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Hope abounds at Founders’ Tea

- Wits University

They graduated in the summer of ’83 but for many of the inaugural Wits Founders, it wasn’t too long ago that they walked across the Great Hall stage.

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The 80’s were uncertain times in South Africa, just as it is now, for many of that generation. Yet, as we celebrated those who graduated 40 years ago from Wits (and before) at the Annual Wits Founders’ Tea on the Gavin Relly Lawns on West Campus, there were messages of hope shared by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi and industry leaders, which inspired young and old. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe was in attendance, as were about 380 guests including, ten graduates over the age of 90. Selma Browde (97) came in as the oldest graduate - she achieved her MBBCh from Wits.

Selma Browde (97) at Wits Founders Tea

Referring to Kennedy’s famous City Upon the Hill speech, Vilakazi said: “Wits is the shining city, the beacon of hope on the hill, an aspirational institution of what the world could be and should be. We are an autonomous institution that enjoys institutional autonomy, academic freedom and freedom of speech. We hold our values dear, speak truth to power, and remain committed to social justice and the advancement of the public good.”

He spoke about some of the major projects being undertaken despite the current challenging times in South Africa – the development of the Wits AngloAmerican Digital Dome, the Brian and Dorothy Zylstra Sports Complex, the Wits Innovation Centre and the Telkom Solutions Lab. He emphasised “the importance of equal partnerships in an unequal world” including programmes like Afretec and the Wits Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures Programme in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and the Mastercard Foundation, and re-imagining Wits’ curriculum and research agenda to embrace artificial intelligence, to fight climate change, and to prepare to address future pandemics, amongst other topics.

Stavros Nicolaou, Wits alumnus and the Group Senior Executive responsible for Strategic Trade at the Aspen Pharmaceutical Group said that it is the duty of each one of us to inspire and give hope to young people especially during these uncertain times. “The good news story is that we have a resilient private sector who is working with government to provide the capacity, skills, experts and other resources required to move the economy forward. We met with the President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cabinet and agreed to put together three groups to address three ‘dis-enablers’ of economic growth in South Africa – energy security; infrastructure and logistics; and crime and corruption. We have mobilised resources and within the last three months we have seen much progress in these areas. But we all need to do what we can within our sphere of influence to work towards achieving growth of at least 3% for South Africa.”

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He added that Wits and its alumni should be lauded for its role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV/AIDS and other social issues, and concluded that “our global impact is only possible because of the power of education, and quality education as delivered by Wits and Witsies.”

The vote of thanks was delivered by Wits graduate Doug Smollan, Chairman of the Smollan Group, who applauded Vilakazi for his “immense knowledge, immense intellect, immense humility and immense humanity” for steering Wits ably in South Africa and for carrying the Wits flag high globally. He thanked the Council, Board of Governors, Senior Executive Team, graduates, staff, students and alumni for their time, commitment and loyalty to Wits University.

View and download pictures of Wits Founders Tea 2023 and learn more about Wits Alumni Relations online.