FEEL GOOD | Former Wits SRC president pledges R1.5m to help students

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Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu
  • A former Wits University SRC president pledged almost R1.5 million to help students at his alma mater ahead of the institution's centenary.
  • Rex Heinke, a 1971 SRC president, joined the #Wits100 campaign.
  • The challenge has been welcomed by other former presidents.

A former president of Wits University's Student Representative Council has pledged $100 000 (almost R1.5 million) to help students at his alma mater ahead of the institution's centenary in 2022.

And he has challenged other former SRC presidents to join the #Wits100 challenge campaign.

The university celebrated its 99th birthday on Monday.

Rex Heinke, 1971 SRC president and a member of the Wits Fund Board, lives in the USA and we was touched by the socio-economic plight of students.

He said:

I recently learnt about some Wits students not having enough food to eat and no sufficient place to live. It pained me enormously to hear that and I had to do something to help. My wife and I will be contributing this year and next year to ease the hunger and housing shortages of Wits students.

According to the university, student leaders from 1968 to 2021 convened in September and discussed how they could contribute to the #Wits100 challenge.

More than 13 presidents, including former justice and Wits chancellor Richard Goldstone and former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Max Price attended.

READ | Wits SRC embarks on R21m fundraising campaign to help students at risk of financial exclusion

Wits vice-chancellor and Principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi welcomed the SRC presidents and described them as a cohort of "great Witsies who, despite their eclectic mix of skills and attributes, have one thing in common, and that is living true to the values of Wits University."

Vilakazi said it was heartening to learn that they wanted to serve Wits beyond their student years.

rex heinke
Rex Heinke.

Price advised students leaders to get involved. 

Challenge

He asked how former students could get involved in projects that would strategically advance the #Wits100 campaign and the university in the long term. 

The first black SRC president, Linda Vilakazi, also welcomed the challenge and said it was "worth it". 

Vilakazi committed to galvanise former student leaders to support the campaign, including those from the Black Student Society.

"I am putting my hand up and I am definitely going to go all out," Vilakazi, who is also the co-founder of the South African Student Solidarity Foundation for Education, a network for all universities' alumni to support students in need, said.

Outgoing 2020/21 SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka raised several issues confronting students, including the lack of accommodation, financial exclusions, hunger and mental health.

Under Mfeka, the SRC raised R4 million to help students.

Mfeka said:

Food is a real crisis and there are students who do not know from where they are going to get their next meal.

He said the issues were escalated as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic because many families lost employment and businesses.

A proud Witsie, Heike said that in 1971, during the height of apartheid, the institution was a "beacon of light and hope".

He said Wits exposed him to the atrocities of the oppressive undemocratic system. 

Through the challenge, he hopes to shine a light in student lives. 

"Wits needs your help now to build a new generation of South African leaders to fulfil the dream of a free and democratic South Africa. You showed your commitment and your leadership by becoming an SRC president. Now it is time for you to again commit and lead Wits, and to become part of the #Wits100 anniversary campaign," Heike said.

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