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The University of Witwatersrand breathes innovation into Johannesburg

Source: University of the Witwatersrand

“Commonly known as Jo’burg or Jozi, this rapidly changing city is the vibrant heart of South Africa…Jo’burg is an incredibly friendly, unstuffy city and there’s lots to see and do here…Delve in and experience the buzz of a city undergoing an incredible rebirth.” – Lonely Planet

The University of  the Witwatersrand (Wits) is the leading University in Johannesburg; an institution ranked 2nd in South Africa, and number 1 in Africa in the recently launched Shanghai World University Rankings.

Braamfontein, or as it’s fondly known, ‘Braam’, is home to Wits, and a location also known as Johannesburg’s thriving central suburb. Here, you can find the region’s trendiest fashions, marvel at young entrepreneurs, pore over sumptuous eats and experience the earthy joy of authentic South African talent.

The University’s location helps make Braam one of South Africa’s most youthful neighbourhoods; home to a cosmopolitan blend of students, academics and young professionals alike. Close to the city centre and joined to Newtown by the Nelson Mandela Bridge, Braamfontein is fast becoming the country’s hipster capital. Braam represents a redesigned Johannesburg for the 21st century age.

Jo’burg itself is amid a modern-day renaissance. Fear and racial tension is steadily making way for a technicolour hub rich with culture and technological innovation. From Italian tastes to Rasta reflections and hip-shaking Latin beats; a new generation of South Africans have given life to a city defined by freedom of expression.

Wits University is not just riding but driving this wave of change. With the help of partners in government, business and industry, Wits launched the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in September 2016 – a facility that’s one of around 52 high-tech hubs in South Africa.


After a recent screening of this year’s Marvel blockbuster, Black Panther, fans were pleased to see glimpses of Wakanda in the tech-savvy, Afro-futurist locales of Wits and Tshimologong.

“The Tshimologong Precinct will become Africa’s most important digital technology hub,” says Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Head of the Jo’burg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits,

“It is a 24/7 space for anyone wanting to acquire digital skills – from entry level to advanced. Here, you can interact with tech developers, programmers, designers and entrepreneurs to transform ideas into businesses,” he adds. “From digital tools that diagnose disease to symptoms that assist insurance companies to analyse risk, Tshimologong will help develop it.”

This multi-funded collaborative venture will continue to vitalise Braamfontein, boosting South African job creation and development needs by supporting an expert pool of IT talent to feed ever rising demand. On top of this, the Precinct advocates enterprise development and encourages foreign investment.

Tshimologong’s first big anchor tenant is IBM Research – the world’s largest and most impactful research pioneer – establishing its 13th global research organisation at Wits while promoting a valuable expansion of IBM Research Africa.

Wits plays host to many distinguished, widely-cited researchers; not to mention three research-focused Nobel Laureates in chemistry, literature, physiology and medicine. The institution boasts areas of research excellence and high-end facilities to match, from computer labs to study halls, to specialised centres like the Anthropology Museum, Pullen Nature Reserve, the Law Clinic and Art Museum.

The ‘Lung Lab’ is one of Wits’ most recent breakthroughs, standing as a specialist, minimally-invasive centre for interventional pulmonology and research. It houses a cutting-edge bronchoscopy suite, performing the endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) for the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer, as well as other facilities, improving lives for people in South Africa and across the world.

Then there’s the Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine); a 21st century, state-of-the-art investment. Seeking to make safer mining practices through sustainable digital technologies, the R27.5 million facility leverages a growing range of on-site facilities, producing multi-disciplinary research that draws on the expertise of all five faculties at Wits.

Source: University of the Witwatersrand

“The DigiMine speaks to the University’s strategy of integrating technology, teaching, learning and research in academia,” says Professor Tawana Kupe of Wits. “This development ensures that we can continue to develop specialised skills and knowledge as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.”

As a Wits flagship programme dealing with Mining 4.0 and its Future of Work initiative, DigiMine will conduct testing, research and development to transfer surface digital technologies to underground operations.

“Our exciting research agenda already includes projects on systems for underground communication, risk-monitoring, positioning and navigation similar to what is achieved above ground with GPS – as well as automated abnormality-detection to manage mining risks,” Professor Fred Cawood, Director of the Wits Mining Institute, explains.

“Safety and competitiveness are cornerstones of a sustainable mining sector, which can contribute to the National Development Plan by reducing poverty and inequality.”

The project, Watershed, is another demonstration of the University’s innate spirit of innovation. Developed as an art-science programme that explores the interaction between natural, human and social systems, Watershed spurs conversation and collaboration across creative arts practice and theory, the humanities and the social, natural and physical sciences. It’s a project that prepares future leaders to not just envision but build a just, sustainable world.

But this just scratches the surface of Wits’ campus-wide efforts to make both Braam and South Africa modern and progressive. The University has helped transform its home town into a lively and welcoming study destination, attracting Africa’s brightest young minds while drawing top talent from all corners of the globe.

This is an institution determined to break barriers not just in Braam but also in South Africa and the world at large.

“The reformation of Braam into a trendy, attractive, safe, inviting precinct is a key strategic priority for the University for the next five years as we work towards our centennial anniversary,” says Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits.

“Wits’ location in the economic heartland of the continent, its close access to networks, influencers, partners and resources, provides the cultural capital that young people require to give them a head start in life.”

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