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Vice-Chancellor’s awards celebrate the best of Wits

- Wits University

The prestigious annual awards recognise staff excellence in categories including research, teaching and learning, and professional and administrative services.

Category winners are selected after rigorous deliberation by various adjudicating committees. Winners receive a certificate, dinner, and generous cash prizes and grants to advance their areas of interest. 

The Vice-Chancellor's Awards took place in the Convocation Dining Room on West Campus on 6 October, two days after Wits’ official birthday and marking the culmination of centenary celebrations. 

VC Awards 2022

The awards dinner followed the year-end strategic meeting of Council, which is the highest decision-making body of the University and comprises leaders who volunteer to oversee the governance of Wits University.

Speaking at the awards, Mr Isaac Shongwe, Chair of Council, said: “At our strategic planning workshop today, this commitment to excellence was emphasised. At the same time, there was a resounding acknowledgement of the role that Wits has played, and must continue to play, in changing our world for good. And none of this can be achieved without all of you present here this evening. Your achievements speak for themselves and it is you who will ensure that Wits remains a beacon of hope in society.”

Reflecting on 2022, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said Wits’ centenary year “will surely be recorded as a phenomenal and unprecedented year”, in which the narrative around Wits changed from one mired in acrimony and unrest, to one that is more positive.

He alluded to the goodwill generated amongst alumni internationally, for example in Australia, and other ‘friend-raising’ initiatives, notably one with Nando’s founder and alumnus, Robbie Brozin, who brokered a 30-second advertising spot for Wits on the Nasdaq Building in Times Square, New York, at no cost to the University.

"Our staff are receiving recognition the world over,” said Vilakazi. “This is testament to the fact that we are leading from the Global South and are making sure that the voice of Africa is heard. These achievements are also testament to the fact that recognition of excellence often comes after years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice – much like tonight’s recipients of the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards have had to endure.”

Vilakazi said that Wits’ 2021 research output has exceeded the 2020 targets and that the University is on the cusp of completing the academic year without interruption – “this is all thanks to the phenomenal work of our staff and students.”


Wits University is a research-intensive university and has several awards to recognise outstanding achievements in research and research-related practice. These include Research; Innovation and Impact; Academic Citizenship; and Supervision awards.

Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation presented the research awards.

VC's Research Awards winners

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 Bruce Mellado in the School of Physics and Professor Ken Ozoemena in the School of Chemistry, both in the Faculty of Science, were joint individual Research Award winners, in abstentia.

Professor Dean Barrett accepted the award on behalf of Ozoemena, while Professor Deena Naidoo accepted Mellado’s award.

Professor Ken Ozoemena is a Research Professor and a SARChI Research Chair in Materials Electrochemistry and Energy Technologies (MEET). His key research activities are focused on advanced batteries, fuel cells and electrochemical sensors. He is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, a Fellow of the African Academy of Science, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and a Fellow of the Association of Commonwealth Universities at Coventry University, in the UK.

Professor Bruce Mellado is the Director of the Wits Institute for Collider Particle Physics with a joint appointment at the National Research Foundation’s iThemba LABS. He is the National Contact Physicist for South Africa on behalf of the ATLAS experiment at CERN and is the co-Chair of the Nuclear Particle and Radiation Division of South African Institute of Physics. He has recently been elected Chairperson of the Institutional Board of the Tile Calorimeter experiment at ATLAS. His area of expertise is high energy physics, electronics, and data science.

Professor Bruce Mellado in the School of Physics won the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher

Research Innovation and Impact

The Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation and Impact Award was introduced in 2019 and amended to align with the University’s definition of ‘innovation’, which is the ‘successful deployment of new research ideas or methods to benefit society’.

Distinguished Professor Christopher Henshilwood won the Innovation and Impact Award in association with Professor Sarah Wurz  and Dr Karen van Niekerk, and their respective research teams.

Professor Christopher Henshilwood won the 2022 Vice Chancellor's Award for Research Impact and Innovation

Wurz accepted the award on behalf of Henshilwood, who was in Bergen at the time

Henshilwood is a Distinguished Professor at Wits and the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in the Origins of Modern Human Behaviour and director of the SFF Centre of Excellence – Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour at the University of Bergen, Norway (both the above referred to collectively below as SapienCE).

He and the team won the award for their exhibition entitled the Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour, now on at the Origins Centre, and later on tour to other museums across the world.

The exhibition sends a strong social message that ‘we are all one’ and points to the evidence that all Homo sapiens have their origins in Africa. The exhibition is fully backed by an extensive research programme and is indeed a showcase of 30 years of archaeological research in the southern Cape.

“I would like to convey my thanks to you [Dr Robin Drennan, Director: Research and Innovation] and the VC for considering us for this prestigious award,” Henshilwood wrote in an email. “I am honoured and humbled.”

He added that he has for some time collaborated with Swedish physicist, Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Pääbo on 3 October 2022 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution, and for sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal.

Henshilwood writes, “I attach a paper recently out in PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] on some of our work in South Africa with Svante in extracting DNA from cave sediments … Of course credit also goes to my collaboration and position at Wits.”

Academic Citizenship

Jasper Knight, Professor of Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, received the Academic Citizenship award for his role and contribution as Chair of the Wits Non-Medical Ethics Committee, a voluntary position he has held since 2015.

Knight initiated a comprehensive training program, including certificates of competence, and has contributed at the national and regional level to the development of ethics standard and guidelines. Importantly, he successfully led and equipped the committee to online meetings to ensure uninterrupted service during Covid.  

The Wits Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) Non-Medical is a leader amongst research ethics committees across the country and in the SADC region, much of which can be attributed to Knight's tireless academic citizenship. 


Professor Ruksana Osman, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, presented the teaching awards:

VC's Teaching Award winners

  • Dr Argentina Ingratta, a lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine at Wits and a physician at Helen Joseph Hospital, won the individual teaching award. Ingratta took a leadership role in transforming teaching and learning in Internal Medicine, through the use of blended-learning technologies, which support student learning support, and spearheaded the adaptation of material and development of curricula suitable to a South African context.
  • Lanelle Wilmot and Michele Aucock in the School of Accountancy were joint teaching team award winners for putting forward an excellent example of scholarly teaching in accounting. Wilmot spearheaded the introduction of a Writing Across the Curriculum intervention for fourth-year Financial Accounting students in 2021, while Aucock collaborated on the intervention, contributing to rubric design, implementation, and ensuring alignment to current teaching and learning pedagogy and practice. Within a single year, the initiative has expanded to become a whole-school teaching and learning endeavour.
  • Professor Sanjay Lala, Professor Ziyaad Dangor, Dr Shannon Leahy, Dr Ann George, Dr Gerrit Wissing, Mr Shogan Ganas, and Ms Dominique Wooldridge are the Paediatric Graduate Entry Medical Programme team, which won the joint team award for constructing a course to develop Paediatric Physical Examinations Skills in an online mode. This online course brought together a multidisciplinary team with expertise from pediatricians, education specialists, and instructional designers. The team developed a world-class and relevant online course that addresses critical pedagogical problems in clinical settings, and which has been made available to other institutions, notably in Africa.
  • Emeritus Professor Pundy Pillay, the most senior economist in the School of Governance, stands out particularly for his successes in postgraduate supervision, for which he received the Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Award for Supervision - the first time this award has been made. Pillay has twice been given an accolade as Best Supervisor in the Faculty.


Professional and Administrative (PAS) staff members are the backbone of University operations and contribute significantly to the success of search, teaching and learning, and the knowledge project overall.

Professor Garth Stevens, incoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor: People Development and Culture in 2023, presented these awards:

Winners of the VC's awards for professional and administrative staff


  • Mr Zamo Ntuli, a Security Officer in Campus Protection Services, won the award in the category Grades 14 to 17 (individual) for, amongst others, working tirelessly to protect the safety of both staff and students during the student protests. He prioritizes the needs of the Wits community and ensures that proper they respect him.
  • Mrs Lynne Pritchard, an Administrative Officer in the School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences was joint individual winner in the category Grade 10 to 13. Over 30 years, Pritchard has witnessed developments in Wits’ IT, learning management systems (LMS) and data-capturing platforms. As the interface between student and academic, she has been instrumental in facilitating this transition, particularly by intense training of academics on the ulwazi LMS, often remotely.
  • Mr David Rambevha, Examinations and Graduation Officer in the Examinations and Graduation Office (EGO), Registrar’s Division was the joint individual award winner Grade 10 to 13. He joined Wits 32 years ago and worked his way up from clerical assistant, to general administrative assistance, and then to EGO. His determination to take on challenging projects and bring them to conclusion has been consistently impressive throughout the years, and this has tremendously assisted the EGO department in achieving its objectives. He is also the Wits mace bearer at graduations.
  • Mr John Skosana, Security Manager External and Events, in Campus Protection Services was the individual award winner in category Grade 7 to 9. He has been crucial in ensuring that events operations are handled efficiently and he ensured the seamless execution of events such as the stage crossing ceremony in December 2021, registrations in 2022, and May examinations in 2022. He is an outstanding manager, a consummate professional and committed to developing staff and sharing his knowledge and experience.
  • Mr Nkosinathi Mavimbela, Operations Manager in the Wits Legal Office, won the individual award in the category Grade 5 to 6. Mavimbela is an example of ‘servant leadership’ and this was evident when he was called upon to manage the Legal Office during a flux in its leadership. In particular, he played a key role in ensuring that the Legal Office team was able to process an unprecedented number of student disciplinary cases that arose out of online assessments, and ensured continued operations during remote-working and lockdown during the pandemic, while remaining attentive to staff wellbeing.
  • Ms Lindiwe Thabethe, Operations Administrator; Ms Sheila Mathebula, General Assistant Kitchen Staff; and Ms Thoko Manzini, Housekeeper are the Wits Rural Campus Kitchen and Dining Room team and were the winners in the Grade 5 to 6 team category. Their catering is one of the outstanding world-class hallmarks of the Wits Rural, which is praised by both South African and international tourists. Despite being understaffed, the team maintains a tidy kitchen with food safety and has an audit score of 80% or higher. The Team consistently meets deadlines while maintaining great quality.