After receiving thousands of entries from across the country and putting the entrants through a rigorous two-phase (4 stages) judging process, South Africa’s Top 10 university students have been unearthed from across the country, chosen from the Top 100 identified by the GradStar programme, now in its fourth year. 

The GradStar programme is made possible by headline sponsor Absa and employer sponsors Accenture, DHL, Epiroc and Fasken, and is set up by BlackBark Productions (creators of the Rising Star Awards). It is a uniquely developed programme that focuses on quality connections, and compliments existing employer programmes. It is designed to provide previously unrecognised students with opportunities for employment and allow them to contribute positively to South Africa’s future growth. 

These university students show the best potential as the country’s future leaders, and their assessment throughout the process is conducted by key assessment providers 3C Leadership, employers and universities. 

The final stage of judging, deciding on the “10 of the Finest”, took place on 19 September 2019. The Top 100 were guided through employer workshops such as:


Workshop Title: A Towering Problem

Workshop overview: Do you have what it takes to StepUp? – (Candidates were given an opportunity to showcase their leadership and innovation skills through teamwork and thinking out of the box).


Workshop Title: When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy.

Workshop overview: Creating your personal brand statement. Understanding your personal brand and your “legacy”. – (How would you introduce yourself and skill set in 30 seconds to a prospective new boss. Interactive session with use of board game design and Roadmap).


Workshop Title: The Big Yellow Machine.

Workshop overview: Transporting a sensitive / human organ (Specimen Shipment)
Transportation within the Continent – Time sensitive and fragile shipment.
(DHL to co-ordinate start to end of the transportation cycle and thinking out of the box with creative solutions).


Workshop Title: Identifying Top Talent – A game simulation

Workshop overview: Candidates got a chance to experience Absa’s Celebrity Top Talent game. They were exposed to what Absa believes are critical capabilities needed for Absa to build and sustain even higher levels of performance and employee engagement today and in the future. They also learnt about the power of inherent biases in all conversations concerning people and how to try and mitigate against them in an organization.

  • amongst others, and after hours of interaction with the employers, a consensus was reached:

TEN OF THE FINEST (in alphabetical order by university)

Yeshveer ManawarBachelor of Engineering Technology (Chemical Engineering)Durban University of Technology
Ntsako MogatosiMaster of Arts (Research Psychology)Nelson Mandela University
Lesego SoleBachelor of Commerce (Law)North-West University
Chevon MiaBachelor of Arts Hons (Human Kinetics and Ergonomics)Rhodes University
Travis DeftyBachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics)Stellenbosch University
Kaila FourieBachelor of Business Science (Actuarial Science)University of Cape Town
Ruey Shiuan ChangBachelor of Finance Hons (Financial Management)University of Johannesburg
Hee-Rak LeeBachelor of Laws University of Pretoria
Lelethu NogwavuBachelor of LawsUniversity of the Western Cape
Phenyo MabokelaBachelor of Commerce (Management Accounting and Finance)University of the Witwatersrand

All Top 100 Students were recognised at a Gala Dinner at Indaba Hotel, featuring Dr Thokozile – Lewanika Mpupuni, Absa’s Group Head of Leadership, Learning and Talent, and Akhram Mohamed, Chief Technology Officer – South Africa Device Business, Huawei. Although the GradStar programme’s patron, Dr David Molapo, could not join us, he sent a video message congratulating and inspiring the Top 100 students. “This is a worthy programme,” he says. “It is designed to uplift the student youth and provide an aspirational platform to assist them in achieving their potential.”

Tension was high before the “10 of the Finest” were announced at the end of the evening and presented with their trophies by the employers who had assessed them earlier that day. 

Dr Mpupuni offered the following words of wisdom for the students: “It is now time to bring even more of your talents and possibilities to life. It is time to be even more Brave, more Passionate and more Ready! Being Brave requires you to set even bigger goals for yourself, and the people you will work with. Being Passionate is having purpose and meaning as the fuel that drives you. Going that extra mile because you know it can be done, and has to be done, because it matters. Being Ready is your commitment to lifelong learning in order to continually make a difference through your talents and abundant possibilities.”

The GradStar competition process is designed to emulate the process that top employers use to find their future talent, and uses behavioural testing and personal interviewing amongst other methods as measurement tools. It allows students to familiarise themselves with the formal graduate programme application process, and enables them to identify their own strengths and weaknesses along the way.

“I am particularly proud of the GradStar programme for the way it develops our very young talent in South Africa,” says Laura Barker, MD of BlackBark Productions. “The Top 100 will each be connected with a business mentor, who has been recognised through our Rising Star Programme, to further ready them for the workplace. This is a unique and valuable opportunity for each graduate to draw upon the expertise and knowledge of those who have gone before them, and start their careers on a solid foundation.”



Absa, Accenture, DHL, Epiroc, Fasken, Gautrain, Huawei, Mondelēz, Rand Refinery


  • Grit / Resilience 
  • Self-Awareness 
  • Curiosity 
  • Team Work & Collaboration 
  • Adaptability & Change Readiness 
  • Communication 
  • Trust & Integrity 
  • Emotional Intelligence 
  • Initiative & Problem Solving 
  • Time & Task Management Intellectual: Vision, Vigilance and Insight


Visit more information or contact:

Tamsyn Brown: Media Liaison (BlackBark Productions)

+27 21 788 2420 or

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