University of the Witwatersrand

From Academic Kids

The University of the Witwatersrand (pronounced vit-vaters-rant, with flat vowels -- see South African English) is a leading South African university situated in Johannesburg. It is often referred to as "Wits".

Due to the 1959 Extenstion of University Education Act the school was only allowed to register a small number of black students for most of the Apartheid era, even though several notable black anti-apartheid leaders graduated from the university. It became desegregated again in the last few years of Apartheid. Due to the university's anti-Apartheid student movement, and its left-wing political affiliations, it was sometimes referred to as "Moscow on the Hill".

It is the home of the Witwatersrand University Press, one of Africa's leading academic publishers. It is the oldest and largest university press in Africa.



The school was founded in Kimberley in 1896 as the "South African School of Mines". Eight years later, in 1904 the school moved to Johannesburg and changed its name to the "Transvaal Technical Institute". The school changed its name in 1906 to the "Transvaal University College" and in 1910, the school again changed its name to the "South African School of Mines and Technology". Finally, in 1922, the school was granted full university status after incorporating the College as the "University of the Witwatersrand". The area of Milner Park was identified as the location for the new university campus, and construction began in the same year. There were to be six faculties that offered degrees at the University: Arts, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Law, and Commerce.

The school experienced significant growth after its incorporation as a university, growing from a mere 6,275 students in 1963 to over 16,400 in 1985. In 1964, the Medical Library of the Faculty of Medicine moved to Esselen Street, in the Hillbrow section of Johannesburg. During the course of the 1960's, the university opened many new schools and buildings, and acquired a limestone cave renowed for its archaeological material located at Sterkfontein. The Graduate School of Business was established later in 1968 in Parktown. A farm next to Sterkfontein named Swartkrans rich in archaeological material was purchased in 1968, and excavation rights were obtained for archaeological and palaeontological purposes at Makapansgat, located in Limpopo province. The next year, the Ernest Oppenheimer Residence opened next to the Business school in Parktown, and later in the same year, clinical departments at the new Medical School opened. In 1976, Lawon's Corner was renamed University Corner. Senate House, the university's main administrative building, was occupied in 1977. The university underwent a significant expansion programme in 1984, acquiring the Milner Park Showgrounds and renaming it the West Campus. In 1984, the Chamber of Mines building opened. A walkway was constructed across the motorway bisecting the campus, linking the East and West Campuses.

Faculties and Schools

The University has five faculties:

Noted Campus Buildings

  • Art Galleries: There are two art galleries that are open to the public, the Gertrude Posel Gallery and the Studio Gallery. Both of these are located in Senate House. The Studio Gallery is renowned for having one the best collections of African beadwork in the world.
  • Rock Art: The JD Roberts-Pager Collection of Bushmen rock art copies is located in the Van Riet Lowe building on the East Campus.
  • Museums: The University hosts 14 museums. These include the Adler Museum of the History of Medicine, the Palaeontology Museum and the only Geology Museum in Gauteng Province. The displays cover a vast spectra including the Taung skull, dinosaur fossils and butterflies.
  • Sterkfontein Caves: Near Krugersdorp. World renowned as one of the largest sources of hominid fossils in the world. The area has been awarded World Heritage status. The Robert Broom Museum is next to the caves.

Alumni and Former Faculty

Nobel Prize Laureates

Books about the University

  • The Golden Jubilee of the University of the Witwatersrand 1972 ISBN 0854941886 (Jubilee Committee, University of the Witwatersrand Press)
  • Wits: The Early Years : a History of the University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg and its Precursors 1896 - 1936 1982 Bruce Murray ISBN 0854947094 (University of the Witwatersrand Press)
  • Wits Sport: An Illustrated History of Sport at the University of the Witwatersrand 1989 Jonty Winch ISBN 0620138068 (Windsor)
  • Wits: A University in the Apartheid Era 1996 Mervyn Shear ISBN 1868143023 (University of the Witwatersrand Press)
  • Wits: The "Open Years" 1997 Bruce Murray ISBN 1868143147 (University of the Witwatersrand Press)
  • A Vice-Chancellor Remembers: the Memoirs of Professor G.R. Bozzoli 1995 Guerino Bozzoli ISBN 0620193697 (Alphaprint)
  • Wits Library: a Centenary History 1998 Reuben Musiker & Naomi Musiker ISBN 0620227540 (Scarecrow Books)

External link


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