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National Orders for four Witsies

- Wits University

Wits congratulates all those honoured, and especially those Witsies who have made a mark in our society.

The Wits recipients of National Orders for this year are Professor Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (posthumous) (Father of Zulu poetry), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (President of Wits Convocation), Professor Helen Rees (internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, reproductive health and vaccines), and Wits alumna, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser (choreographer).

They were honoured during a ceremony by President Jacob Zuma today, Thursday, 28 April 2016.

“As we continue on this path of creating a shared humanity and history for all South Africans, it is fitting that Professor Vilakazi (scholar, poet and lecturer) and Mrs Glasser (teacher and choreographer) are honoured today for their contributions to create a multiracial and multicultural society.

“We are also very proud and privileged to have Professor Phakeng in our midst where she continues to play a significant role in shaping our young leaders as the President of Wits Convocation.

“And we commend the countless contributions made by Professor Helen Rees to address today’s biggest global health challenges through her outstanding research and intellectual achievement at the highest level,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Order of Ikhamanga

Recognising South Africans who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport:

Professor Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (posthumous) - Order of Ikhamanga (Gold)

At the time of his death in 1947, Vilakazi was the first black PhD-graduate in South Africa and working in the Department of African Languages at Wits – a teaching position that made him the first black South African to teach white South Africans at university level. Together with Wits linguist, Professor Clement M. Doke, Vilakazi co-created the Zulu-English dictionary.

He is revered as the ‘father of modern Zulu poetry and as the literary giant of the Zulu language of the first half of the 20th Century[1]”. Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once lived bears his name.

The Order of Ikhamanga (Gold) is awarded to Vilakazi for his exceptional contribution to the field of literature in indigenous languages and the preservation of isiZulu culture.

Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser - Order of Ikhamanga (Silver)

A Wits alumna, celebrated teacher and choreographer, Glasser is the founder of Moving into Dance (MID) – a non-racial dance company that in 1981 held the first mixed race dance performance in the Great Hall at Wits.

Through MID, Glasser inspired and transformed hundreds of performers, teachers, choreographers and leaders in the dance community, and brought together people from all races in the 1980s to break down apartheid-barriers.

In 2014 she received a Knighthood in the Order of Oranje-Nassau from the Netherlands.

The Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) is awarded to Glasser for her excellent contribution to the field of dance and transference of skills to the young people from all racial backgrounds, fostering social cohesion in the time of apartheid.

Order of the Boabab

Recognising South Africans who have contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation:

Professor Helen Rees (OBE) - Order of the Baobab (Silver)

Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Rees has a long and distinguished career as an internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, reproductive health, vaccines and drug regulation. She serves in leadership roles in both national and international structures and chaired, and continues to chair, various councils and research bodies of the World Health Organization related to Ebola vaccines, polio and immunisation. She is currently chair of the Medicines Control Council and was appointed to this position by the Minister of Health.

In 2001 Professor Rees was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).

The Order of the Baobab (Silver) is awarded to Rees for her excellent contribution in the field of medical science and research. Her work gives hope to communities who have been affected by the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng - Order of Boabab (Silver)

Professor Phakeng is the first black woman to obtain her PhD in Mathematics Education. A Wits alumna and former associate professor at Wits, she is now the Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation at Unisa and President of Wits Convocation. She is the founding director of the award-winning Marang Centre for Maths and Education at Wits and has been named the “most influential woman in education and training in Africa (CEO magazine)” and “most outstanding senior black female researchers the past five to 10 years (2011 National Science and Technology Forum)”.

The Order of Boabab (Silver) is awarded to Phakeng for her excellent contribution in the field of science and representing South Africa on the international stage through her outstanding research work.

[1] Natalia 35 (2005), Adrian Koopman pp. 63 – 74