Africa’s top philanthropist honoured at Unisa

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Benjamin Francois van Niekerk pictured with Prof Mandla Makhanya (Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa) after being honoured with the Degree of Doctor of Business Leadership (honoris causa) on 17 May 2016.

“Our country is sliding steadily backwards on virtually all international ratings of effective governance. The future of your own, and every other generation, will mostly be determined by strong and visionary leadership,” said Benjamin Francois van Niekerk, accomplished businessman, former member of Unisa’s Council, and Africa’s top philanthropist. He was addressing Unisa graduates last night after the university conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Business Leadership (honoris causa).

Van Niekerk told students that the way they lead selflessly and lead their small team or division of their company will contribute to South Africa’s leadership culture and a common good.

The example of leadership he shared was that of King Moshoeshoe who established the Basotho nation and was influenced by his tutor, Chief Mohlomi. “Some 200 years ago, King Moshoeshoe practised contra-intuitive leadership. This is about the wisdom and moral fibre to go against the popular expectation in promoting the ultimate good of those you lead. It’s having the courage to go against the tide for the common good of all. It’s understanding that always putting the interest of the collective before your own advantage will always be best for you in the end as well. It is very similar to the leadership example of former President Nelson Mandela,” he explained.

South Africa’s future determined by graduates

Van Niekerk firmly believes that South Africa’s history was shaped by the pronounced diversity of our people, and by the legacy of individual leaders. He also believes that the country’s future will be determined by the leadership choices made by the generation graduating. “Together we must recognise and confront the issues that are relevant in dealing with our own future, and our obligation towards generations to come. The real potential of our land can only be realised through principled leadership.”

With a humbled heart, Van Niekerk said that he is extremely grateful to Unisa for bestowing the honorary degree of Doctor of Business Leadership on him. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the renowned theologian and activist against Nazi injustice, said: ‘In life, we hardly realise that we receive more than we give and it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.’  I have gratitude. Thank you to Prof Makhanya and the Unisa Council for this tribute from my alma mater—albeit that I am today receiving more than I ever gave or deserve. You’ve honoured me with quite a grand affair and a lifetime memory,” he said.

Van Niekerk is an alumnus of the University of Stellenbosch, where he obtained his BA in Economics. He obtained his Master’s in Business Leadership from Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL), from which he also received the Barker Gold Medal. He also served his alma mater, Unisa, in his capacity as a member of the Unisa Council for a number of years.

Entrepreneur with an expansive vision

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Benjamin Francois van Niekerk (accomplished businessman, former member of Unisa’s Council and Africa’s top philanthropist) addressed Unisa graduates last night about the importance of selfless leadership.

He is an accomplished businessman and entrepreneur with an expansive vision. This is demonstrated by the diverse businesses he has founded and their global footprint, which extends to other African countries and the European Union. Some of the companies are listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the Luxembourg Euro Multilateral Trading Facility.

One of the noteworthy companies co-founded by van Niekerk is the Atterbury Property Group, which has established itself as the leading property developer in South Africa. He served as Chairman of Atterbury Investment Holdings from its inception in 1994 to 2012.

He is not only a successful businessman but he is also a person who gives back generously to society. His vision of philanthropy has been recognised as being ahead of that of his peers. He is acknowledged for his prolonged contribution to the benefit of the entire South African and continental society. His giving is underpinned by his beliefs in the equitable distribution of wealth among all stakeholder groups contributing to the success of businesses, i.e. entrepreneurs, investors, employees, customers, and society. In this spirit, Van Niekerk gave a meaningful shareholding of the Mertech Group to employees, registered an independent community trust, and established the Mergon Foundation.

In recognition of his philanthropic work, Van Niekerk received the South Africa Inyathelo Philanthropy Award in 2010, the Philanthropist of the Year Award for 2013 from the UK-based African Achievers International Organisation, and has been recognised in many press reports such as Forbes magazine, which recently listed him as Africa’s top philanthropist for having contributed $170 million, an amount well above that of his peers.

To read the full commendatio, click here.

*By Kirosha Naicker


Overview of Public Universities in South Africa

Here's an overview of some public universities in South Africa, including general admissions requirements and estimated application periods. Keep in mind, specific program requirements and dates can vary significantly, so it's important to check each university's official website for the most current information.

University of Pretoria

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with minimum scores in specific subjects related to the chosen program; for international students, equivalent qualifications.
  • Application Period: Usually opens in March and closes at the end of July for most programs.

University of Cape Town

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with pass levels required for degree study; subject-specific requirements depending on the program.
  • Application Period: Application opens in April and closes at the end of July.

Stellenbosch University

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with required marks; some programs have additional testing.
  • Application Period: Opens in March and typically closes at the end of June.

University of the Witwatersrand

  • Admissions Requirements: Matriculation certificate with university exemption; required scores vary by faculty.
  • Application Period: Begins in March and ends on the 30th of September.

University of Johannesburg

  • Admissions Requirements: Matric exemption with a minimum APS score; specific subject requirements based on the faculty.
  • Application Period: Opens in April and generally closes by the 30th of September.

University of the Free State

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with specific marks for the program applied to; additional requirements for certain courses.
  • Application Period: Typically opens in April and closes at the end of August.

University of Venda

  • Admissions Requirements: Completion of the National Senior Certificate with an endorsement for diploma or degree studies; specific APS scores needed.
  • Application Period: Usually from May to September.

University of Fort Hare

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with university exemption; certain programs may have specific requirements.
  • Application Period: Opens around May and closes at the end of September.

University of the Western Cape

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with specific performance levels; additional requirements for certain programs.
  • Application Period: Generally from May to September.

North-West University

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with university exemption; program-specific requirements may apply.
  • Application Period: Opens in March and usually closes by the end of August.

Rhodes University

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate or equivalent; minimum academic performance in certain subjects.
  • Application Period: Applications open in April and close at the end of September.

Nelson Mandela University

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with required scores for chosen programs; portfolio or additional tests for some faculties.
  • Application Period: Opens in April, with a deadline at the end of August for most programs.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with specific scores; additional requirements for certain courses.
  • Application Period: Opens in May and typically closes by the end of September.

University of Limpopo

  • Admissions Requirements: Senior Certificate with endorsement for diploma or degree courses; specific APS scores for different programs.
  • Application Period: From April to September.

University of Zululand

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with an endorsement for bachelor’s degree studies; specific score requirements for various programs.
  • Application Period: Usually between April and November.

Central University of Technology

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with specific scores for the chosen field of study; additional criteria for certain programs.
  • Application Period: Application period generally starts in May and ends in October.

Vaal University of Technology

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with a pass that qualifies for admission to bachelor’s degree, diploma, or higher certificate programs.
  • Application Period: Typically from May to September.

Walter Sisulu University

  • Admissions Requirements: National Senior Certificate with required scores for chosen programs; additional criteria for certain faculties.
  • Application Period: From April to September.

This list provides a starting point for understanding the admissions landscape across South Africa's diverse higher education institutions. Given the variability in programs and requirements, it's crucial to consult each university's website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.