Start main page content

Vice-Chancellor honours outstanding Wits staff

- Wits University

Staff members reap the benefits of their labour at the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards.

Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib honoured dedicated staff members who have served the University selflessly and with great excellence, at a special dinner held on Friday, 11 October 2019 at the Convocation Dining Hall, Braamfontein Campus West. 

The annual Vice-Chancellor’s Awards recognise members of staff nominated for having made a sterling contribution to the University’s success. The awards recognise academic and professional and administrative staff members in various categories.

Rewarding staff members who excel in their duties is essential for motivation and continued outstanding service to the University. Speaking at the awards ceremony, Habib said the award recipients have played an integral role to the success of the University.

“We celebrate each one of you and through you, your constituencies and your departments because without you we would not be Wits University – we wouldn’t be able to do the kind of things that we do. If you want to build a great University, you have great students, you have great staff, professional and academic staff, you have given them some money, you create an enabling environment and you let magic happen.”

The VC’s Awards were made to staff members in the following categories:

Mbazima Shivuri with Professor Ruksana Osman, Beverley Manus Professor Ruksana Osman, Dr Alex van den Heever and Murray Cairns with Professor Andrew Crouch and Dr Petro Jansen van Vuuren with Professor Andrew Crouch

Vice-Chancellor’s Professional and Administrative Staff Awards

These awards were introduced for the first time in 2018 to reward staff members who are innovative, accountable, reliable and dependable, who display excellence in service and who improve processes at Wits. Five awards were in made in this category, one in the Grade 14-17 category, and two each in the Grade 10-13 and Grade 7-9 category. These awards were accompanied by a monetary value of R10 000. 

Mbazima Shivuri, winner in the Grade 14-17 category has served in the Catering Division at Wits for 30 years. Shivuri has great time management is his priority and always ensures that students as well as internal and external clients receive excellent service. He was recognised for his ability to take initiative, going beyond the call of duty and performing well under pressure and is always willing to work overtime without expectation of compensation. He was nominated to upskill himself at Bidvest Catering and readily transfers this knowledge to others. He is a motivated team leader who works independently with no supervision.

Patricia Apfel, a joint winner in the Grade 10-13 category has been employed at Wits for 21 years and currently works in Nursing Education in the Faculty of Health Sciences. The Head of Department depends on her to manage the operations of the department, which she does with passion and dedicated commitment. Apfel demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to servicing the needs of staff and students, including visiting lecturers. She goes the extra mile to assist during the vacation period and over weekends to ensure that tasks are completed timeously.

Thulisile Mbatha, a joint winner in the Grade 10-13 category and is based in the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Advancement, HR and Transformation and is an agile individual who works at levels that are way beyond expectation. She is always professional and proficient, extremely reliable and dependable, and meets all deadlines. Her ability to treat people well and fairly, with kindness and consideration, allows her to be approachable. Mbatha is not routine bound, innovates across portfolios, and beyond her scope of work.

Beverley Manus is a joint winner in the Grade 7-9 category has been employed as the Finance Manager in the Research Office for almost four years. During this time, she faced internal and external audit reports indicating that the department faced challenges in financial reporting. Within a year, she established a functional finance division that has since not received a significant qualification on an audit report and the department now reports accurately and timeously. She constantly helps academics by approving budgets, setting up project accounts and reporting on the financial status of research projects.

Buhle Zuma, a joint winner in the Grade 7-9 category is based in the Central Communications Department and is an energetic, active Wits citizen who has gone beyond the call of duty to champion several projects at Wits including the internal communications programme, communicating about the wellness programme and championing various green initiatives across campuses. She engages well with students, serves as a residence warden and genuinely cares about members of the Wits community. She took the lead in managing the content for the Wits electronic screens across 15 campuses and trained others on how to use it. She is available to assist the media around the clock, even during difficult times.

Vice-Chancellor’s Transformation Awards

 Two awards were made in this category – an individual award and a team award, each carrying a value of R80 000 and R100 000 respectively. The VC’s Transformation Award aims to recognise and showcase the facilitation of transformation by academics, professional and administrative staff, students, and members of the Convocation, who have spearheaded social cohesion and integration in the University. This includes transformation in research, teaching, institutional culture, sports and demographics. Resources and Transformation. 

Vice-Chancellor’s Individual Transformation Award

Boledi Tladi from the Faculty of Humanities is the recipient of the VC’s Individual Transformation Award.  Tladi is a registered community-based counselling psychologist, community mental health strategist and lecturer in psychology in the School of Human and Community Development. In collaboration with Re Basadi Mental Health Associates, she developed The Green Bag Project, which provides members of the public with green drawstring bags, and encourages them to fill it with a month’s worth of essential supplies such as toiletries, beverages and first aid kits. These bags are then gifted to homeless persons who live in Braamfontein. Tladi facilitates the engagement with the homeless community through walkabouts in the area and through a dedicated newsletter, which includes reflections from the homeless. These initiatives aim to encourage open communication and engagement between the Wits community and those on the periphery and to reimagine Wits’ institutional culture as one that prioritises social cohesion and integration between the internal academic community and its physical surrounds.

Vice-Chancellor’s Team Transformation Awards

The Transplant Unit at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology were jointly granted the VC’s Team Transformation Awards.

The Transplant Unit, led by Professor Jean Botha and his highly skilled multidisciplinary team, runs the largest liver transplant programme in sub-Saharan Africa. The Unit began liver transplantation in 2004, facing many challenges that required change and innovation, particularly for children with end-stage liver disease. The team was hailed for performing the world’s first living donor liver transplant from an HIV-positive parent to their HIV-negative child. Worldwide, transplanting an organ from an HIV-positive parent to their HIV-negative child had never been performed. The Transplant Unit at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre demonstrates the intellectual power and deep capacity within Wits to transform health systems by developing models which even in resource-limited environments, ensure equitable access for children to high-end therapy such as transplantation. It also has the ability to transform health policy from one that previously stigmatised HIV and excluded living donors with HIV, to including HIV-positive living donors for liver transplantation.

The Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology team made up of Drs Jaishika Seedat, Amisha Kanji and Dhanashree Pillay was recognised for the great strides they have made in transforming the University’s Speech Language Pathology and Audiology programme. Inspired by the belief that society has a role to play in transforming the present to account for the injustices of the past they developed and implemented a range of transformation initiatives in the Department. This was to ensure that the Speech Language Pathology and Audiology programme would be more relevant and responsive to the needs of the population being served. The transformation programme included transformation of curricula; the student and staff demographic profile; the student selection process; student support programmes; and the departmental culture. The Department was also able to transform the diversity of the graduate cohort to address the various service delivery needs of a diverse South African populace; to steward the academic project towards a more decolonised space; to change mind-sets through diversity workshops and to align demographic profiles with that of the country.

Boledi Tladi with Prof. Ruksana Osman, Prof. Bavesh Kana with Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi, Buhle Zuma with Prof. Ruksana Osman, Profs Zeblon Vilakazi, Shane Norris and Abdul Kara and Drs Jaishika Seedat, Amisha Kanji and Dhanashree Pillay with Prof. Ruksana Osman

Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Award

The Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Award seeks to reward excellence in teaching and the promotion of learning, and to stimulate teaching and teaching-related scholarly and/or creative activities. Two awards were made under this category, an individual and team award. The recipients of the team award received R100 000 collectively and R80 000 for the recipient of the individual award. 

Vice-Chancellor’s Individual Teaching Award

Dr Petro Jansen van Vuuren from the Wits School of Arts received the Vice-Chancellor’s Individual Teaching Award. Janse van Vuuren, a lecturer and postgraduate supervisor in the Drama for Life PhD programme receives this award for shaping and coordinating the Drama for Life PhD programme from 2017 to 2019. She is also the winner of the 2019 Faculty of Humanities Teaching Award. Under her leadership, a PhD level short course titled Preparing for Doctoral study in the Arts was developed to prepare students for doctoral study. She has also been instrumental in finding innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the Drama for Life Department, and in growing the PhD cohort.

Vice-Chancellor’s Team Teaching Award

Dr Alex van den Heever and Murray Cairns from the School of Governance were recipients of the Vice-Chancellor’s Team Teaching Award. The duo were rewarded for pioneering high-quality online education in the Wits School of Governance. The School was selected to pilot an online postgraduate diploma in public development management as part of the University’s initial foray into full online (as opposed to blended) learning. After almost two years, the School now has a powerful set of online offerings. The success of the course was also dependent on the production of high quality, cost-efficient video recording and editing expertise and to this end, the duo negotiated a partnership with the Wits Film and Television department. They also succeeded in persuading a number of academic staff to convene full courses online, and/or to lecture or be interviewed online. The duo also reviewed the entire diploma and online offering themselves to ensure that it was of the highest quality and that it met the standards of the Centre for Higher Education and Training.

Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Award

This award introduced for the first time in 2018 to encourage and celebrate the team which excelled under the innovation pillar of the University’s research strategy - the objective of which is to drive research with impact. The value of the award for 2019 is R 300 000.00 in innovation funding for the winner. Innovation is a form of impact as it aims to translate new knowledge into viable, socially and economically relevant products and services. This award celebrates an innovation that has progressed to a point where there are real prospects of delivering a viable product or service. Professor Bavesh Kana and his team from the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research based in the School of Pathology are the recipients of the Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Award. Kana is the Director of the Wits node of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research and together with his team, health sciences faculty members and Wits Enterprise are responsible for the development of SmartSpot technology and a spin-off company that is making an impact in tens of countries around the world. 

This product was built on the successful introduction of diagnostic quality controls in the form of accurately measured samples deposited on ‘spots’ on a paper card, which can be easily shipped to wherever molecular diagnostic instruments are deployed. This initial innovation was achieved through use of Kana’s inoculated TB material and the novel technology developed by Professor Lesley Scott from the School of Pathology. This ground breaking science has led to the development of several other products in conjunction with local and international partners in the public and private sectors. 

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award

The Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award is the highest accolade for achievement in research at Wits. The purpose of the award is to acknowledge the achievements of an exceptional Wits scholar who has demonstrated high levels of research excellence over a sustained period of time. Professor Shane Norris from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor Abdul Kara from the Faculty of Science were the joint recipients of the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award. Both recipients received R275 000 each as part of the awards.

Norris is the Director of the Department of Science and Technology - National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Human Development and the Director of the Medical Research Council-Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit. He has 271 ISI publications, more than 3 800 citations and a Hirsch-index of 31.Kara is a mathematician that examines the symmetry and conservation laws of differential equations. He also contributes to the cross disciplinary field of mathematical physics. He has 177 ISI publications, more than 2 200 citations and a Hirsch-index of 25.

At the awards ceremony, Habib highlighted the great strides Wits has made in the past few years in advancing its transformation agenda in the student and staff composition.

“In 2013, we were about 73% black students. We are 83% black students effectively by 2019. Our administrative staff by 2019 is 93% black and 85% South Africa African. Our academic staff for the first time in our history has gone to 51% black staff. What we have done is increased our research output and we have increased our postgraduate students by all indicators that define what it is to be a great university and, we have transformed at the same time.”, he said.

On the research front, the University increased its research outputs by 70% in the past few years from 1200 in 2013 to almost 2000 in 2019, said Habib.