naps for students after lectures!” C




The ructions caused by the pandemic are an opportunity to reconsider core values and spending priorities, both of which have the potential to address South Africa’s social ills and ultimately confer dignity.


ords are insufficient to capture the economic and social tragedies in South Africa. Fifteen million people in this country (of the almost 60 million) have little or no income, says Lee-Anne Bruce, Head of Communications at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University. And while short-term social care measures brought about by Covid-19 were ‘pro-poor’, the money has never been enough and its distribution bungled. In June 2020, 37% of people ran out of money for food. Seventy percent of adults live below the Upper Bound Poverty Line of R1 268 per person per month. In this neck of the woods, we prefer to bail out a failed national airline carrier rather than feed people.

REDUCED SOCIAL ASSISTANCE A SLAP IN THE FACE “The special caregiver grants, which especially supported women and children, were brought to an end in October 2020. At the same time, government announced a bailout for South African Airways that would have covered another three months’ worth of these grant payments. And now, the most recent budget has actually cut social grant funding by more than 2%,” says Bruce. Over 18 million people – including older people, people living with disabilities and people living in poverty caring for children – depend on monthly grants. “Though the majority of these grants fall well below the food poverty line and the amounts are not nearly enough to support families, let alone lift them


out of poverty, studies have shown that the child support grant in particular has an important role to play in food security and improving children’s health and education.” This basic lack of security has real effects: during the lockdown period, domestic violence against women and children increased (although it was already unacceptably high) and other longlasting social ills such as alcohol and drug abuse, inequality and xenophobia were exacerbated.


Professor Shireen Hassim from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), says that inequality and poverty, exacerbated by Covid-19, is everybody’s problem. “We are intrinsically interrelated. It is not in the common interest to have


“It is not in the common interest to have people who are ill, starving and desperate.”

it is believed that austerity and social spending cuts are the only way out of this economic mire,” says Dawson. But there could be a workable and creative solution.

INCOME GRANT AND A GIG ECONOMY Dawson poses the question: Since we’ve had a very high unemployment rate since the mid-70s, and since the world has seen the proliferation of the ‘gig’ economy, how can we build

people who are ill, starving and desperate.” Ordinary people stepped up to mitigate a total humanitarian crisis in South Africa in 2020, notes Hassim. For example, the community action networks (CAN) networks, which provided food and basic supplies to hundreds of thousands of people across the country, were a vital response and can be applauded for their speed and innovation. These locally-organised networks show that people do in fact care about each other. Of course, the scale of our current crisis is too large for government to act upon alone. Such a monolithic entity is not as agile as local responsiveness. “But community voluntary activities can be unsustainable too. What we need is to turn those solidaristic impulses into arguments for effective public services to be delivered by the state, using taxes more efficiently to ensure that people can live in dignity,” says Hassim. “The generosity of community initiatives in the pandemic shows that people can be persuaded to support redirecting expenditure.”


Despite ordinary people’s shows of solidarity with those most affected by the pandemic, there remain vulnerable people, especially migrants and foreign nationals. “Migrants have been scapegoated and harassed for a long time, but now they are essentially invisible in the eyes of South Africa’s public health system dealing with an unprecedented crisis,” says Associate Professor Jo Vearey from the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits. Despite the significant amount of data to help government make better decisions about migrant health, migration is not meaningfully considered in the health response, says Vearey – and she doesn’t think this will improve any time soon. “For the most part of the last year, we’ve seen more securitisation, right-wing sentiments and so-called ‘vaccine apartheid’. We know that this is about keeping people out and throwing inclusivity out of the window.” So how do we advocate inclusivity?


“I think the opening question is: what kind of society do we want now?” says Hassim. “The government must absolutely reorganise its priorities and look at ways to make better use of the budget, seriously reconsidering the merit of directing scarce resources to rescue South African Airways for example. Our budget must proceed from the premise that poor people are important too.” In these extraordinarily difficult and fiscally constrained times, government has to make tough choices, says Dr Hannah Dawson, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) at Wits. “It’s not a simple matter and choices are not black and white. On the one hand, people are criticising the government for its lack of meaningful social support in these times, and on the other,


an inclusive society when jobs are increasingly unavailable and precarious? “We’re never going to have full employment and so we have to think about other options. We have to start by asking what a meaningful life looks like for people outside of wage employment and how this can be best supported.” Dawson, Hassim and Bruce agree that basic income support for people aged 18-59 years old is needed and it is in the common interest to have this. “This would at least provide young people in particular with more resources to engage in a life of their choosing and making. They need this to get out of the cycle of constant volatility and uncertainty,” says Dawson. Young people are hustling as best they can to get by in South Africa. They do this by working brief stints at places like internet cafes, beauty salons, sidewalk spazas and call centres. Consistent income support is needed to address not only persistent unemployment, but the volatility of the gig economy. The basic income grant should be made available to every single person (citizen and non-citizen) regardless of whether that person has an income. According to Black Sash, the veteran human rights organisation advocating for social justice in South Africa, and Bruce, this confers the dignity of equal status to everyone, eliminates the need for any means test or other qualification, reduces the risk of corruption and immediately ends abject poverty. “It creates the incentive for a rapid injection of expenditure into the economy as people acquire the ability to buy food and other necessities,” according to Black Sash.

UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME Black Sash says that in the urgent short term, the basic income grant could be given to those who are unemployed. In the longer term, it will provide a template for a universal basic income grant. The proposal for the grant is as follows: Implement permanent social assistance for those aged 18-59 valued at the upper-bound poverty line, now R1 227 a month. Caregivers who receive the child support grant must qualify for this grant. Make the Covid-19 grant increases of R250 a month permanent for all social grants. Ensure the above provisions apply to refugees, permanent residents, asylum seekers and migrant workers with special permits.  Work towards a universal basic income. The ructions caused by the pandemic should not be put to waste. It is an opportunity to reconsider both core values and spending priorities. “Another world is not only possible,” says Arundhati Roy author of God of Small Things, “she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”




SENSE AND SENSUALITY IN PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES Wits researchers are creating the space and support for people with disabilities to talk about sex. UFRIEDA HO



ven though sex is a basic human need (even a human right in the Netherlands), it can be one of the overlooked needs for people living with disabilities. Talking openly about sex, sexuality, sexual desire and sexual identity, as well as navigating sexual relations and reproductive rights and contraception, is awkward enough for many people. Add to this the burden of South Africa’s hangover of a Calvinistic apartheid past where the Immorality Act policed sexual relations. On top of this is the harsh reality of being a person living with a disability in an ableist world. There are even more complexities, and experiences of exclusion, when the person with a disability is queer identified, and/or gender non-conforming, or transgender. “It amounts to a feeling like having a double discrimination – there’s already stigma attached to disability and then if someone identifies as gay too, it’s an added stigma and people also ignore that you have sexual needs or that you also fall in love,” says audiologist Dr Victor de Andrade in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology.


Sometimes just starting a conversation can move mountains and shatter taboos – even about sex. De Andrade says that in 2015, at a seminar he arranged titled Double Discrimination, a conversation ensued about addressing the needs of the disabled community and thinking through solutions. In 2017, De Andrade and colleague Dr Joanne Neille, also from the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Dr Haley McEwen and (the late) Dr Paul Chappell from the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, and others, began to gather data, through a series of conversations and engagements, to better understand what people living with disabilities need to enjoy the right to live their lives as sexual beings. The project team also included members of the Wits Disability Rights Unit, the GALA Queer Archives, and individual activists to create a team with adequate expertise to address this very important, yet complex, issue. The researchers cast the net wide – deliberately, to be as inclusive and unfiltered as possible in their approach. Neille says: “Historically, research into disability has relied on proxy accounts or has excluded persons with cognitive or communicative disabilities, resulting in a biased understanding of lived experience. For this reason, we included a wide variety of participants with different sexual identities, disabilities, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.” As a result, resources for information about sex have been largely confined to speaking to friends, picking up something from the odd magazine articles that they came across, the variability of internet content, and pornography, she says.


De Andrade says they found that in residential care homes for people with disabilities, sexual relations and intimacy became formalised arrangements – like having to schedule access to designated intimacy rooms and relying on third parties to arrange contraceptives, where such possibilities did exist. Along with a dearth of information and resources, was also a censure or judgement. “We found that there are many gatekeepers to people living with disabilities’ sex lives, and their abilities to access information about sex, sexual health, and relationships, such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers,” McEwen says.

“We found that there are many gatekeepers to people with disabilities.” “Participants suggested that they could get information about how not to get pregnant or how not to get HIV, but there was nothing about negotiating relationships or consent, and sometimes there was punishment involved or a punitive attitude when the person was trying to find out more.” The research project takes the bold step to place and keep the agenda on the table. What has made the difference in particular is the team’s action research approach. It involves deep engagement, reflexivity and letting participants shape the concept and design and outcomes of the research. This has enabled the data gathered since 2017 to be stronger, more nuanced and complex. In turn, the insights seem richer and more valuable. The trio will publish their findings and research in the coming months, accompanied by a corresponding online guide for caregivers to ensure that more people have access to the kinds of information that participants in the study required. “We’re not saying this guide will solve all the problems, but often people just feel directionless and this is a step in the right direction,” De Andrade says. Using the research findings to change lives, and the approach to reshaping teaching, is transformative. As McEwen says: “This research project was not about developing fancy theory or building our academic careers – there is a social justice imperative because these are huge forms of exclusion that affect all people.” C


Gender-based violence and sexual harassment affects everyone, but when you’re a person living with a disability, getting help and being heard can be such an overwhelming challenge that staying silent seems to be the better option. The Wits Centre for Deaf Studies has been working to fight stigma and invisibility of people living with disabilities, particularly when it comes to accessing help at a police station. One of the Centre’s initiatives has been to team up with staterun rape crisis centres in a campaign to push for the National Prosecuting Authority to address the lack of accessible services for people with disabilities. “The system does not acknowledge the needs of the victim and is inaccessible to Deaf victims or anyone who does not fall into the mainstream,” says Professor Claudine Storbeck, Director of the Centre. Through the Centre’s Safe Spaces programme, Storbeck says that they are also working to develop vocabulary to help Deaf children and teenagers to have the correct signs to ask and express about their bodies, about sex and sexuality. It is the foundation for understanding concepts about “sex as power, rights, privilege”. Importantly, Storbeck says that the able-list view of parachuting in to sort out something for the person living with a disability needs upending. “The aim should be to create platforms so that these issues don’t stay low priorities. But once these platforms are in place, people with disabilities are very effective in self-representing. They know exactly what they need,” she says.


ENABLING ENGAGEMENT Breaking down the perceptual barriers between students and people living with disabilities. TAMSIN OXFORD


he world was designed by the able-bodied. The stairs, the complex architecture, the office spaces and the access points – these simple things that are taken for granted by the able-bodied instantly sideline those living with disabilities. The office worker in a wheelchair who can’t reach the second floor or the sight impaired person who can’t easily navigate beautiful, yet complex, architecture, for instance. These moments and structures add unnecessary complexity to lives that are just as dynamic and capable as those who are able-bodied. To change these moments and to shift perceptions, there is a


need to break down the walls of perception that people have about those living with disabilities, so that the world adopts a more inclusive approach to people, disability and environments. This is the vision of the Wits People for Awareness of Disability Issues (PADI) programme.

PEOPLE FOR AWARENESS OF DISABILITY ISSUES Designed to transform perceptions, PADI connects disabled people to able-bodied students in a six-month collaborative relationship, effectively breaking down the barriers that limit

students understand the different components that can result in disability and yet many of them may not have had contact with someone with a disability before coming to university. What PADI does is connect students with disabled representatives so that they become aware of the different components of disability and how they can contribute to the lives of their patients and clients.”


At the start of their first year, students are paired with PADI representatives who have various disabilities like cerebral palsy or a learning or sight disability. This exposure gives students the opportunity to learn more about disability and how it impacts on a person’s life. The programme puts a human face onto the idea of ‘disability’ and transforms how people see and interact with disabled individuals. “PADI gives students practical knowledge and experience, weaning out those who cannot engage with people with disabilities,” says Doctor Dhanashree Pillay, Senior Lecturer, Speech Pathology and Audiology at Wits. “I’ve seen such value from this programme. At the end of six months the shifts in perception and understanding are extraordinary. Many of the paired students and representatives become lifelong friends as the students stop seeing disabled people as different, but as people.” The interaction between the student and PADI representative breaks down barriers, opens up lines of communication and removes many of the naïve perceptions that people have about those who experience disabilities. These are not physical walls that separate the abled from the disabled, they are simply part of who these people are. “Disabled people have agency, they are not just the receivers of services and they can contribute just like anyone else,” says De Andrade. “They are not just the receivers of benevolence; they are essential to the fabric of society. This is why this programme, and others like it, are so important. They change the thinking around disability and help people transform society to be more inclusive and more relevant for all human beings.” C Understanding the different components of disability can help transform society to be more inclusive.

engagement, understanding and friendship. “To create an inclusive society, disability shouldn’t be discussed in isolation as a standalone topic – it’s not, it is as woven into the fabric of society as being able-bodied,” says Dr Victor de Andrade from the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at Wits. “People with disabilities are often compartmentalised and it has become important to overcome this trope and to make disability as much a central part of human discussions and experiences.” The PADI programme, developed by Sandy Heyman in 1987, is focused on getting people involved, in integrating the different aspects of people rather than compartmentalising them. The programme encourages students to interact with disability, not just in the academic sense, but by engaging with disabled people on a daily basis. “Our entire profession is geared towards lessening disability,” says Ronel Roos, Associate Professor, Department of Physiotherapy, Wits. “It is extremely important that our

DIGITAL OPERATING SYSTEMS FOR eHealth (DOSe) Technology has opened so many doors in the world, it’s no surprise that it’s playing a fundamental role in shifting the boundaries of disability, and empowering those with disabilities. Rubina Shaikh, Division of Pharmacy Practice, developed a mobile application for the visually impaired using intelligent technology and innovative thinking. The solution assists with medication identification and administration, helping those who are visually impaired to safely self-administer medications. The solution not only helps them to maintain control over their drug regimen and avoid dosage errors, but it also provides them with information on the medication itself such as expiry dates and side effects. It helps people to gain essential control over their lives, giving them back a sense of independence and improving their decision-making when it comes to medical care. It is another example of looking beyond the boundaries of disability and recognising that, with the right tools and support, those who are visually impaired can easily manage their own lives without limitations.



Nabeel Vandayer has developed a ‘speech filter’ for stuttered speech that delivers a fluent voice to the listener.


In search of ways to help his father recover from injuries suffered in a motorbike accident, Nabeel Vandayar enrolled at Wits to study medicine, but soon switched to biomedical engineering after realising that this field holds promising solutions to his father’s speech and mobility challenges.  DEBORAH MINORS



he field of biomedical engineering would be poorer if Nabeel Vandayar, 26, had pursued his boyhood passion for cricket rather than medicine.   The promising Gauteng Schools batsman matriculated from Jeppe Boys High – where he “took far too many extra subjects!” – and enrolled at Wits in 2013 for the MBBCh degree.  “The reason I chose medicine was personal,” says Vandayar – his father had been left partially disabled after a motorbike accident in 2011.



“By the end of my first year of medicine, my father had made a significant recovery after months of rehabilitation, but I realised then that medicine can only do so much,” says Vandayar. “There’s certain things that medicine cannot do. My Dad still couldn’t ride his bike, for example, and medicine couldn’t give him the quality of life he enjoyed before the accident.” Vandayar finished first-year medicine and then switched to the School of Electrical and Information Engineering to study biomedical engineering.

“A solution that reduces the anxiety a stutterer experiences, by recreating their speech in a way that makes it easier for others to understand them.”

Recognising Vandayar’s motivation “to solve problems using engineering and empathy”, Nixon recommended a joint supervision with Dr Victor de Andrade, Senior Lecturer in the Audiology Division, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, in the School of Human and Community Development at Wits.

“Biomed is probably the most challenging undergraduate degree at Wits because the courses you study are so different. You could start off the day with physiology and anatomy with the medical students, by lunch time you have created software to interface with an electric circuit, and that afternoon you have done complex mathematics in signals and systems.” says Vandayar. “The interesting thing is that these different courses build skills which, when combined, contribute to a biomedical solution in the real world. Biomed is not just about solving a problem, it’s about changing lives.”

“Autonomy and self-sufficiency is something people take for granted until they lose it,” says Vandayar, and references the actor Christopher Reeve who played Superman in the film adaptation of the comic book superhero. In 1995, Reeve was thrown from a horse and broke his neck. The injury paralysed him from the shoulders down. Superman, ironically, was confined to a wheelchair and used a mechanical ventilator for the rest of his life. “My Dad is my superhero,” says Vandayar. “He dropped out of varsity to become a taxi driver, he opened bottle stores, he was a successful businessman. After the accident, he was doing stuff on the computer, and he always asked me for help, or got me to speak for him on a call because of his stutter. Even though I was always happy to help, the best way to help was to give him a way to do these things on his own.” Vandayar’s master’s research focuses on providing a ‘speech filter’ for stuttered speech that delivers a fluent voice to a listener. The idea is to apply machine learning algorithms to an audio recording of a person’s voice to detect if a stutter is occurring. If it is, the next word is predicted based on the context of the sentence up until that point, and passed to a programme called Tacotron (developed by Google). Tacotron generates audio of what the person is trying to say. The corrected audio is then transmitted to the listener and sounds more coherent because it does not include the stutter.  “Tacotron not only takes written text and converts it to speech but makes speech sound like the original person. You give Tacotron a sample of what you sound like and it can then generate sentences you give it using your voice,” says Vandayar. “The amazing Stephen Hawking could possibly have given lectures in his original voice if Tacotron had been connected to his computer.” Vandayar acknowledges that it would be ambitious for his master’s research to actually solve a stutter. “My research is about taking the building blocks that exist, putting them together in a new way, and hopefully coming up with a solution that reduces the anxiety that a stutterer experiences, by recreating their speech in a way that makes it easier for others to understand them.” His aim is to enable some humanity, autonomy and less anxiety for the stutterer by making the listener understand the person who is stuttering. “Instead of giving the person who stutters an additional technology crutch to adapt to, such as delayed auditory feedback, why not get the technology to do the heavy lifting so that the person can just speak freely and be understood?“


In his final year of biomedical engineering, Vandayar was awarded a bursary by Health Tech, a subsidiary of IT service management company, Altron. While doing vacation work as a data analyst, he was exposed to machine learning for the first time and its potential to be applied to an individual. Machine learning is the study of computer algorithms that improve automatically through experience, and by the use of data. It is seen as a part of artificial intelligence (AI). Vandayar came up with a predictive model to establish if a patient will become diabetic, based on the patient’s medical aid claims history. There’s an Indian movie called 3 Idiots, Vandayar says, which is a satirical film about “a mechanical engineer, like my brother, who designs a vacuum device to help a mother deliver her baby during a difficult birth – kind of like MacGyver”. That movie, along with the many TEDx Talks on AI that Vandayar watched at the time, showed him the potential for AI to solve medical problems.


Vandayar’s fourth year information engineering research project was a low-cost hand gesture recognition system. Its design and use enables people with certain movement disabilities – such as the inability to type due to decreased finger dexterity – to use a computer by performing other gestures that they can do comfortably. “Disability has different ranges,” says Vandayar. “For example, my Dad can’t type on a computer as well as he used to. So I created a customisable system that enables people with specific disabilities to perform movements that they are able to perform.” Vandayar presented this research at the SAUPEC/RobMech/ PRASA conference (Southern African Universities Power and Engineering/Robotics and Mechatronics/Pattern Recognition Association of SA), with co-author and fellow Witsie, Timothy McBride. Their research was published in 2019. Vandayar’s early research success galvanised his promotion to data scientist at Health Tech. In 2021, he presented his master’s research proposal to his supervisor, Associate Professor Ken Nixon in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering. “My motivation for all this comes back to my Dad. He had suffered head injuries during his accident, which resulted in a tendency to stutter in stressful situations – for example, when meeting new people or speaking on the phone. This inability to speak fluently is very inhibiting compared to how he used to speak.”



Vandayar now works as a data engineer at a financial services tech company, where he is establishing a healthcare division. He’s also co-founded an open source research group, comprising of doctors, nurses, biomed engineers and nontechnical stakeholders in the African healthcare space, to encourage research collaboration and innovation. “People don’t work on these technologies unless they have a vested interest – as I do – and I think this needs to change. Right now what I’m most passionate about is improving public health using AI,” he says. Indeed, engineering with empathy. C


HEALING SOUTH AFRICA’S PUBLIC HEALTH HEADACHE From Covid-19 vaccines, to training healthcare professionals and administering and managing care, academia binds the public and private sectors in the move towards universal healthcare. LEM CHETTY



t is ironic that the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the passing of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill in South Africa, because the pandemic was a reminder that access to healthcare is indeed a universal collaboration. There are parallels, too, between the universal healthcare offering the NHI proposes, and the roll-out of the country’s vaccination programme. Perhaps the latter is a microcosm of how this mammoth task will materialise. What is evident is that both scenarios will come to fruition – because they have to. In a true democracy, the management of and access to the Covid-19 vaccination and treatment should play out exactly as the NHI should – equitably, and made possible through omnichannels. In other words, the NHI can only work if the private and public sector come together – and academia might be the tie that binds the two.


Universities continue to be an integral part of the fight against Covid-19, and they also have a critical role to play in the NHI. Professor Emeritus Martin Veller, former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, says: “Firstly, universal healthcare in South Africa is absolutely needed. From the Covid-19 pandemic, what we have seen is that the academic health sector is poised to become a significant facilitator – if not the facilitator – of the healthcare delivery system. Particularly, to implement the necessary changes in healthcare, to then make universal healthcare possible in this country.” Veller says that the Faculty was deeply involved in drafting seminal work on NHI, the Presidential Health Compact. Titled South African Government: Strengthening the South African health system towards an integrated and unified health system, the Presidential Health Compact was published on 25 July 2019. The document stemmed from the Presidential Health Summit in October 2018, which, President Cyril Ramaphosa writes, set out to “diagnose and propose solutions to end the identified crises in the health system that are hampering our progress towards creating a unified, people-centred and responsive health system that leaves no one behind”. The Compact that followed is an agreement consented to by government and key stakeholders – academics and researchers, health and allied health professionals, labour, business, community, statutory councils, traditional health practitioners, and public health entities. Veller, representing not only Wits and the Faculty, but also as Chair of the Committee of Medical Deans in the country, says the team delved into a study to highlight the problems in the public health sector. This participation showed that “we are committed to universal healthcare and recognise that very significant numbers of patients in our country do not have access to a strong healthcare system”.


Many academics within the Faculty are advising government and partners on the development, management and monitoring of the NHI, “with the ultimate aim of getting the country’s health system out of the doldrums. But there are also other faculties at Wits doing the same, for example, in commerce, law and management, definitely in science, in one way or another”, says Veller. “Much of what we do is in the research and

“This is the basis of the NHI – the use of private care skills in the public sector by professionals trained in public institutions.”

knowledge-generation space, especially around the issues in the health system and later, in implementation. The Faculty also addresses gaps in the system. Finally, being the largest health sciences faculty in the country, we have committed to increasing training numbers, so that our graduates will assist in the universal access to healthcare.”


The management of human resources – people – in the healthcare system is paramount to the NHI succeeding and operating well. The combination of unemployed graduates and a shortage of healthcare workers, makes the answers seem simple, but often they are not. Wits has come up with a working solution. Dan Mosia, Chief Commercial Officer at the Wits Health Consortium (WHC), says the Wits team, in partnership with other universities, created a pipeline of doctors to fill staffing gaps, including in KwaZulu-Natal where oncology care was a challenge because of a shortage of trained healthcare workers. “The Wits Health Consortium is a wholly-owned entity of Wits University, with strategic objectives around the Faculty of Health Sciences. We are deliberate about how best we can assist the Faculty to unlock business opportunities and increase income streams for the University,” he says. Unlocking opportunities for Wits which also help the NHI work well is part of its mandate. The consortium aligned with six other universities with medical schools to come up with a response to what the National Department of Health needed as a test case in the placement of unemployed healthcare professionals where they were needed. “It worked,” says Mosia. “There was a backlog in the department of placing healthcare professionals in a number of provinces. We were able to assist. For instance, in KZN [where we were able] to attract oncologists and regain the confidence of both patients and doctors that the public service can work. It was imperative that we paid healthcare workers timeously, so that they could come back and do the work, and in turn, patients who attend public hospitals were treated by private oncologists.” This is the basis of the NHI – the use of private care skills in the public sector by professionals trained in public institutions. “The mechanism to get the skills right has worked, even in rural areas. In Mpumalanga, people in some rural areas could access specialist healthcare for the very first time,” he says. “Our country needs a solution and the solution has been identified as NHI. Universal healthcare is a fundamental need, a matter of life and death, so the NHI has to work – but in a sustainable manner. Academic institutions are well-placed to work with both the public and private sectors. Our role is to continue to bring the two sectors together, and to find models that can be implemented without compromising either of the sectors.” C




The media industry in South Africa has been sputtering along for a number of years. How do we prevent it from totally collapsing? ANDILE NDLOVU


t is inherently human to cling to hope in times of great destruction and indisposition. We turn to it when we are met with bleak prognoses on a myriad of issues. In this country, politicians even turn to optimism when governance proves wearisome, imploring us to pray for deliverance. We tell ourselves – and each other – that we will return to what we had before. Yet, what recent times have taught us is that the ‘new normal’ or ‘going back to normal’ is a mistaken belief. Many industries are learning this the hard way. Journalism, and specifically South Africa’s beleaguered press, has been battered almost beyond recognition in recent years – only for Covid-19 to arrive and accelerate the pre-existing structural declines in the industry. Like an unserviced car, the engine has been sputtering for a while and the industry has been too ponderous in countering the challenges posed. In the past decade or so, journalism has been disrupted, even devastated, but it can never be allowed to die. A strong ‘Fourth Estate’, as the media industry is often referred to, is crucial to a country’s democracy. Without it, whether at community or national level, malfeasance thrives. Quality journalism is how a democracy is kept alive.


According to Bureau of Circulations data for the fourth quarter of 2020, circulation numbers for daily newspapers in this country are down by 40%, on average, over one year. A substantial drop in circulation numbers and advertising spend has forced the closure of many titles, while others have had to migrate to digital-only formats to cling to life. Caxton and CTP Publishers & Printers closed its magazine division, while 38-year-old Associated Media Publishing ceased operations less than three months into the country’s lockdown. There have been retrenchments across the board – including at Arena Holdings, Media24, Independent Newspapers, Primedia and even the SABC. Many media houses, at least in their current form, are facing an existential threat. Added to dropping circulation figures, the South African media is also facing a credibility crisis, as several media houses and journalists have been ‘captured’ and swayed into publishing propaganda for various political actors. Wits Journalism’s Professor Franz Kruger, who helms the annual State of the Newsroom Report, says that “along with news organisations around the world, the SA print media have been scrambling for solutions” such as experimenting with paywalls. “It has been difficult, though, and real innovation may well come from a completely unexpected direction, from outside the traditional media houses who often struggle to be agile enough to respond to a crisis of this magnitude,” says Kruger. It is clear that more – if not all – news publishers will be left with little option but to move towards subscription models and make even less content freely available. But to attract and retain subscribers requires consistently thorough, engaging and relevant content for readers – not to mention, affordable. If publications and broadcasters are forced to find creative ways to sell content, doing so is made even tougher during times of severe economic hardship. Paying for content is suddenly seen as

“Innovation may well come from a completely unexpected direction, from outside the traditional media houses.” a luxury many people can do without. They would rather seek news and content that’s free, which leads to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ – further damaging the standing of journalists and journalism in the eyes of the public. Press Ombudsman Pippa Green is quoted in the State of the Newsroom Report as saying that the “effects of the cutbacks can be seen in many of the complaints that come before the Press Council, itself affected by the economic malaise”. She adds that “in some cases, they reflect a scramble to publish, lack of verification, inconsistent attempts to allow a right of reply, and in some cases a lack of editorial oversight.” The need for committed, well-trained, honourable and talented journalists (who come from demographically transformed newsrooms) will always be in demand. The challenge is, how do we produce them?


The sustainable alternative, according to Dr Bob Wekesa, Coordinator of Research, Partnerships and Communications at the African Centre for the Study of the United States at Wits University, is for news organisations to work with journalism schools in such a way that the schools respond to newsroom training and skills needs – both at the degree or diploma training levels – for careerentry journalists – and continuing training for mid-career and senior journalists. But if the future is already here and digital, surely the next question is, in a country where internet penetration sits at less than 60% of the population, how to get trustworthy news to as big a pool of readers as possible. “On the regulatory front, the government ought to step in to compel social media platforms to report their profits here in South Africa,” says Wekesa. “This will help level the advertisement ecology with benefits for South African news organisations”. Government must ensure internet costs drop significantly. Spectrum allocation has been a talking point for a while now, as it is seen to be the main stumbling block in lowering data prices in the country. A breakthrough on this issue would lead to a drop in the subscription rates that news organisations offer to audiences, believes Wekesa. “News organisations also have to be creative in audience targeting. For instance, some audiences access content via their phones and this is often short pieces of information while others prefer using computers often for longer pieces.” The only way to assuage doubts about the reliability of the industry is to continue to produce thorough, informative and inspiring work – the type that exposed and impeded corrupt practices such as state capture. But how to do this with limited resources is the unanswered question. C



SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATION: CAN WE TRUST THE TECH GIANTS? The emergence of information communication technology and what it affords us has transformed society's political, economic, and cultural spheres. These transformations have contributed to enriched political discourses, as the public are no longer just recipients of information but active contributors due to the participatory nature of these technologies. UFUOMA AKPOJIVI



ome scholars consider these ‘liberating technologies’ because they empower citizens to speak back to power and hold leaders accountable. In postcolonial African countries, the impact of this liberating technology is evident from the Arab Spring, to #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, and OccupyGhana and Nigeria, when citizens have leveraged technologies to challenge inherent colonial and postcolonial issues. Yet despite these benefits, concerns have been raised about the use of these liberating technologies for perpetuating online abuse through trolling, spreading misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories, and for manipulating elections – as observed in Kenya and Nigeria by Cambridge Analytica. These concerns are legitimate and worrying due to the consequences on citizens and threats to nation states. For instance, Thierry Henry, a former footballer and coach, recently announced that he will be quitting social media due to online abuse and that he will only consider re-joining when social media is regulated with the ‘same vigour and ferocity that copyright infringements are’. Similarly, earlier this year, the world watched with shock how supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the November presidential election results. The former president himself was accused of inciting this incident through his posts on social media. These issues raise the question of how best to regulate these technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.


Freedom of speech is considered a universal human right and it is covered in most international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human Rights. Nation states are appraised based on their abilities to protect this inalienable human right. However, this does not confer absolute [negative] freedom on every individual. Some philosophers argue that freedom is essential in any society because truth can only be derived from tolerance of different views. Furthermore, the democratic process is enriched as citizens can make an informed decision due to the market of ideas. Conversely, they state that freedom of speech should only be regulated when national interests or security is at stake, bringing about the idea of positive freedom – which calls for some restraint or intervention – potentially from the state, since freedom is not absolute.

“Regulation is needed to promote fair rules of engagement and check excesses from both the tech giants and the public.” In the capitalist’s environment in which these technologies operate, tech giants cannot be trusted to effectively regulate platform content as they are either slow to take necessary action, or take excessive or disproportionate actions and/or responses, which threaten the very basis of freedom that such platforms are supposed to promote. For instance, the recent banning of former president Donald Trump by social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) raises the question of who makes these decisions and if these decisions are in the public interest.


Is the decision to ban an individual from using these technologies or limiting/restricting news sharing by tech giants the solution? To address this problem a more robust approach is needed at both the governance and individual levels. Firstly, the governance of tech giants and their content should not be left to corporate organisations. The telecommunication regulatory bodies of nation states should engage with tech giants to identify mechanisms that will help flag hateful, mis/ disinformation and the like on these platforms. This should go beyond reviewing regulatory decisions already made, and include the involvement in content moderation, formation, expansion, and empowerment of oversight across all platforms. Expanding the oversight board and their powers to content moderation and regulation will help address the bureaucratic imperative, highlight the complex framework and rules with which they work and build a structure that is transparent to all. Secondly, there is need for rules of engagement on social media platforms. Just as in mainstream media, which has frameworks that govern engagement, there should be rules to which individuals who subscribe to social media adhere. C


The idea of regulation as a restriction has always met with resistance and continues to generate complex debates. Nevertheless, regulation is needed to promote fair rules of engagement and check excesses from both the tech giants and the public. The state cannot always be trusted to equitably regulate the media or social media due to vested interests, for example, using regulation as a tool to curtail and suppress critical views and opposition. Nation states including Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Cameroon have politicised and weaponised the internet to achieve their own objectives. Likewise, attempts by states to formulate social media legislation as happened in Uganda and Nigeria, have raised serious concerns over the end goal of such bills.

Ufuoma Akpojivi is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Media Studies at Wits. He holds a PhD in Communications Studies from the University of Leeds, UK. His research interests are in the areas of media policy, democratisation, citizenship, new media, and activism and he has authored many academic articles in these areas. He is the recipient of the Wits Friedel Sellschop Research Award, amongst others, and many teaching awards.



As the world looks to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, it’s clear that the time for sitting on the side-lines is over – and so is thinking that ill-conceptualised tradeoffs and compromises are going to cut it. UFRIEDA HO


he what-next in tackling the climate crisis faces a new reckoning that focuses less on calibrating trade-offs but more on shoring up transdisciplinary enquiry and systemic transformation. It’s diving deeper into how systems work to find where solutions may lie and nailing one’s colours to the mast, because mass mobilisation and active citizenship is going to matter as the planet burns hotter. The late Professor Bob Scholes* (1958-2021), former Director of the Global Change Institute at Wits, said trade-offs are often poorly conceptualised. By treating particular interventions as if they were independent of one another, solutions to curb increasing temperatures globally get missed.

understanding the interactions, you can work out where the sweet


action and more meaningful dialogue – but there are blind spots

“Systems theory looks at how thing are connected to one another. It recognises that solutions to different parts of the challenge do not necessarily have to be in opposition to each other. In


spot might lie,” he said. Getting to grips with systems means looking at the whole in all its complexity. It’s not about seeing a win in one area as an inevitable loss somewhere else. As an example, Scholes pointed to the debate that continues to cast the protection of nature and the avoidance of dangerous climate change as competing interests. He said both challenges are crucial, and each comes with the backing of international frameworks and agreements. This may lend weight when it comes to getting high-level buy-in and commitment, and in shaping and enforcing policy, collective when different agendas are pursued in silos. Inadvertently it can become a doomed battle for a top spot on a priority list, when there shouldn’t have been a competition to begin with.


“It’s not a case of either being focused on the coming of a sixth mass extinction or believing that climate change is so important that we don’t have to worry about biodiversity. Once we understand both issues better we can sift out the solutions that are not about climate positive or biodiversity negative but can achieve objectives on both sides,” he said. Practically put, Scholes said, it translates to measures like protecting existing tree resources instead of planting new trees in places where they don’t belong, for instance. Or it’s about improving photovoltaic and energy storage technology that pays attention to the cradle-to-grave footprint of the new technologies as well as those that they replace. Political scientist Professor Vishwas Satgar in the Department of International Relations says that the next wave of tackling climate change must match practical measures with personal and collective commitment.


For Satgar, who was part of drawing up the South African Climate Justice Charter launched in August 2020, the Charter embodies commitment, actions and also hope. The Charter looks at the climate change crisis with renewed verve and has contemporary framing. It is based in science but recognises that a relationship with nature is also inherently human and therefore something spiritual and social too. “We are socio-ecological beings,” he says. Among its broad ideals, the Charter holds that slavish adherence to perpetual growth and development as measures of progress or models for wellbeing fail to serve the world. It also calls for a strengthening of democracy, transformation, redistribution, and a commitment to ideals that mirror South Africa’s Bill of Rights and looks to address society’s deep inequalities. “Mass-based movement is how we shift society and how we can start translating things into policy. Acting now is also how we cushion society for the climate shocks that are still to come,” he says.


Satgar warns that trade-offs in framing a response to the climate crisis are a distraction and prop up false dualities. Using the ‘climate shock’ of the Western Cape’s Day Zero drought as an example, Satgar says that the focus points became dangerously narrow: it was either trained on the economic fallout; the politics of disaster management strategies; or the noise of climate change denialism that wrote-off the worst drought in generations simply as part of cyclical weather patterns. These issues are more interconnected. Zooming out can offer this perspective and also give insight into the underpinning challenges that run through all these separate challenges – the so called ‘lock-ins’ – he says. South Africa’s key ‘lock-in’ is reliance on a highly carbon intensive, coal-based economy. With this century-old dependency has come entrenched vested interest in extractive industries and the big money, corporate power, and politics that has helped prop it up, Satgar says. Add to this, he says, is a government that has a ’lack of ambition‘ when it comes to everything from carbon tax targets to carbon tax enforcement for corporate polluters, and adequate responses when social and climate realities collide.

“Sitting on the side-lines is not going to cut it because the climate crisis stands to make losers of us all. ” There is a continued failure to respond to the disproportionate social impact of climate shocks, such as floods and droughts, when those who have the lightest carbon footprint are hit the hardest. “If we are to solve the problem of carbon emissions, we do have to displace these lock-ins,” says Satgar.


Emeritus Professor Jacklyn Cock in the School of Social Sciences says that the time for deep transformation is up against a ticking clock. “We need ‘just transition’ from coal that involves a massive redistribution of power and resources and a new relationship to nature. Nature has been treated as a sink for our waste products and a store of resources for profit,” she says. Cock says that it starts with “living more mindfully, consuming less and conserving more” but this must extend to actual membership of the organisations and campaigns, including the Climate Justice Charter Movement, which is about growing solidarity and social bonds, and translating this into mass action. She says counter power will come through alliances and intergenerational cohesion; building networks between the likes of environmental activists, academia, faith-based organisations, labour and grassroots communities. The alliances must be strengthened so that the 2021 follow-up to Paris COP21 in Glasgow this November is not another trade-off. COP26 is the next annual United Nations climate change conference. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and the summit will be attended by the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994. The ambitious UN meeting in 2015 ticked off as a success that it got 196 nations at the time to sign a legally binding treaty on climate change. The long-term target was to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C by the latest timeframe of mid-century. But it did not go far enough to halt or limit the burning of fossil fuels, leaving the world now short of meeting the target. It means there’s work to be done and personal responsibility to commit to collective action as a solution. “Find an entry point, whatever it is – there are many good organisations that need your membership – and get involved,” says Cock. Her point really is that sitting on the side-lines is not going to cut it because the climate crisis stands to make losers of us all. C


*Professor Bob Scholes died on 28 April 2021 while on a hike in Namibia, just two months after the interview for this story. He was 63. A world-renowned scientist, Scholes was a stalwart of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and authored the Third, Fourth and Fifth IPCC Assessment Reports.



In drug repurposing new uses are identified for a drug outside of its original scope of indication. This translates into quicker and more effective treatment delivery for patients. DIDI MMATLADI


magine going to the doctor to get medical help and you’re told, “Sorry, there is too little known about your condition, I cannot treat you for it now, but hopefully, there will be a drug developed for it soon.” If the doctor does not know what to do, who does? And how soon could a drug developed for your condition be available? The process of developing drugs is extensive and rigorous. It takes on average 10 years from the ‘initial discovery’ of drugs, to their approval for use and ultimate availability through prescription or over the counter.


There is an urgent need for more efficient and solutions-driven systems to identify alternate treatments when existing drugs are not available. Drug repurposing (or repositioning) is a costefficient approach that eliminates the lengthy timeframes of conventional drug development, thus giving patients treatment sooner. Professor Yahya Choonara, Director and Principal Researcher at the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) research unit, defines drug repurposing as the process through which new uses for a drug are identified outside that drug’s original scope of indication (or the re-profiling of drug molecules). “This approach is increasingly explored by drug discovery research teams as it provides benefits over conventional ways of searching for a new ‘active pharmaceutical ingredient’,” says Choonara. “Drug repurposing may reduce the risks that are associated with the process of conventional drug discovery and development, as existing knowledge on candidate drugs can be further developed more quickly and enhanced.” Repurposing of drugs means that drug developers employ ‘de-risked compounds’, which makes the ‘re-purposable’ drug candidate easier to develop further. Because the re-purposable drug has already gone through multiple rigorous regulatory stages for approval, drug repurposing scientists can adopt more systematic processes to identify alternative prospects for its use. This alone fast-tracks the gap between identifying drugs with desirable effects, and getting them on the shelves in pharmacies.


Researching and developing new drugs is expensive. Pharmaceutical companies risk financial losses if their drug discovery and development programmes fail, or the drugs require further development to secure the necessary approvals. It is the end-customer who will likely have to pay higher prices for these drugs. Despite extensive advancements in scientific medical technologies and highly mechanised manufacturing capabilities, research suggests that the cost of developing new drugs is still high at an estimated average cost of $1.3 billion in 2020. Repurposed drugs accounted for 43% of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in the first quarter of 2020, studies found. This form of drug development has seen the

“Drug repurposing may reduce the risks that are associated with the process of conventional drug discovery and development” pharmaceutical industry’s annual revenue grow by an estimated 25-40% (2020), showing that it can become a feasible and standard consideration in the drug development process. Diseases are growing globally, highlighting the urgent need for pharmaceutical research innovation that will help meet the demand for ‘new’ and effective drugs, while balancing this with the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to produce these efficiently and timeously.


There is a great need to explore drug repurposing in treating patients with cancer in South Africa, says Dr Ekene Emmanuel Nweke, Associate Researcher in the Wits Department of Surgery, who recently contributed a book chapter, Drug sensitivity and drug repurposing platform for cancer precision medicine. Increasingly, cancer patients are developing drug resistance to dedicated cancer medications already on the market. Although some developed countries have seen improved five-year survival rates in most cancers, mainly because of early detection and advanced treatment options, certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer are still problematic to treat due to their highly resistant nature. “The whole point of trying to develop cancer precision medicine is to ensure that we have tailored treatments for patients. Drug resistance in patients is a huge issue when it comes to cancer treatment. By repurposing drugs and screening these drugs specifically to the patient’s needs, we hope to avoid resistance and improve the patient’s outcome,” says Nweke. Choonara stresses that the efficiency of drug repurposing requires a combination of access to molecular data, appropriate bio-analytical expertise to enable robust insights, and expertise and experimental set-up for pharmaceutical formulation, validation and clinical development. Finding the right combinations of ‘de-risked compounds’ to repurpose drugs for multiple diseases requires both scientific and clinical collaboration, a multidisciplinary approach often adopted by the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. “Drug repurposing can strengthen healthcare systems by making available a wider variety of therapeutic interventions and promotes a multidisciplinary effort among healthcare professions to get such pharmaceutical products to the market,” says Choonara. C



CAN PHILANTHROPY GROW AFRICA? Philanthropy aims to solve human problems and is as natural to Africans as breathing. Despite the fact the philanthropy is pervasive – benefactors and beneficiaries abound – relatively little is known about its practice in an African context and its efficacy and role in building Africa’s future.




hilanthropy takes various forms, with the two main ones: philanthropy at the local level practised by the community or its high net worth individuals (HNWIs); and institutional philanthropy in the form of foundations. The former is practised by members of a community mostly in a horizontal manner. They give to each other ‘in kind’ – they donate goods, time and networks, and they rally in times of difficulty. They also give cash. We have seen this happening during the Covid-19 pandemic, where communities forged in solidarity had a positive impact on psychosocial wellbeing, among others. This kind of localised philanthropy helps to ensure that communities survive from one hardship to the next, but it is limited to individual geographies and does not always address the root cause of a problem.


Community giving is more often seen as charity; gestures between people in times of need. Although this can be viewed as palliative giving and not curative in nature, charity or community giving has a huge role to play in Africa’s development. A charitable gesture such as helping a girl child from a village attend school has the potential for a significant impact down the line – by enabling the girl to navigate her own way in the world, to lift her out of a patriarchal system, and to empower her economically. That girl has the potential to become a leader herself who may in turn impact on the lives of other girls in her community. The number of HNWIs in Africa has increased over the past decade. These individuals are able to give both to and beyond their communities, and many of them have their own foundations through which they donate. The deeper pockets and systems that they have established mean that there is transformative potential to address the root causes of problems and have a lasting impact. Large-scale philanthropic aid, such as HNWIs and international donor foundations, are seen as transformative and developmental in nature. This type of philanthropy can address power relations, social justice and policy issues – and is arguably still lacking in Africa. There are more and more funds coming into Africa but poverty and inequality are not decreasing and violence is in fact increasing.


Asserting the real impact of philanthropy requires more attention and reflection, especially by philanthropies themselves. We need to scrutinise how philanthropy is being implemented and explore what areas need support and for how long. Frequently, philanthropy is based on project funding, because most funders prefer this. While projects have their place, we need to talk about how to achieve sustainable, long-term funding to resolve systemic problems. In deciding on the areas that need philanthropic attention, I believe that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an important framework. In fact, philanthropy has long supported many challenges embodied in the SDGs, particularly issues of poverty and hunger, education, inequality and governance – all of which are

“This type of philanthropy can address power relations, social justice and policy issues – and is arguably still lacking in Africa.” contained in the 17 SDGs. But the actual priority will depend on each country’s specific needs. In South Africa, there are several specific areas that I believe we need to identify as urgent, including women empowerment, inequality, gender-based violence and unemployment. Globally, we need to rally collectively around issues of climate change and the environment, because those are likely to be our most pressing challenges in the future.


Education has an important role to play in ensuring that philanthropic efforts contribute to Africa’s growth. We cannot have philanthropy without education – the biggest philanthropic organisations in the world, such as Carnegie, the Ford Foundation and Kellogg in the US, and closer to home, the likes of the Dangote and Motsepe Foundations, all have their roots in industry and the private sector. Knowledge and education leads to a strong private sector, which is the source of financial resources for philanthropy. Secondly, we need to develop leaders who will run their corporations from a philanthropic perspective. These are individuals who emerge from higher education institutions driven by the values of social justice and transformation. As educators, we need to develop in them an understanding of social justice and ethics and how these can and should be embedded in the work that they do. Whether it is private giving or large-scale project funding, philanthropy has a crucial role to play in the growth of the continent. To be truly effective, philanthropy must look deeper into root causes to ensure lasting social justice in Africa. C

Professor Bhekinkosi Moyo is the Director of the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI) at the Wits Business School.



MAKE SOUTH AFRICA GREAT AGAIN! Finding inspiration in South Africa is a tough ask, but it can be done. We don’t just have the ability to turn South Africa around, we have a responsibility to do so. SCHALK MOUTON




t is a stunningly clear winter night. The stars in the sky shine brightly. Our cheeks glow red from the cold. Our breaths punctuate the night with stabs of frozen vapour as we exhale. We are a group of friends who have come together for one of the deepest of South African traditions – a braai. We are braaiing on the coldest night of the year, not to celebrate a special occasion or to perform some kind of weird ritual. It is not even that we feel eccentric. No, we are braaiing because we have to. We have no power. The latest round of loadshedding has caught us off guard. Not even one of the most reliable inventions to come out of South Africa in the past 10 years, the Eskom se Push app, was able to predict the level of disintegration at the power producer this time. At least the beer is ice cold. Not that we particularly feel the need to be drinking a beer on a freezing night. It is just that our water has been cut off for the past three days. Various excuses have been put forward by the municipality, relating to the power cuts, frozen rivers, Covid-induced company retrenchments and the previous government. None of them makes sense. Because of a lack of water and our latest round of panic shopping before the previous lockdown announcement, the only thing we have in surplus is beer. So, in our house, for the past three months, beer goes with everything – and, in fact is used for anything. Inevitably, as it happens at every social gathering in South Africa these days, the conversation turns to emigration. “So, what’s your escape plan?” asks Jason. The icicle hanging from his nose slowly starting to drip as he bends over the fire to turn the tjoppies. It is not a question of “if”, it is a question of “when”, and “where to?”. I inhale deeply. The start of my complicated answer. But before I even utter my first word, my wife shouts from the kitchen – where she is washing the salad leaves with a Windhoek draught – “Schalk, don’t be so negative!” The glare in her eyes blinding me more than the 1 000 lumen headlamp on her head. I sigh. A deep, resigned sigh. As the tjoppies sizzle, I fall into deep thought. My mind blocks out the conversation and the constant droning of the neighbours’ diesel generator. I realise that the problems discussed around our braai are ‘first world problems’. We are the fortunate ones. Yes, privileged. A lot of South Africans never have electricity to warm their houses or cook their food. And a lot of people don’t have running water in their houses. They, unlike us, don’t have many options to change their lives – or the responsibility to change the country. South Africans, I fear, have to a large degree lost hope. We are in desperate need of a good news story. For the past decade, we’ve been hearing nothing but bad news. Crime, poverty, neverending corruption. Politicians playing the blame game. Children drowning in pit toilets at schools, loadshedding and water cuts, failing state-owned enterprises, a lagging economy and inexcusably high youth unemployment, and inequality. Just the tip of the iceberg. I am in the privileged position that when I am in a need of a therapy top-up, I can pick up the phone and call some of the brightest psychologists on the continent, at Wits. I grab my phone from the 12-year-old who is probably using it to hack into the State Security Agency’s database, and start to go through my contact list. My search takes a bit longer, for the numbers that I am looking for are listed under ‘P’, not under ‘S’, where I have been searching. South Africa at the moment is a toxic environment. South Africans – not just me – are probably all suffering from some kind

of condition that is spelt with a silent “B”, such as depression. Or even worse, some kind of post traumatic, or continuous traumatic stress. Each of us is paying the cost to live in this beautiful country. The core problem, it seems, is politics. In the context of the country, a psychologist explains, politicians probably take the role of the parents, and we all know how disappointed we are when our parents get things wrong. To change our collective state of mind to what we felt in the mid1990s when everybody was ready to work together, we need to change our whole environment. Changing the country’s narrative is not as easy as attending a mass ‘family meeting’ or having another World Cup victory. To put a smile back on our faces at the next braai, there needs to be some actual changes to the country. For the past 20 years, I have believed and advocated that every single problem in South Africa can be fixed. The schooling system, the hospitals, crime, lagging infrastructure projects such as the digitalisation of the broadcast spectrum, Kusile and Medupi power stations and the second phase of the Katze dam water scheme, can be all be fixed if there is a little bit of political will behind these projects. Covid showed us that. The moment our politicians actually ‘engaged their minds’ and decided the country must be shut down for three months, it happened without a problem. The military was mobilised, policy, regulations and even new laws were made and policed, and the public largely complied. Nothing the government has ever touched has been as effective as the Covid lockdowns. Not even the current vaccine roll-out. Professor Alex van den Heever, from the School of Governance, believes that the whole Lego box that is South African politics should be upended, and carefully put back together. “Patronage politics has to be effectively outlawed,” he says. Patronage politics has destroyed democratic South Africa. Members of Parliament get put into parliament by being on a party list, and then work only to hold on to their jobs, not to serve the public. Corruption is so deeply rooted, that the ‘good’ politicians and public servants – and no, that is not an oxymoron – have to hide their work from their bosses – the ministers – in fear of having their projects captured. The money allocated to replace the pit toilet at the school where a six-year-old suffered the most awful death imaginable, never reached the school. “By definition, you have to be corrupt to be in a position of power,” says Alex. My conversation with him makes me leave the braai immediately to pack my bag. South Africans are becoming fatalistic because they feel that they can’t do anything to change their situation. Those that can do so emigrate. We not only lose their skills, we also lose loved ones. But all is not lost, says Alex. “You can still go on to national television and criticise the president. You can’t do that in Russia or Turkey.” To turn things around – and we still can – we need to know what the problem is and not keep quiet about it. We all need to work together to change the country for the better. The media, the judiciary, civil servants and, especially, you and me. Rather than purchase a ticket to Canada, get involved in something that makes a positive difference, search for comfort in your close communities and, most importantly, speak up – especially those of us who are in positions to do so, or have a proximity to those in power. We live in a beautiful country with so much to offer. We owe it to ourselves – and more importantly – to those who really don’t have the ability to change things – as the dude with the kuif said – Make South Africa Great Again! C





In the 1970s, there was no performance laboratory for student thespians. The solution was to convert the school hall of the McAuley House convent, The Nunnery, into a theatre – over one weekend.


lthough public productions were previously mounted in the Great Hall, Wits drama and music students lacked a bespoke ‘laboratory’ in which to practise their craft. John van Zyl and Aart de Villiers (1931-1999), Wits staff who became founding members of the University’s drama department, approached Herbert Prins in the Wits School of Architecture to help design a new theatre space. In 1975, Prins sought out Malcolm Purkey, an English honours student at Wits, and together they designed and built the theatre, for which Vice-Chancellor Guerino Renzo Bozzoli (1968–1977) had reluctantly made around R3 000 available. “Herbert Prins was charged with the responsibility of creating a theatre for the newly emerging School of Dramatic Art and [the University] wasn’t ready to build The Wits Theatre proper for some years,” says Purkey. “So Herbert scouted about and located the possible place to build it, and he knew that I’d been involved in building the Box Theatre before that, and so he found me, and together we designed the space very unusually and creatively. And then we set to work to build it.” The solution to converting a hall into a theatre was to fashion narrow galleries on two sides with seats at the entrance. This would create a foyer. Removable seats on the hall’s existing stage created a ‘theatre-in-the-round’ formation – where the audience surrounds the stage. The proximity brings the actors and audience into the same space, fostering a more intimate audience experience. “Malcolm and I met on a Saturday morning and stood in Ameshoff Street and, as men came by, we accosted them and asked whether


The Nunnery at Wits was converted from a convent hall to a theatre in the 1970s.

they were looking for work. We put together a gang of workers, all unqualified, and started erecting what I believe is still in place, at The Nunnery,” Prins recalled in an article he wrote for the Heritage Portal in November 2015. “Thanks to Malcolm and the off-the-street labour that were paid by the day, and those who were generous enough to donate materials, we built The Nunnery on Saturday and Sunday.” Prins (1928-2020) became Head of the Department of Architecture at Wits and a celebrated architect who received the University’s Gold Medal in 2019. Purkey recalls ‘the golden days’ of theatre: “After we built The Nunnery, it became a preferred space for anyone who wanted to make unusual theatre – Barney Simon used it for certain productions in the most innovative way, the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, under my direction, had the world premiere of The Fantastical History of a Useless Man there – a very successful production that used the extraordinary structure of The Nunnery to its fullest advantage.” Purkey became Head of the School of Dramatic Art at Wits, where he lectured from 1983 to 2004. He then joined the Market Theatre and its Foundation as creative director. He is presently also the Dean of AFDA Joburg, the School for the Creative Economy. The Nunnery has endured for some 50 years, incubating student theatre performance, music and dramatic arts as well as public productions. In 1983, the Wits Theatre Complex, opposite The Nunnery, was established. Today, as Wits approaches its centenary in 2022, The Nunnery is contained within the precinct housing the refurbished Department of Digital Arts and the new Chris Seabrooke Music Hall. C


Articles inside


pages 54-56

Make South Africa great again!

pages 52-53

What the world needs now

pages 46-47

Philanthropy as an answer to Africa’s growth problems

pages 50-51

Social media regulation

pages 44-45

Repurposing drugs to treat dangerous diseases

pages 48-49

Another brick in the pay wall

pages 42-43

How the brain solves problems

pages 28-29

Engineering empathy

pages 38-39

Enabling engagement

pages 36-37

Healing South Africa’s public health headache

pages 40-41

Sense and sensuality in people with disabilities

pages 34-35

Photographing ghosts in space

pages 26-27

Mathematics solutions to boost tourism numbers

pages 24-25

Thinking big to heal South African society

pages 30-33

Building a better city

pages 12-13

Getting serious about gaming

pages 18-19

What adds up when teaching maths?

pages 16-17

No place for politics in bricks and mortar

pages 8-11

Love in the boardroom

pages 22-23

Reinventing Higher Education

pages 6-7

Zoom in. Team up. The new era of therapy

pages 20-21

Pay the taxman his dues

pages 14-15
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