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Wits awards student leaders

- Wits University

Outstanding student leaders across various categories have been recognised at the annual student awards.

Storme Johnson at the student leadership awards

The Student Leadership Awards were held on 13 October 2023, at Solomon Mahlangu House, Wits University.

Storme Johnson receives Vice-Chancellor's Student Leader of the Year award

The most prestigious award - the Vice-Chancellor's Student Leader of the Year Award was presented to the SRC's Storme Johnson, who received a prize of R10,000. The year 2023 has seen Johnson scoop several awards including the Sports Student Leader of the Year award.

Leader of the year, Johnson was delighted to have made an impact, serving others.

 “Leadership activities matter because you never know whose life you might change or how many people you could end up helping. I have recently realised that I have helped people in the most unexpected ways and helped unexpected people by being involved in these activities. These activities will also drive you into an era of growth within yourself,” says the final year Bachelor of Arts with Law student.

Johnson has played an exceptional role in various areas such as excellence in sports, tutoring, coaching, community outreach, and student governance. She has raised the University’s flag in various sporting leagues and forums, including the USSA Hockey and the University Sports South Africa Student Forum. Furthermore, her commitment to academic excellence has enabled her to serve as a Tutor and Writing Consultant in the Wits School of Law and various high school programs where she inspires academic excellence. As the Chairperson of the Wits Sports Council (WSC) and the Sports Officer in the Student Representative Council (SRC) 2022/23, this student leader actively advocates for gender equality and overall equality among sport clubs. This was also evident in her contributions to the women empowerment campaign which was aired on national TV during the Varsity Netball Matches on SuperSport TV.

Diverse categories recognise outstanding contributions

Awards were also conferred in the following categories: Most Outstanding Student Leader at a Post-Graduate level, Most Outstanding Student Leader in a School Council, Most Outstanding School Council, Most Outstanding Class Representative, Most Outstanding Project/Initiative by a House Committee, Most Outstanding Student Leader in a University Residence House Committee, Champion of Service Award, Social Innovator Award, Most Outstanding Student Leader in Peer Mentorship, Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and Special Recognition for the Student Entrepreneurship Education Development Mentorship Programme.

Student Leadership Awards

These awards aim to recognise students' contributions to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, entrepreneurial and innovative thinking, social impact, and their selfless contributions to the Wits community and communities beyond the university. In celebrating Wits students, the University places special emphasis on acknowledging those who have demonstrated distinctive leadership qualities in alignment with the University's mission and values. They exemplify the notion of #WitsForGood.

VC's perspective on Wits student leadership

On the night of the awards, Zeblon Vilakazi, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, stated, "Wits University has always prided itself on being a fertile ground for molding leaders. We provide an environment that encourages critical thinking, innovative problem-solving, and a strong sense of social responsibility. The awardees tonight serve as a testament to the fact that our students are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are leaders of today, making a tangible difference in the world even as they pursue their studies." His words underscore the University's commitment to nurturing leaders and celebrating the impactful contributions of its students.

Faith Mokgalaka's innovative entrepreneurship

Faith Mokgalaka, final year Bachelor of Science in Computer Science student, who was announced as Student Entrepreneur of the Year, has delivered an innovative impact-driven venture that seeks to empower the agricultural landscape by bridging the gap between smallholder farmers and the resources they need to thrive. This is through a fin-tech platform which offers farmers access to finance, pay-as-you-harvest insurance, and various markets. To date, over 50 farmers have been assisted through this platform. Moreover, the venture has received support from prestigious institutions such as Harvard Innovation Labs, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“I’ve always looked at my journey as rather unconventional and seeing Wits recognise and celebrate me, means a lot. In my journey as an entrepreneur, the lesson I learned must be that taking the path less traveled is worth it and can be very rewarding,” says Mokgalaka.

Girton Hall's exceptional house committee

Girton Hall of Residence went away with Most Outstanding House Committee award, for playing an outstanding role in effectively championing for their fellow residents’ holistic development and wellness; promoting social and environmental responsibility; leading a culture of fundraising; and further creating a sense of belonging and community. This was done through well-planned and executed campaigns, projects, and events such as: Going Green Initiative- plastic bottle collection and recycling, which has reinforced the culture of taking care of the environment, while simultaneously fundraising; The annual Movie Night; 21st birthday excursion; Games Night; Academic Dinner; Clothing drive with donations presented to the Tshimagandzo Care Centre; Academic talks centered around Mental Health, Academic Exclusion, and Time Management; Hiking activities at the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve; and ‘Big-sister,-Little-sister’ mentorship conversations, among many others.

Jubilee Hall's community development project

Another residence Jubilee Hall of Residence won the Most Outstanding House Committee Project Award for outstanding contribution towards a community development/social responsibility project and demonstrated how they have aligned their project to the Living and Learning Community Pillars within Campus Housing and Residence Life. Jubilee has made a significant contribution to tackling student hunger by initiating and maintaining a food garden in their residence. The fresh produce such as spinach and carrots from this diligently managed garden supports the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO) programme responsible for the Wits Food Bank. In addition, this initiative seeks to equip volunteers with knowledge about agriculture and crop growing, and further cultivate a culture of changing our community's social issues through teamwork and collaboration. Their impact and consistency have been evident in their ability to influence two neighboring residences to join the initiative, increasing the number of volunteers from 40 to approximately 60.

Lethabo Maphopha: A Social Innovator

The Social Innovator Award has been received by Lethabo Maphopha for his leadership in linking business with community development. Maphopha is recognised as the young, motivated entrepreneur behind BroughtCargo, an e-commerce startup. This online platform helps spaza shops and street vendors gain access to bulk suppliers and allows them to share the cost of shipping. His hard work and effort were acknowledged at the Nedbank Green Superheroes competition, for his work advising spaza shop owners on how to reduce their carbon emissions from their packaging and discarding waste materials. He also won the entrepreneurship internal rounds this year in the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) competition. All of this, while being a fourth year Medical student at Wits. This extraordinary business leader already employs five people.

Outstanding student leaders in education and mentorship

The award for the Most Outstanding Student Leader in a School Council went away with Tyler Anthony, Bachelor of Science Honours in Property Studies student, Chairperson of CEM Council & EBE Faculty Council, Anthony's exceptional leadership as Chairperson of the School Council and her tireless dedication to addressing social justice issues within her constituency have made her a shining beacon of leadership among school councils. On the other hand, Zenande Socenywa, Bachelor of Economic Science with Honours student won Most Outstanding Student Leader in Mentorship award for consistently demonstrating value-based leadership, serving as a mentor in the First Year Experience program and a Gateway-to-Success Lead Mentor. She goes above and beyond by contributing as a peer educator at the CCDU and as a tutor in the School of Economics and Finance, all while actively participating in initiatives like the Kindness Campaign and Rethinking Economics for Africa (REFA).

Sibusiso Msibi's leadership and academic excellence

Sibusiso Msibi, final year BA with Law student, who was announced Most Outstanding Student Leader in a University Residence House Committee, shares, “I have inspired a lot of young people to be in the leadership space. I find leadership activities pivotal to building and developing one’s leadership skills such as communication, interpersonal, decision making and more. I have hosted several events which I am planning to host in the future with the goal to pass some leadership skills that I have acquired in my tenure.”

Msibi has shown that it is possible to lead fellow students while maintaining an excellent academic performance. This is because despite holding various leadership positions and participating in co-curricular activities, this student has maintained an impressive academic record and continues to inspire academic excellence, like a true Witsie. Through the initiation of the Queer and Allies initiative and related events in their residence, this student leader has demonstrated a sense of agency and inclusivity. This exemplified efforts to building a sense of community and safe spaces for all, in the University residences.