The prestigious awards, which are a flagship event on the Alumni Association calendar, celebrate the local and international success stories of graduates who have not just climbed the ladder in their respective fields, but have become inspiring leaders and change agents across various parts of the world.
Jendamark Automation founder and managing director Quinton Uren, Seabourn luxury cruise liner vice-president Robin West were each recognised with an Achiever Award; while Mandela Rhodes Foundation chief executive Judy Sikuza, lawyer Mzukisi Kota, Geologist Dr Nthakane Ntholi, and self-taught software app developer Litha Soyizwapi were awarded in the Rising Star category.
In an emotional acceptance speech, Kota recalled a recent encounter with one of his old lecturers, Prof Patrick Vrancken, who asked him about what he believed had set him up for success while at University.
“I come from a very humble Eastern Cape background, as a (former) Ciskeian, and I attribute my success first and foremost too God’s grace. I didn’t attend good schools, nor did I have the benefit of good family connections,” he said.
“I was very fortunate to be in a small [faculty], where I was encouraged to find my voice. I got opportunities where I went on my first overseas trip as part of University choir and I had access to my lecturers that my peers at other universities did not have. I was therefore nurtured in my time here and am thankful.”
Kota is a Partner at Johannesburg-based Webber Wentzel, one of the top law firms in the country, and the most recent recipient of the coveted African Law Firm of the Year at the 2019 African Legal Awards.
Involved in legislating towards a more sustainable environment, Kota specialises in energy and infrastructure projects, matters of public law, and the regulation of particular industries or sectors. In the energy sector, he advised the South African Department of Energy in the development and implementation of its highly-acclaimed Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme and drafted amendments to legislation and government policy documents in the energy space.
Dr Ntholi reminisced about how, leaving home to attend university, her mother gifted her with a gold necklace and a message about commitment.
“She said commitment is all about what you set yourself out to do and that if you are committed, your actions should speak than the words you claim to be committed to. These words stuck with me forever… [and] I’ve lived by them,” she said.
She is passionate about applied geology and its contribution towards sustainable management of natural resources. She is also zealous about demystifying science, especially and making it more accessible to students and communities.
Dr Ntholi obtained her PhD in Geology and Earth Stewardship Science in 2017, with her research focusing on using leading-edge technology to treat acid mine water in the deep gold mines of South Africa, managing and reversing its damaging environmental impact.
Sikuza, who was recently appointed to the helm of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation (MRF), is also an alumna of the Foundation, where she secured a scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies in 2007.
Delivering her acceptance speech via a video message, Sikuza said the award was a humbling recognition of how far she come in her career.
“It is also a reminder of how the university really helped shape my view of society. It was at university were I met people from all walks of life… and understanding some of the broader societal challenges,” she said.
The MRF provides postgraduate scholarships and leadership training opportunities to Africans who show leadership potential, in line with its overarching mission to build exceptional leadership in Africa.
Sikuza joined MRF in 2014 and has held several managerial and director positions as head of the Foundation’s flagship Scholarships and Leadership Development Programme. She was one of the instrumental players in the successful execution of the 2013 to 2018 strategy to double the number of Mandela Rhodes Scholars in Residence and has also led key strategic projects for the Foundation, such as its 15-year impact study and the 100 Scholars for Madiba’s 100th celebrations.
Soyizwapi expressed gratitude to the Butterworth public library, which he cited as the reason he gained access to the university.
“I never studied art in high school. I applied to this institution based on a book I received from the Butterworth public library, so I’m here today because of [that library]. I’m quite overwhelmed,” he said.
Soyizwapi is the founder and Creative Director of Glyfik4 Branding and Design and Lightos Digital, serving a range of top clients including Jabu Stone Natural Hair Care, Nedbank, and South African Tourism.
He is also the designer and developer of GauRider, a mobile app that helps people track bus and train times for the rail network service Gautrain. The app reached number one in the travel category of the iPhone, in the South African AppStore.
Alumni Relations director, Paul Geswindt, says the awards were introduced by the Alumni Association ten years ago to acknowledge the achievements of graduates nationally and internationally.
“These achievements have not only been in their various disciplines but often also in other disciplines and areas of life that positively impacts on society,” he says.
“So you can have a Health Sciences graduate doing some exciting things in the tourism industry or a graphic designer who develops award winning apps.”
Since inception in 2009, 32 Rising Star, 38 Achiever and 15 Special awards have been conferred on graduates of Mandela University. These include the three founding institutions – University of Port Elizabeth, Vista University and Port Elizabeth Technikon – that merged into one institution years ago.
Previous recipients include leaders of global, national and local organisations, as well as individuals who have excelled in their various academic disciplines to bring the arts and sciences to life.
“We appreciate the sustained interest of our alumni in the achievements of our university. We trust that this interconnectivity extends the value of their qualifications beyond specific fields and projects positively on the graduate attributes associated with this great university,” said Vice-Chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa, addressing guests.
“We strongly believe that our alumni should play an important part in the realisation of the university’s vision, mission and development trajectory well into the future.”
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