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Students develop drone to fight rhino poaching

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When it comes to rhino poaching, South Africa has a real crisis on her hands. Whilst the authorities are trying to find a way to stop the slaughter, students from South Africa, the US, Germany and Finland are getting their hands dirty.

The students, who call themselves team Aircraft for Rhino and Environmental Defence (AREND), are competing in the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge. The group is backed by Wildlife Protection Solutions (WPS), an international organisation with the objective to protect endangered species.

The students' entry comprises the designing and producing of an unmanned aerial system to support anti-poaching operations at Kruger National Park in South Africa. Their drone features communications antennas built into the wings and a camera into the nose. The unmanned aircraft will be able to silently conduct autonomous searches while capturing quality images throughout. The idea is to record poaching incidents, and enable rangers to take action much faster.

This is far from a luxury. Between 1 January and 22 October 2014 South Africa lost 791 rhinos to poachers, of which 503 died in the Kruger National Park. This is a massive increase from seven years ago: in 2007, the number of poached rhinos stood at 13.

The equipment has already been tested at Meadow Lake Airport in Peyton, Colorado, using a SkySentry aerostat. This is a large helium balloon attached to a string. The aim is to find out how far the equipment can fly and what requires tweaking. "This will allow us to develop the imaging processing algorithm that we'll ultimately use to identify poachers and rhinos," said American aerospace engineering graduate student Aaron Buysee in a statement.

The students will fly to South Africa next month to integrate their equipment with the aircraft, and do a couple of test runs.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 10:06

Unisa spokesman says negative effects of future strikes will be minimal

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Many Unisa students have expressed anxiety during registration for the 2015 academic year after extensive disruptions to learning during the three month strike by South African Post Office employees in 2014. Unisa was unable to send various important documents such as assignment solutions and examination letters to students around the country. Students could not send or receive library material through the SA Post Office during the protracted postal workers strike.

Unisa spokesman Martin Ramotshela tried to allay fears of further disruptions during an interview with ahead of the Christmas break by pointing to the University’s increasing reliance on private postal companies for the delivery of study material.

"We have other options for the delivery of study material including by courier through SkyNet and UTi" said Ramotshela who also referred to the 2014 strike as an "extraordinary occurrence" and encouraged students to continue to download their study material online through myUnisa. received assurance from Ramotshela that the delivery of study material has been running smoothly during the festive season.

When the strike finally ended during November 2014 the SA Post Office issued a stern warning that it will "no longer tolerate interruptions to its operations due to strikes that do not fall within the ambit of the law." Students like 3rd level LLB student Maria Nzima find such assurances hard to believe. Maria told soon after completing her registration that, "Strikes will never stop. I’m used to them and the frustration when the due dates are extended and other students have more time to do their assignments. It’s not fair …"

Registration for 2015 through post, fax, self-help and online for semester 1, semester 2 and year modules started on Monday the 5th of January 2015 and will close on the January 27th 2015.


Seven 2015 new year's resolutions for students

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It is the time for new year's resolutions. Have you made yours? Why not dedicate them to your studies? We have compiled seven new years resolutions for students.

1) No more skipping – Whenever you fail to hand in an assignment or have the urge to skip a lecture, remember that your education costs you / your parents / bursary agencies tens of thousands of rands per year and that scores of South Africans would love to take your university spot.

2) Get some sleep – Having a late night once in a while is not a train smash. We all know that. However, getting enough sleep regularly enhances how you feel mentally and physically, and ultimately your study performance and grades.

3) Eat healthy – Your body and mind give you in return for what you put in so opt for fresh fruit instead of a candy bar, keep fast food to a minimum, drink plenty water instead of fizzy drinks and/or alcohol, and stay clear of processed foods.

4) Get a job – Complaining about cash flow? Why not get a part time job instead! Check Gumtree, Careerjet, and the classifieds in your local newspaper.

5) Plan ahead – Studying require planning, so map out your year ahead, mark your exam dates in red, and draw up a study plan of action. For tips, click here and here.

6) Give back – By volunteering your skills, you contribute to a better society whilst obtaining critical skills and practical working experience that will enhance your chances of finding a job. Lack of experience is one of the most common reasons why graduates struggle to find suitable employment.

7) Get an online portfolio – It is more than likely that potential employers will Google you, regardless of whether you are applying for a student job or a more permanent position. Ensure your CV is updated, set up a LinkedIn account, and optimise your website (preferably with your own domain name). If you can't be googled, you don't exist – simple as that. Also remember that what you say on social media can (and often will) be used against you.

- Follow the author on @miriammannak

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 10:18

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela re fake qualifications, her powers, adversaries and Nkandla

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Protected Selfie: Matshelane Mamabolo following
his interview with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Matshelane Mamabolo recently interviewed South Africa's public protector, Thuli Madonsela for Here is his account of the interview:

Soft-spoken and measured, I found that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s posture belies her powerful role in the fight against maladministration and corruption since the start of her tenure five years ago. Recently honoured by Transparency International with the integrity award for 2014, Advocate Madonsela BA Law (Uniswa) LLB (Wits) has been a recipient of a number of local and international awards for her work.

Ms Madonsela started her answer to my first question by making me aware that it had to do with what she views as the ‘’lowest point’’ in her work as a Public Protector. She said to me, “I suppose it is the lowest point for anyone who has to do adjudicative work or quasi-judicial work that often you have to judge people who are your friends or colleagues or people you love.’’ She proceeded to confirm to during our interview that although she hopes for rapprochement, she has not spoken to former IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula since she made findings that led to her resignation two months ago.

In a bid to clarify her role in our democracy, something she’s had to do frequently during her term of office, she said that although most people think that the only decisions that can be enforced are those made by a court through the Sheriff and the Police, ‘’The architecture of our Constitution introduces novel things. The implementation of remedial action by a Public Protector or an Ombudsman is through pushing them [those faulted], asking them and sitting down with them and if that fails a debate in Parliament and obviously if that fails the matter could land in court.’’

The Public Protector is concerned about narratives in the public domain which she says represent a turnaround regarding what is ethical and what isn’t as well as on what should happen when there is an ethical violation. Recent attacks on her office include those from a ‘’group of concerned lawyers’’ who rubbished her report on the misuse of public funds during upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home, called on her to resign and even offered to pay back the money on President Zuma’s behalf. “[someone else paying back the money] still does not deal with the Executive Members Act because it divorces the money from accountability [by the President]’’ She added that although she is not saying that people shouldn’t question her decisions she expects differently from lawyers who should know that decisional independence is non-negotiable.

Advocate Madonsela also told that her office had not received a complaint regarding SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala after Unisa’s confirmation that she had not been awarded a BCom degree and a postgraduate degree in labour relations as she claimed on her CV. The office of the Public Protector also provides support to tertiary institutions when it comes to complaints regarding examinations and other administrative processes. Thuli Madonsela’s non-renewable seven year term as Public Protector ends in 2016.

*Please visit for audio clips from the interview.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 November 2014 15:28

Pistorius trial puts South African justice system in the spotlight

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Now that details of 27 year old Oscar Pistorius’s first few days in incarceration at Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria are emerging it is opportune to evaluate the impact of the trial on ordinary people and Unisa's student body in particular.

The pendulum of public opinion swung in often surprising ways over the past few months as proceedings in the High Court in Pretoria were broadcast live worldwide. Students who tuned into the trial have not been shy to offer their views. Second year law student Phindile Mashele says she enjoyed watching the law in action and how theory was applied in practice.

Another Unisa Law Student, Alfred Moitsi is cynical following the outcome of the Pistorius trial. Unflinchingly he told, "I believe the justice system protects the rich leaving the poor in a more vulnerable condition."

As expected Judge Thokozile Masipa (BA (Social Work) 1974 LLB (1990) Unisa) came under some criticism during the trial as did counsel for the state and defence.

Wardle College of Law CEO Brenda Wardle (LLB, LLM Unisa) says that differences in opinion on Judge Masipa’s findings are not going to have an effect on perceptions of her alma mater because graduates and even students have their own way of understanding and grasping legal principles. Wardle told assuredly that "If indeed Judge Masipa erred it is not as a result of deficiencies in her education."

She added that she believes that there is minimal risk of the Pistorius trial creating false impressions about the general speed of a trial and conduct of officers of the court among other things. Wardle is also the author of "To kill a fragile rose (The State’s case against Oscar Leonard Pistorius)". It is the only book on the Pistorius trial written by a legally qualified person and is due for release in the next few months.

An appeal of Pistorius' five year sentence for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp is possible although unlikely according to Johannesburg Attorney June Marks who hopes that the end of this gripping trial is by no means a shifting of the spotlight from the goings on in our justice system.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 10:20

Six safety tips for students

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Safety is an issue that concerns us all. Crime after all happens everywhere, also on university campuses. Take the rape of a University of Stellenbosch student recently. While some things are beyond your control, there are ways to keep yourself and others safe.

1. Report suspicious activity

Are you seeing something suspicious? Are you seeing people who are hanging around for no apparent reason? Don't walk by and pretend it didn't happen. Report it to campus security and ask them to take action. That is what they are there for.

2. Report a crime

Have you been victim of a crime, or have you witnessed a crime? Then you should report it. No report means that the perpetrator has right of way to do it again. And again. And again.

3. Know your numbers

Keep phone numbers of the police, emergency services and/or campus security in your phone, preferably on speed dial. Ensure your phone has credit and is charged, or keep an emergency airtime voucher in your purse. Use those numbers in case you are (or someone else is) in danger.

4. Be aware

Be aware of your surroundings, particularly if you are somewhere you have never been before. Keep an eye on your belongings and people around you. Criminals rely on people being indifferent to their surroundings and not paying attention.

5. Protect your stuff

Don't carry your expensive laptop and camera in a fancy branded bag. Rather carry them in an understated backpack and invest in a security cable with, which you can use to connect laptop to your desk. Always lock your room when you leave, report broken locks or windows immediately. Invest in a safe.

6. Don't resist

In case of a mugging, remember that your stuff can be replaced – as opposed to you. Let the perpetrator have your stuff instead of resisting him/her. Resistance often ends in injuries, or worse. Insuring your gear and backing up frequently is a must.

- Follow the author on @miriammannak
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 10:21
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