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Student Leadership Awards celebrate movers and shakers

- Wits University

From spearheading entrepreneurship programmes to driving community projects, Wits student leaders are walking the path of servant leadership.

The winners of the Student Leadership Awards were celebrated at a luncheon hosted by the Division of Student Affairs and Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi.

Wits University is not short of leaders who lead the more than 80 student clubs and societies on campus which cater to the range interests ranging from academic to business, cultural to political, religious and social development. The most distinguished of these leaders are honoured annually through the Student Leadership Awards following nominations by their peers.

In 2021, the call for nominations received more than 250 submissions and judges settled on crowning 13 student leaders across various categories.

Dean of Student Affairs, Jerome September, opened the ceremony with poignant words which urged the leaders to continue to be bold and fearless.

“This country and this world, at this point in time, needs citizens that are attached to higher ideals and higher goal than advancing [them]self. I am not saying advancing [your]self is not important, but (consider) how do you use your skills, knowledge, attributes and values in pursuit of creating a better world. And how do you do that in a context that often requires you to conform to other sets of values.”

He egged the leaders to “swim upstream in pursuit of something that is bigger than self”.

Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi reminded attendees that “leadership in all its forms is privilege” and must be treated with responsibility. “People give you their trust and that trust is earned through daily acts and decisions.”

Simphiwe Ngwenya from the Wits History Makers society and Alexa Edelstein from the Wits Law Students’ Council emerged as joint winners of the highest prize – the Vice-Chancellor’s Student Leader of the Year Award.

The Vice Chancellor’s student of the year award recognises exemplary leaders within the university. A student must show the outstanding work that they have done for an organisation and make a significant difference in that organisation. These are students who have made extreme differences in roles of leadership while still maintaining good academic standing.

Ngwenya, who scooped multiple leadership prizes, has served as both the Chairperson of the History Makers Society, a CSO that is focused on skills development for students, and the Chairperson of the Wits Science Council. She also served in the Economics and Finance School Council. As a final year BSc mathematics of finance student, Ngwenya was critical in organising masterclasses focusing on entrepreneurship, programming and coding, real estate, and investment to students to develop and broaden their skills. She also served Chairperson of the Economics and Finance School Council.

Ngwenya who is now doing her honours and is serving as Chairperson of Wits UNICEF says youth face an uncertain future and dedicated programmes that empower and connect them to the real world are critical. It is for this reason that her society prioritises skills of the future, mentorship and talks about creating a financial savvy youth.

Prizes were awarded to the Most outstanding student leader in a University House Committee; Most outstanding project/initiative by a House Committee; Most outstanding House Committee; Most outstanding contribution made by an SRC member; Sports Student leader of year award; Change maker of the Year; Social Innovator of the Year; The SRC Presidency Award to the most outstanding CSO; Champion of Service; WCCO Champion of Service Award; Most outstanding student leader in a Club, Society or Organisation; Most outstanding school council; Most outstanding student leader in a school council; Most outstanding Student Leader at a Postgraduate Level; and Vice Chancellors Student Leader of the Year Award.




Most outstanding student leader in a University residence house committee

Siyabonga Asiamah

A nominee must have played an outstanding role in residence life by displaying exemplary leadership qualities in residence.

This candidate has shown exemplary leadership qualities through his pro-active involvement in his residence. This third year Biomedical Sciences student has served the Ernst Oppenheimer house committee as well the All Residence Sub Council with astute leadership, hard work and dedication.

In collaboration with the Office of Student Success, this First Year Experience mentor offered tutorial programmes to first year students to ensure that they attained better results in their health science studies. With the formation of the residence Academic advisor programme, and increasing Covid challenges, this house committee member successfully became a residence academic advisor and arranging regular tutorials at the Wits Education Campus to ensure the successful implementation of the programme.

This candidate further undertook the Gender Equity offices safe zones training and developed an allegiance with the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition, he exercised his position as a safe zones ally to educate the students in the male residence about gender issues.

The passion for service delivery was substantially displayed following constructive engagements with management and the successful installation of generators at EOH, as well as improved service provided by the dining hall. 

This student leader has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to represent the residents’ interest throughout the year shown a passion for his role by ensuring that an efficient and effective environment is created for students at EOH, despite the pandemic.

Special Mention: Nondumiso Mabuza

Most outstanding project/initiative by a house committee

Sunnyside Residence & Mens Hall of Residence Bread Basket Initiative

A nominee must have made an outstanding contribution to a project directed at creating lasting and meaningful impact in their residence.

After being inspired by the need to assist the less fortunate, this House Committee rallied its residents to assist their colleagues in self-catering residences with meals. This was the birth of the Bread basket initiative that influenced students in catering residences to donate excess bread and snacks towards the initiative.

The bread was delivered to the Wits Citizenship and Community outreach Offices daily, averaging 35 packets of bread a day. Since its inception in May 2021, this residence has collected over 5250 total bread packets to assist the needy.

This House Committees passion for food security and proactivity is an commendable action and  an excellent example of the kinds of students and student leaders within University’s campus housing unit.

Most outstanding house committee

Yale Village

House Committees can be considered the life-blood of a University residence. They are responsible for championing the development of the students that reside in their respective residences, As such house committees oversee the integration of various activities within the residence, and they aim to holistically develop students within their living and learning environment. A nominee must have played an outstanding role in residence life and that of its house.

This House Committee rose above the challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic and demonstrated resilience, commitment and unwavering support to the house through the following:

Ø  Hosting talks that addressed matters of gender based violence and held social justice conversations for this mixed residence, around matters of inclusivity for LGBTQIA + community as well a cultural restoration seminar. Further to this the Gender Equity Office and Transformation and Equity office provided Safe Zones training to the residence as a platform for the education & redefinition of issues concerning gender. Additional discussions concerning academic exclusion, residence leadership and student activism were also hosted.

Ø  This year the traditional pad drive was further accompanied by a toiletry drive and food bank, which supported many students who found themselves in need.

Ø  This house committee further worked with the Residence Academic Advisors and senior resident students to create a residence mentorship programme as well as weekend tutorials catering for first year students.

Ø  Social programmes featured as an important priority for the house committee through initiatives such as several interactive games night; residence braai, aerobics day and participation residence sports league.

Ø  This house Committee also ensured that Wi-Fi challenges experienced by the house during the examination period were swiftly addressed, through the installation of additional Wi-Fi routers in the residence.

All in all, the House Committee was found to be very engaged on student welfare and service issues that created a stable and healthy environment where students are able to thrive.

Most outstanding contribution made by an SRC member

Mongezi Maluleka

A nominee must have made an outstanding contribution to the success of the SRC, having played an exceptional role in promoting gender and racial equality, and been inspirational in promoting student leadership.

This SRC member in his capacity as the Academic Officer has an insatiable passion for students. Having selflessly lead and driven several campaigns, this recipient has consistently and successfully performed throughout their term of office.

He is always looking for new ways to encourage and engage students, but also does an outstanding job of advocating for his constituency. He was host to several dialogues in various residences and with several school councils concerning academic exclusion and hosting campaigns that created awareness for students concerning academic performance. This SRC member also obtained the highest rate of registrations for students who faced the readmissions committee.

Under his leadership, he established and nourished relationships with various stakeholders, both student and staff, in the University, which has contributed to the success of his term of office. His peers continue to advocate for him, as he is always willing to be a helping hand despite the portfolio he may be serving. Finally, he was elected to serve a second term in the SRC by his constituents, testament to the faith students have in him

Sports student leader of year award


Grace Taylor

A nominee must have displayed the criteria’s of all award categories with exemplary leadership on and off the sports field.

This nominee is no stranger to hard work and determination, having immersed herself in various university activities from the onset of her academic career. She is a key player in the Wits hockey team and has been instrumental in the growth of the club while pursuing her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree.

In her capacity as Wits Sports council Chairperson, she has facilitated a successful term of office that included being instrumental in the Safe Spaces conversations around transformation in sport, women in sport and marginalized individuals in sport.

She continues to advocate for equal representation amongst all the Sport clubs, and actively promotes each in the media and on social media.

Under her leadership, the successful hosting of the Wits Sports awards took place that honoured Wits athletes from various sporting codes to their participation and achievements in sport, despite the challenges presented by the Covid19 pandemic.

This nominee is a dependable and dedicated to seeing the betterment of those she leads.

Special Mention – Tumelo Ranoto

Change maker of the Year

Ntwanano Ngobeni

A nominee- in this category must have proof of the outstanding work done in solving a problem in the community and must have dared to challenge the status quo by living their truth.

This nominee founded an innovative online educational platform called Campus Connect, a student founded private company that assists students with academic resources that will carry them through their academic journeys. This includes proactive assistance for students needing help with test and examination preparations but practical guidelines on skills such as time management and note taking in lectures. Campus connect also exposes students to curated opportunities from corporates and advertisers.

This nominee has been selfless in upskilling students especially with technological advancements, and teaching students how to use software like Microsoft Office. Through his leadership the campus connect community has reached over 30 000 users, and has a growing 100 000 page views and site visits.

His selflessness can be attested to by many students who form part of the Campus Connect Network, who all agree that he has made an invaluable contribution to their academic journeys.

Social Innovator of the Year

Sibusiso Mgidi

Nominees in this category must have creatively used ideas to respond to a social challenge and must show commitment to the process of developing and implementing the project.

This nominee has consistently shown a passion for community development, which is evident in his passion for mentoring and volunteering high school learners about personal and career growth. This nominee, who also serves as First Year Experience Mentor, constantly avails his science and technology skills to the betterment of those around him.

Through a simple assessment of his community, this nominee created a Pothole detection and segmentation deep learning model that is aimed at finding solutions for the damage caused to the road in South Africa. This innovation will contribute to the betterment of the conditions of roads, an improvement of the rate of accident and contribute to the economy as companies depend on the ease of transportation in and around the country.

This nominee is hard – working, determined and selfless in all they do, and it is evident in the development of this pothole detection system.

Special Mention: Dumelang Law Students Newspaper

The SRC Presidency Award to the most outstanding CSO

Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) Wits Student Chapter

A nominee must have done outstanding work for the CSO. Further a nominee must have made an outstanding contribution towards a community development/social responsibility project, and a nominee must have made a significant difference in the running of their CSO in addition to making a significant difference to their members.

This Club and Society has displayed great initiative being an active part of the University community, by hosting their activities online and further reaching other branches of the organization outside of Wits. Throughout the year several activities were hosted that were of interest to their constituency. This included more holistic support to their membership, as well as additional tutoring services for members in first and second year.

Additional networking opportunities were provided to the membership of this club & society, which included providing access to former members who have graduated but also organizations and professionals in the network. Members were upskilled in public speaking, graphic design, marketing and personal leadership.

What also made this year a distinct one was the added focus on mental health and mental coaching provided to its members.

This Club & Society promotes the interests of its students on their academic journeys in attempt to realise their academic success.

Champion of Service

Mpho Manyisa

The nominee in this category must be a committed and dedicated volunteer. Giving his or her time and energy to better the lives of others. This nominee must show leadership through his or her volunteerism and must be champion for civic work among Witsies.

This Masters of Management student has always had a passion for empowerment and development through education.

Following her attendance at the internationally acclaimed One Young World conference in 2019, this nominee has continued to actively participate in the work of the organization as the Southern Africa coordinating ambassador which connects the One Yong World team in London with other ambassadors in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia Zimbabwe and Zambia.

This nominee has hosted engagements that work towards the United Nations sustainable development goals, as well as One Young World objectives to mobilise communities towards impactful change through government, social entrepreneurship, service activism and economic empowerment.

This nominee has shown exemplary service through her work with the One Young World programme

WCCO Champion of Service Award

Sandile Shabangu

WCCO is a student development programme which, promotes active citizenship and community service by encouraging students to donate their time, skills and talents to volunteer for local communities.

This nominee has become one of the most dedicated volunteers working in the Wits Food Programme, which works to alleviate hunger among students on campus. The food programme offers food parcels, that are packaged and distributed to students by volunteers. In addition the programme, through volunteers provides 1 meal per day to 1000 students. There is also a breakfast project that provides bread and other nutrition to students in the morning.

The Food Programme relies on students like this nominee to make themselves available everyday to plan and implement the daily operation. The nominee is committed, reliable and good team worker who is liked by his fellow volunteers. He takes initiative and is often the first volunteer to arrive and often single handily runs the breakfast project.

The nominee’s work at the WCCO demonstrates a character that is steadfast, empathic, strong and not afraid to do the work to change lives. He has demonstrated great sensitivity to the needs of his fellow students, by ensuring an efficient service for students who are food insecure on the campus.

Most outstanding student leader in a Club, Society or Organisation (CSO) (2 winners)

A nominee must have done outstanding work in his/her Club, Society and Organization. Furthermore, a nominee must have made an outstanding contribution towards community development/social responsibility project, and finally, a nominee must have made a significant difference to the running of their CSO


1.      Penipeni Tshabalala  

The first recipient has served the LGBTIQA+ community with enthusiasm and vigour, ensuring that he promoted inclusivity and the representation of marginalized communities within the university. Serving as the deputy chairperson of Wits Activate, he has collaborated with several other queer organizations at Constitutional Hill to commemorate the lives of those lost in the LGBTQIA+ community due to hate crimes. He has spear headed several campaigns against homophobia and queer prejudices.

Under the leadership of this nominee, the pride culture at wits has grown significantly with the mobilization of queer individuals to be active citizens in the University community. As a volunteer of the Gender equity office, this nominee has worked tirelessly to ensure that students undergo the Safe Zones training in which the allies of the queer community are formed. He has further hosted several dialogues with University stakeholders that promoted inclusivity and explored the injustices faced by the queer community.

This nominee works hard to ensure that under his leadership, members of the queer community at Wits take up leadership spaces.

2.       Simphiwe Ngwenya

The second nominee in this category served as a part of the History Makers Society. This nominee has performed exceedingly well despite the challenges presented by the Covid 19 pandemic. As a leader of this club and society, she was able to pull her executive together to ensure that the activities of the club are not compromised. This included ensuring the team adjusted to what many now know as the new normal.

As a result of her excellent leadership skills, the society was able to host several training and mentorship webinars that benefitted the members of the club to learn about foreign exchange and the markets, as well as entrepreneurship, many of which were personally organized by this nominee. The nominee further launched a community outreach programme to assist grade 12 learners to apply to university by going out into communities and assisting online through social media.

This nominee has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that their club and society remains active during these difficult times. The nominee is well liked and admired by her peers, and it is this high level of leadership expertise and calibre of character that she receive this award.

Most outstanding school council


Economics and Finance School Council

A nominee must have displayed outstanding work for their school council as well as assisted students with academic queries.

This council has gone beyond the call of duty in providing academic and co-curricular support, developmental and professional programs as well as mentorship and recruitment opportunities in assisting students to benefit holistically through the various events and programmes offered. These include but not limited to:

A partnership programme with the Faculty Road to Success programme that included activities such as the study with your council initiative prior to the examination period. This was inclusive of addressing mental health awareness challenges and methods of dealing with anxiety.

Promotion of opportunities that exist within the economics and finance industries was a focal point for this council, and they were instrumental in providing professional development opportunities through mentorship, internships and financial literacy training. These were done by having relationships with several financial organizations in the industry such as Citibank, AllanGray and Standard Bank.

The council also hosted several webinars including the Proptech webinar highlighting the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on real estate, the CFA Society webinar, and the asset management webinar.

This school council has gone above the call of duty to ensure that its students are significantly supported on their academic journeys as well as their journeys to employability.

Most outstanding student leader in a school council -

Alexa Edelstein

For this category, a nominee must have done outstanding work in his/her School/Faculty Council. Furthermore, a nominee must have made an outstanding contribution towards community development/social responsibility project, and finally, a nominee must have made a significant difference to the running of their council

This nominee has served as the Law Fora office for the Law students Council and has continuously serviced the Law School students with the highest level of professionalism. The nominee has ensure that they rise above the Covid19 pandemic, by hosting several online conversations including a mental health webinar, a women in law webinar as well as a women in social justice and human rights webinar as well as a webinar in cyber law, to name a few. She also ensured that students wishing to pursue their postgraduate studies were also accommodated, by hosting a Q & A webinar for graduate tips as well as postgraduate studies.

The Law student’s journey to employability was also an important focus for this nominee, who ensured that students were given exposure to law firms such as Backer Mckenzie, and that they were also exposed to recruitment and interview skills with law firms such as Bowmans.

This nominee serves as a role model to her peers and is a well-rounded individual who excels both in and out of the lecture theatre.


Most outstanding Student Leader at a Postgraduate Level

Sphamandla Zulu

This nominee has tirelessly served under the Education Postgraduate student council that champions the interests The nominee grounded his work of the Education Postgraduate student council on a five tier approach being academic progress including research and finance; collaborative events; mentorship; Wits graduate programs; and transformation.

As such in the School of Education the establishment of class representatives for the Honours and Masters class was formed under the leadership of this nominee. The nominee worked closely with the postgraduate studies office to facilitate PhD weekends as well as ensure that PhD candidates being given priority for Teaching Experience sessional posts. The nominee represented the Wits School of Education PhDs programme in the National Review of Doctoral programs conducted by the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education.


This nominee advocated for postgraduate student needs including financial challenges experienced with the postgraduate merit award. The nominee has represented the Honours and Masters students in the school’s Board of Examiners.


This Doctor of Philosophy candidate has served postgraduate students in the Wits School of Education industriously.


Special Mention Award

Golden Key Honours Society

Special Acknowledgments as Class Representatives

1.      Shaun Redgard – Wits Business School

2.      Basheq Tarifi – School of Electrical and Information Engineering

3.      Clinton Nyathi – School of Geography, Archeology and Environmental Sciences

Special Acknowledgement for the First Year Experience

FYE Mentors and FYE Lead Mentors

Vice Chancellors Student Leader of the Year Award

1.      Alexa Edelstein
       Law Fora Officer Law Students Council

2.      Ms Simphiwe Ngwenya

Chairperson of the Economics and Finance School Council

Chairperson of the History Makers Society