New R450 million Soweto UJ campus opened

04 February 2011 - 17:17 By Sapa

The University of Johannesburg's (UJ) Soweto campus, revamped for R450 million, was opened by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on Friday.

He was ushered into the campus' hall by an academic procession including UJ chancellor and businesswoman Wendy Luhabe and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who approved the project during her tenure as education minister in 2008.

The group of academics and other dignitaries, among them ANC MP Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and poet Don Mattera, were welcomed by groups of singing and dancing UJ student residence groups.

Motlanthe unveiled a plaque dedicated to the institution's future, alongside UJ vice chancellor professor Ihron Rensburg and UJ council chairman professor Roy Marcus.

The Soweto campus revamp included facility improvements, utility upgrades and installation of high-quality information technology.

Student residences named after anti-apartheid icons such as Hector Pieterson, lecture halls, a student centre, law and health clinics, computer laboratories and sport amenities were also built.

Construction contracts worth about R37 million were awarded to local community businesses during the project.

Motlanthe described the former Vista campus, along Chris Hani Road opposite Orlando's Power Park, as "a sign of the times".

"I believe it will attract students from all over South Africa and the world."

He commended the campus on how far it had come since the merger of universities in 2005, which included Rand Afrikaans University, Technikon Witwatersrand and the Soweto institution historically known as Vista University.

"Today is a red letter day because it is a day heralding increased efforts to tackle challenges of under-development in our uneven socio-economic landscape," Motlanthe said.

"This state of affairs is a far cry from the dubious intentions of the previous order that prompted the establishment of Vista University in the first place."

He said apartheid had sought to produce "second rate academic institutions" in keeping with the designated social position of blacks.

"Indeed, this institution has come a long way since its humble origins as Vista University, established in the context of the so-called separate development," said Motlanthe.

Rensburg said: "The Soweto campus reaffirms our social contract with the people of Soweto, and we are excited to celebrate this rising example of our commitment to higher education.

"We are confident that this investment will consolidate UJ's position in Soweto, and South Africa as a whole, and yield a premier and unique campus with its own distinctive brand and identity."

Rensburg noted the revamped campus was located at the foot of a hill, where Reverend Enoch Sontonga wrote the South African national anthem in 1897.

"As you walk around the revamped campus, you will notice that various buildings have already been named after stalwarts of the struggle for freedom, democracy, equality and human dignity.

"We remember people such as Antony Mzwakhe Lembede, Enoch Sontonga, Robert Sobukwe, Bram Fischer, Ellen Kuzwayo, Nthato Motlana, Tsietsi Mashinini, Hector Pieterson and TW Kambule," Rensburg said.

During the ceremony first year students were welcomed and residence awards presented for outstanding academic performance.

Earlier UJ Student Representative Council members disrupted the ceremony because of their unhappiness about the person chosen to speak on their behalf during the proceedings.

The small group of students continued disrupting speaker after speaker by singing struggle songs and refused to be called to order by their leaders -- to the visible irritation of some academics and students, who called for their removal.

The group stopped singing when Rensburg threatened to have them thrown out.