The community of Soweto now has access to a state-of-the-art higher learning facility, following the multimillion-rand upgrading of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) campus in the township.
Formerly known as Vista University, the UJ campus is now of the same stature as universities in South Africa’s more affluent towns. It sports a more exciting look than Vista, which was built by the apartheid government to prolong racial segregation in tertiary education.
The university was transformed at a cost of R450-million (US$62-million), a sum allocated by the government in 2005. Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor commented that the design “inspires creative thinking”.
The sparkling Pimville campus was unveiled on 4 February at a ceremony that also marked the opening of UJ’s academic year. South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and UJ’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Ihron Rensburg were on hand to do the honours.
“I am confident that the expansion of this campus will play a key role in addressing developmental needs of the broader Soweto community,” said Motlanthe.
The facelift included the construction of new lecture halls, a students’ residence, an ICT facility and law and health clinics. A new student centre and a sports ground are also part of the package.
The residence on campus is named after Hector Pieterson, the 12-year-old who was slain by apartheid police during the 1976 students’ protest against the compulsory use of Afrikaans in schools. It accommodates more than 300 students, while others will stay in two leased residences in the nearby Soweto suburbs of Orlando and Dube.
Community members will also have access to the facilities. The law clinic will provide legal advice to residents and pupils at surrounding schools will benefit from extra academic lessons on weekends.
The Centre for Small and Medium Enterprises Development, part of the campus, has been reaching out to Soweto’s entrepreneurs since 2008. It’s headed by accomplished Soweto businessman Dr Thami Mazwai and offers leadership lectures to the public each month.
“It is important to bear in mind that this Soweto campus has been designed with a clear intention of being an asset to the local community,” Rensburg said.
Soweto-based construction businesses also scored big from the renovation process. Contracts worth about R37-million ($5.1-million) were awarded to the local contractors.
Top academic studies
The campus offers full-time courses in management, economic and financial sciences, education and humanities. UJ’s campuses around Johannesburg offer other industry-related courses such as engineering.
Soweto is currently offering five undergraduate degree courses, seven undergraduate diploma programmes, two doctoral and three masters’ courses, and one honours course. UJ is planning to enrol 7 000 students at the campus by 2013.
Students from Soweto and neighbouring areas such as Sebokeng, Orange Farm and the East Rand will be close enough to take full advantage of opportunities offered by this latest addition to Gauteng’s academic sector.
As South African students are known to travel very far for their education, the campus can also expect to draw students from provinces like Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, neither of which has its own university.
“Our vision for the Soweto campus is that it will become the campus of choice for most students,” said Rensburg.
UJ is one of the country’s leading universities, attracting 65 000 new students for the 2011 academic year. Many were disappointed as the university can only take in 13 000 first-year students.
“Our students come from all parts of South Africa, and we also have close to 2 500 international students from 52 countries,” Rensburg said.
Buildings in the campus are named after stalwarts in the struggle against apartheid. The naming committee opted for icons who had a direct impact on Soweto.
They include the late Pan Africanist leader Robert Sobukwe, who lived in the township between the 1970s and 1980s. The late Dr Nthato Motlana, a Soweto activist and businessman who was also Nelson Mandela’s physician, has a lecture building named after him.
Preacher and composer of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika Enoch Sontonga, Afrikaans struggle hero Bram Fischer, author and activist Ellen Khuzwayo, activist Anton Lembede, youth leader Tsietsi Mashinini, and prominent teacher TW Khambule are also honoured.
“These great South Africans all lived selfless lives so that others can prosper,” Rensburg said. “It is fitting, then, that these heroes should posthumously be honoured for the rich legacy they have left behind.”