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How scholarships change lives for the better

- Wits University

Quality education, support, and passion transforms lives and changes the world.

It was a fitting ceremony that recognised excellence and high performance over time – a Rhodes Scholar here, a Fulbright Scholar there, and a Rhodes-Mandela Scholar on the platform – talented individuals scattered throughout the Great Hall foyer, their names etched on a Wall of Fame, recognising their individual talents and their contribution to the world.

The unveiling of Wits’ Scholarship Boards, hosted by Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, was held on Saturday, 3 September 2022 in the foyer of the Great Hall, as part of the Wits Centenary celebrations. “It is an honour and my pleasure to welcome you back to Wits during our centenary year. You have all made a significant contribution to society, for which we are grateful,” said Vilakazi.

“We thought that it was an important project because we need to make the achievements and success of our alumni and staff visible; to inspire students, to give recognition to those who excel, and to reflect our standing as one of the world’s great universities,” says Peter Maher, the Director of Alumni Relations at Wits.

The keynote address was delivered by Vincent Spera, the US Consul General to South Africa. He congratulated Wits on its centenary, and elaborated on the importance of investing on education, for example through the 75-year-old Fulbright Scholarship Programme. “Wits is rich, dynamic institution that has character - we look forward to building many more programmes and partnerships between South African and American universities in the coming years,” he said. “We know that this will contribute to the development of the next generation of educators, researchers and leaders.”

Recipients of prestigious scholarships shared their views on how the scholarships transformed their lives, opened up new horizons, intellectual fields and ways of thinking. For others, it moved them into completely new areas of life.

Professor Max Price, the former dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, and a former SRC leader, said that following the attainment of his medical degree, he was given the opportunity through a scholarship to pursue a degree in philosophy, politics, economics, at Oxford University, which has helped him navigate through some difficult decisions in his life. “This equipped me with the leadership skills which I used when I returned to Wits to champion the Graduate Entry Medical Programme, which is still in existence today,” said Price. “I am appreciative and indebted to Wits for having given me the opportunities which allowed me to become a Rhodes Scholar, to study outside my narrow career path and to broaden my skills set which undoubtedly helped me to further my career and to serve as a leader.”

Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Nosipho Gumede, studied metallurgical engineering and worked in a coal processing plant for five years before she became restless. “I wanted to use engineering to change the world and to do something meaningful, so I quit my job, applied for and was granted the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, and focused on my research. I have now turned my research into an NQF level 5 postgraduate course which is benefitting municipalities and enabling them to advance service delivery.”

Professor Vukosi Marivate, a Fulbright Scholar said that the time that he spent in the US was transformative and changed how he saw the world. His current interests lie in the application of machine learning and how it can be used to improve the society in which we live, especially from the Global South.

Another Fulbright Scholar, Cikida Gcali-Mabusela completed her engineering degree at Wits followed by a postgraduate degree in the US. She has branched into business, leadership and consultancy, and is now a general manager at Uber SA. “We need to change the narrative about Africa, which is under- and mis-represented globally. We must recognise that African can make a contribution globally, just as we did through COVID. Finally, we need to appreciate Africa’s adaptability quotient and our ability to navigate through uncertainty and complexity.”

Civil engineering graduate, Graham Craig, flew in from Australia to attend an alumni reunion. A Rhodes Scholar, former SRC president (1969), and rugby player - his dream was to obtain Oxford Blue colours in rugby which was shattered after a major injury when he reached the UK. He graduated and returned to Johannesburg to work at Anglo American, at one point closely with Gavin Relly (a green space is named after him on the west campus), who said that it was important to contribute meaningfully to Wits, when the University requested funding for the acquisition of the Milner Showgrounds, and that subsequent investments followed. He is pictured alongside, with the current Wits SRC President Cebolenkosi Khumalo.

The vote of thanks was delivered by Fiona Kigen, a member of the Wits Convocation Executive Committee who spoke favourably about her Wits experience. “Being a Wits graduate means that you are a Witsie for life. We are really grateful to all the scholars who are here today and who remain part of Wits. We celebrate all of you today. It’s because of you that this University is where it is today. Thank you for flying our flag so high!”