Alumni are the heart and soul of a university, a legacy that lives on for generations, bringing pride to the alma mater. Each year, the University of the Free State (UFS) through the Chancellor’s Distinguished Alumni Awards, celebrates its outstanding alumni, who have stood out among their peers, making waves in their careers, at home and abroad.
The star-studded event was held on 25 August 2017 on the Bloemfontein Campus, where eight outstanding alumni were presented with awards in various categories. The UFS Chancellor, Dr Khotso Mokhele, said the university plays a pivotal role in ensuring that students enjoy a life-long relationship with their alma mater. He encouraged the UFS management to create opportunities to engage students during their years of study, in order to create this mutually-beneficial relationship into the future.
The Chancellor’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award, the highest honour accorded to an alumnus, recognises the distinguished national or international achievements of its recipient. The award was presented to Vian Chinner, chief executive officer at Xineoh, a performance marketing company he founded in 2014. The company, based in Bloemfontein, with offices in Cape Town, Oregon in the US, and Vancouver in Canada, specialises in applying mathematical modelling and machine learning to optimise conversion in industries including real estate, mortgage banking and e-commerce.
The Young Alumnus of the Year Award acknowledges the achievements of alumni who graduated within the past decade and was presented to Leah Molatseli, founder and managing director of Lenoma Legal, who graduated with an LLB at UFS in 2010. The attorney-turned-businesswoman began her journey in private practice in 2012 at the age of 24 where she quickly worked her way up the ranks to become an associate. After completing the Entrepreneurship Development Programme offered by the UFS, and with the MTN Foundation, the entrepreneur bug bit and she established Lenoma Legal in 2016.
The Cum Laude Award is bestowed upon an alumnus in recognition of excellence in any field, whether vocational or voluntary. The awards in this category were presented to three alumni:
David Abbey, Acquisition and Leveraged Finance Deal Maker at Rand Merchant Bank. David graduated with a BCom Accounting (RU) 2007 and a BCom Hons Accounting (UFS) in 2008. He started his career at PriceWaterHouseCoopers and moved to Rand Merchant Bank where he helped establish the Finance Target Operating Model.
Johan Eksteen, Agricon Pelleting, Johan graduated with an MSc in Sustainable Agriculture in 1998, and received an MBA in 2005, both at the UFS. At just 11 years old, Johan had ambitions of being a stud breeder. Six cows and one bull later, he became the youngest stud farmer to be registered in the SA Stud Book. He is the founder of Agricon, a Bloemfontein-based company that designs and manufactures cost-effective, innovative and eco-friendly pellets for the agricultural and industrial sectors.
Zola Valashiya, Co-founder and director: Debate Afrika and Schools Projects and Campaigns Manager at Corruption Watch. He graduated with an LLB (UFS) in 2014, and Masters of Public Administration (Central European University, Hungary) in 2016. Zola is a legal mind, an avid writer, and a human rights advocate pioneering in debating excellence.
The Executive Management Award is a service award that is presented to an individual who has delivered exceptional service to the UFS and is not limited to alumni of the institution, current students and the community at large. The award was presented to Sarina Cronje, Head of Athletics at Kovsie Sport. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science (UFS) in 1977 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education (UFS) in 1983. As a former Springbok athlete, Sarina went on to forge a lucrative career setting South African records in the 800 m, 100 m, 1500 m, mile and 3000 m in addition to running the fastest 10 km on the road in 1980.
The Kovsie Ambassador Award is bestowed upon a current student whose achievements have brought him/her distinction, benefited his/her community, and brought credit to the UFS.
Crystal-Donna Roberts graduated with a BA Drama and Theatre Arts (UFS) in 2005. She is an active television, theatre and film actress who has appeared in a multitude of theatre productions in addition to starring in Afrikaans soap opera “7de Laan, Getroud Met Rugby, Montana” and “Vallei van Sluiers” in which she won public favour.
Franco Smith, Director: Free State Rugby and Assistant Coach: Springboks. He graduated with a BA Human Movement Sciences (UFS) in 1996 and began his career in rugby in 1999 when he was selected for the Free State Under-18 Craven Week team. He became a regular on the Free State Under-20 and the UFS Shimlas teams prior to his Free State Cheetahs debut in 1992.He was later appointed as technical adviser for the Free State Cheetahs before becoming their backline coach.
The Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, congratulated all the award recipients: “I applaud all alumni. You have made the city of Bloemfontein and the whole province proud.”
The National Executive Alumni Chairperson, Dr Pieter du Toit, congratulated the award recipients and thanked the leadership of the university as well as the event organisers.