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Students uphold the spirit of volunteerism

- Wits Unversity

Volunteerism and activism is alive among the youth as demonstrated at the annual Student Leadership Awards.

Spirit of Volunteerism

Innovative, resourceful, fearless, change-agents, and brilliant are some of the words used to describe Wits students, and among this brilliant crop of students, there are those that standout. Students involved in community projects, social entrepreneurship, and who drive student governance and actively contribute to the Wits community, were celebrated at the annual Student Leadership Awards across various categories.

A total of 16 awards were presented on 21 October and the most coveted award, the Vice-Chancellor’s Student Leader of the Year award, went to Priyanka Davechand.

Nominees for this epic award must display exemplary leadership in their role as a student leader. They must be academically excellent, demonstrate service and commitment to their respective constituencies, and must have been inspirational in promoting student leadership and the development of others.

Davechand distinguished herself as the founder of the Wits Bridge the Gap programme, which provides industry mentorship for geosciences students. Established in 2017, this initiative has impacted more than 680 students at Wits alone and has expanded to seven other universities in the country.

Priyanka Davechand  recipient of the Vice-Chancellor's Student Leader of the Year  Award“This mentorship programme provides a platform for us to ‘be the mentors we wish we had’ and to assist other students who are in a position where we once were. I am very passionate about the programme as I know what it is like to be in a new environment and have new experiences”, says Davechand.

The awards panel lauded Davechand’s sustained commitment over a period of five years, despite the increased workload. She is a PhD candidate, a teaching assistant, and is involved in the Wits Integrated Experience that brings prospective students (Grade eleven learners) onto campus and exposes them to career and personal development opportunities.

Davechand also scooped the award for Most Outstanding Postgraduate Leader at a postgraduate level.

She was praised for supporting the University’s vision of an empowered postgraduate community and for cultivating female leadership in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] fields.

Other significant Student Leadership award winners include the Construction, Economics and Management (CEM) School Council, which also collected two awards – the Most Outstanding School Council and the Most Outstanding Project in a School Council.

The team was recognised for launching projects that not only benefitted students in their School but which have extended beyond the University borders to the community beyond. Such initiatives include the CEM Pink Drive aimed at helping eradicate ‘period poverty’ and which resulted in thousands of sanitary products being distributed to high schools. The Back-a-Buddy mentorship programme has provided vital support to bridge the gap between high school and university. Through their Exit Plan and entrepreneurship workshops, the CEM Council prepares current students for life after graduating from university.

According to the citation, the Council has led with integrity, confidence, and tenacity. As the top performing School Council, they also enhanced the student learning experience and facilitated collaboration between the students, the School and external stakeholders.

It takes you and me

The Dean of Student Affairs, Jerome September, whose office oversees student leadership development and governance, acknowledged all the winners in the audience as well as the general student population who are working towards a better future.

Speaking to building legacy and strong institutions, September said: “As we celebrate tonight, let’s also recommit ourselves to building this great University that we proudly associate ourselves with, let us stand together as students and say that my legacy will be one of positivity, a legacy of contributing to excellence in the face of disaster, in the face of mediocrity, we will be the light.”

Guest speaker Dimpho Lekgue, Community Manager at Youth Lab and One Young World ambassador commended the University for the awards, which show a “strong commitment to centering young people as leaders and magnifying our voices.”

Lekgue added her voice to the call for young people to come back to spaces of governance and leadership.

“In the last two decades, young people feel that they have been reduced to recipients rather than shapers of decisions. Young people are moving away from a system that does not seem to yield positive results or tangible transformation of communities.

“Young people’s activism is happening outside institutionalised processes of government.”

 “We still need to make our voices heard.”

Lekgue shared her own leadership lessons learnt thus far and offered thoughts and tips on accountability, choosing partners strategically, and being brave.

2022 Student Leadership Awards Winners 
Award  Recipient 
Champion of Service  Jabulile Khoza 
Social Innovator  Bhekumuzi Dean Bhebhe. 
Most Outstanding Class Representative  Shaun du Plessis 
Most Outstanding Contribution Made by an SRC Member  Kamohelo Chauke 
Mpho Chauke 
Most Outstanding House Committee  Ernest Oppenheimer Hall of Residence House Committee 
Most Outstanding Student Leader at a Postgraduate Level  Priyanka Davechand 
Most Outstanding Project by a School Council  Construction Economics and Management 
Special Mention: Medical School Council - Wits Health Sciences Pageant 2022
Most Outstanding School Council  Construction Economics and Management 
Mosy Outstanding Student Entrepreneur  Lehlogonolo Kopa
Most Outstanding Student Leader in a Club Society or Organisation (Religious Cluster) Adivhao Negovha (Zion Christian Church Student Fellowship) 
Most Outstanding Student Leader in a Club Society or Organisation (Cultural Cluster) Mbali Zondo (Zulu Students Cultural Society)
Most Outstanding Student Leader in a Club Society or Organisation (Business Cluster) Mbali Mhlongo (African Women Chartrered Accountants)
Most Outstanding Student Leader in a School Council  Eram Sarah (School Business Science School Council)
Vice Chancellors Special Recognition  Cebolenkosi Samuel Khumalo (SRC President 21/22)
Vice Chancellors Student Leader of the Year  Priyanka Davechand 
Special Acknowledgements  First Year Experience Mentors
Abe Bailey Travel Bursary Recipient - Karabo Asala