Our History and Traditions
The history of Wits is inextricably linked with mining, academic excellence, and with political and civic activism.
We are home to some of the continent's greatest minds and future leaders. Our impact is seen across South Africa and beyond.
Since Wits University was established in 1922, we vowed to never compromise on our quality of education and stayed consistent in that pledge.
Wits University has long been known and internationally respected as the heart of liberalism in Africa’s economic powerhouse; the City of Johannesburg.
Wits University has committed itself to research excellence and innovation. We pride ourselves in the contributions that we are making to benefit the world.
From our humble beginnings as a Mining School, Wits has grown to be a globally recognised and leading institution of higher learning.
From 1923 Margaret Ballinger challenged the University’s unequal treatment of women in terms of salaries, retirement age, and most important in her case, compulsory retirement upon marriage. She was a founder of the League of Women Voters, a proto-feminist group dedicated to promoting equality for women in the workplace, society and politics.
Benedict Vilakazi is celebrated as the first black academic in South Africa to be admitted to a university. He arrived in 1935 with a BA from Unisa, and rapidly completed his honours and masters degrees by 1938, and his doctorate in 1946. But he is cited more often for embodying the way the University colluded with the policy of segregation during the 1930s.
The foreword to Wits Professor Arthur Bleksley’s 1969 physical science textbook Calculations in Physical Science, written by his former student, Kantilal Naik, showed the appreciation of one committed educator for the work of another. The book was used extensively by learners across the racially segregated education departments, in spite of the fact that Naik was a science teacher at an Indian High School.
Professor Basil Schonland, the founding director of the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) at Wits. Under Schonland's leadership, the Special Radar Unit of the Corps of Signals developed and built equipment and operated the entire South African Radar activity in the 1930s.