Old Boys & Girls Making Their Mark

We are going back in time in this edition, uncovering even more gems, old pupils to be specific, from our local Midlands schools. Join us as we follow how their path to success unfolded over the years since they matriculated and look at where they are now.

Mbaliyezwe Ndlela is from Howick High School. She matriculated in 2009. Her Visual Art teacher, Mrs Lindi Beard, recognised Mbali’s ‘distinctive style’ in her art lessons and the school’s Principal described her as “highly motivated and determined to achieve her goals.”

In 2010, Mbali went on to study Fashion Design at FEDISA (Fashion Excellence Design Institute of South Africa) in Cape Town and, due to financial difficulties, finished her studies at the Pietermaritzburg School of Fashion Design. During the two-year course, she won the Designer of the Year first place in her class and the Most Academic Student awards, respectively.

In December 2015, Mbali was hired as a part-time Design and Illustration teacher at Project Gateway School of Fashion in Pietermaritzburg. By 2016, she was working full-time as a Design and Illustration, Patternmaking, and Construction teacher and doing admin and teaching business to the students through Paradigm Shift.

Together with the school’s Principal, Brenda Waring, Mbali helped improve the curriculum, and by 2018 the course offered a second-year class. Project Gateway is an NPO that runs many projects, like the fashion school, that empower individuals from impoverished communities by teaching them various skills. Mbali left her teaching job in January 2021 to focus on her own business and mental health.

Since graduating as a Fashion Designer in 2014, Mbali has worked on her label, Mbaliyezwe Couture, which creates original, bespoke garments for both men and women. Mbali aspires to study further and continue to grow her fashion business, as well as her social media brand and use social media to her advantage; while taking a leaf out of her biggest inspiration, Coco Chanel’s book: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different”.


Stuart Marias graduated from Howick High School in 2006 and was described as: “a capable and enthusiastic sportsman who always gives 100%.”  The staff respected him for his courtesy and exemplary behaviour, and his positive motivation set a good example for the school’s juniors.

When he was 12 years old, he was introduced to the sport of mountain biking and never looked back. Growing from strength to strength, he eventually gave up his job as a Mechanical Engineer to pursue the sport as a profession at the start of 2016. This has allowed Stuart to grow as an athlete and achieve multiple wins at some of the country’s most prestigious events.

After two back-to-back, highly successful years in 2017 and 2018, which included being awarded the ROAG series champion in 2017, two second-place finishes at the Cross Country African Continental Championships in Mauritius and Egypt and a second-place finish in the African Jersey competition at the 2018 ABSA Cape Epic. Stuart was awarded KwaZulu-Natal’s Mountain Biker of the Year award for both 2017 and 2018.

2019 was no less successful, with Stuart managing to rack up eight wins throughout the season, paired with a second-overall finish at Sani2C, where he partnered with one of South Africa’s top riders, Matt Beers. At the end of 2019, Stuart was introduced to the DEV Group and consequently joined the WilleHonne fitness movement for the 2020 season.

During the pandemic, the DEV group decided to take things one step further by starting a professional cycling team. And so, Team DEV Nanotime was born, and Stuart was one of the key members. Although the last two years have been uncertain at best, Stuart has managed to overcome some big setbacks (COVID-19 being one of them) to be crowned the KwaZulu-Natal XCO Champion for 2021.

Epworth, which comprises a preparatory school for boys and girls and a high school for girls, is proud of so many of its former pupils, known as Epworthians. They are impacting the world in different ways and on different platforms. Avumile Mcunu and Jessica Ringshaw are two Epworthians whom the school is especially proud of.

Avumile was an Epworth Prep School pupil for nine years, starting in Grade RR and finishing in Grade 7 in 2015. Throughout his prep school career, Avumile was an exemplary pupil who participated actively in all areas of school life. He took full advantage of the school’s holistic offerings and excelled in academics and music. In Grade Six, Avumile received the South African Society of Music Teachers (SASMT) award for achieving the highest mark for his Grade 4 ABRSM practical piano music exam. At the end of Grade Seven, he was the joint recipient of the school’s Good Fellowship Award.

Avumile was awarded a music scholarship to attend Hilton College, where he continued to shine. As a senior pupil, he was chosen to participate in a school exchange programme at Eton College.

In the IEB National Senior Certificate Examinations, Avumile received eight distinctions and made the IEB Commendable Achievements list. In addition, he was awarded a headmaster’s leadership award, half colours for squash, honours for academics and music, and he received the Grade 12 music and band prize at Speech Day.

Avumile is currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, USA.

Principal of Epworth Preparatory School, Mr White, is full of praise for Avumile and his accomplishments: “We are so proud of you at Epworth Preparatory and blessed to have played a part in nurturing your talents in the beginning.”

Jessica Ringshaw joined Epworth High School as a Grade Eight pupil in 2007 and matriculated in 2011. Jessica was always a top academic achiever and received accolades for academics throughout her high school career. In her final year, she achieved Academic Honours, was named Dux, and received eight distinctions in her IEB examinations. She also served as a school prefect and Head of Chapel.

On the sporting front, Jessica excelled as a member of the first synchronised swimming team and competed on a provincial level in ballroom and Latin American dancing, placing first in many competitions.

Jessica completed her tertiary studies at the University of Cape Town and graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Neuropsychology in 2017.

This year, Jessica started her PhD and was awarded a Wellcome Trust International Training Fellowship, a life-changing opportunity for world-class training, career development, community engagement, and research. She will be working here in South Africa at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Neuroscience Institute and in the United Kingdom at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, Kings College London.

“Thank you to Epworth for providing me with such an excellent foundation for my continued education and career. My formative high school years instilled lifelong values within me and helped me gain a strong sense of direction and purpose which has been an important part of my journey, both personally and professionally,” said Jessica.

Martin Binedell started Grade One at Laddsworth Primary School in 2002, 20 years ago. Growing up in the Midlands, Martin had a near-drowning experience at Midmar Dam, resulting in his fear of water and attending swimming lessons. After overcoming his fear, Martin’s love for the water grew. His parents signed him up for squad training when he started gaining weight. Although he was never the strongest swimmer, he loved spending time with friends in and around the pool.

Since leaving Laddsworth, Martin has become one of South Africa’s top swimmers, making his first national team in 2015. Martin currently holds the African Games and African Championships 200m Backstroke record. He is a Commonwealth Games Finalist and Relay Bronze Medallist. Martin is also a National Lifesaver, holding several National records and Lifesaving World Championships Medals. Last year Martin saw his dream of becoming an Olympian become a reality, taking part in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Martin has travelled the world through sport but decided to move back to the Midlands, which he says is “the most beautiful place in the world”. He also returned to where it all started 20 years ago, joining Laddsworth as the Public Relations Officer and Marketing Position.


Gavin Mathews grew up on a farm near a small town called Sannieshof in the North West Province. After completing his primary school years in Sannieshof he arrived at Treverton in Grade Eight in 2002: excited, ready for adventure, and ignorant of how this community would influence his life.

His family chose Treverton as a high school for a number of reasons; the Christian ethos, the outdoor environment, and mostly because his grandparents lived on a small farm in Lowlands, Estcourt, which is 20 odd kilometres away. This decision proved to have a massive impact on his life as his future wife was his classmate, and they began dating in their Grade 11 year.

After matriculating in 2006, Gavin spent a year in the USA working on a mix farm, farming maise and beef. This was an invaluable international experience in farming. He returned to South Africa to study Environmental Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus.

Gavin’s farming career started when he helped his grandfather manage his family’s farm. While working on the farm, he also worked with Grain South Africa for four years. He facilitated subsistence farming workshops, mentorships, and training in the rural communities surrounding Giants Castle and Bergville.

Gavin’s brother is an auctioneer up in the North West Province, and he encouraged Gavin to get into auctioneering. In 2016 he entered an auctioneering competition at the Pietermaritzburg Royal Show and won. He then competed in the National Auctioneering Competition of South Africa, which he also won. He was then sent to Canada and represented South Africa as an auctioneer.

Returning home, he was contacted by a local livestock auctioneering house, AAM Livestock Agents and Auctioneers. He began working with them as well as continuing with farming on his family farm in Lowlands, Estcourt. He now spends his time travelling around the greater farming district, calling at livestock auctions. They hold an average of 20 monthly auctions across KwaZulu-Natal and assist farmers with direct marketing their livestock.

Gavin truly believes that his diverse Treverton experiences equipped him immensely to do what he does today. The well-rounded education he received was invaluable. It seems to be fate that this North West Province boy, who arrived in the Midlands in 2002, has never really successfully left the area. His wife is now the Grade Two teacher at Treverton Prep, and both their sons attend school there. They love being part of the Midlands community and couldn’t wish for a greater place to live and raise their sons.

Vanessa Berlein, otherwise known as Tess, matriculated from St Anne’s Diocesan College in 1985, after which she studied Fine Art at the Natal Technicon in Durban. After two years, she moved to Johannesburg and completed her prosthetics and special effects make-up diploma. She’s worked as an artist since the 1990s, and in 2010 she opened The Haas Collective in Cape Town with two other friends and set up the art buying department of Cecile and Boyd Design.

Vanessa lives and works in Cape Town. She is married and has a son, Steph, born in 2004. She is now represented by ManZart and AITY in South Africa and The Tanya Baxter Gallery in London.

She recalls her fondest memories of being a former St Anne’s pupil and remembering, “The sanctuary of the art room and the music cells, the eccentricity of the teachers. The science teacher who bathed once a week in apple shampoo and had conversations with the skeleton, the house matrons who drank like a fish. The English teacher who threw books at those who had difficulty reading, the French teacher who had escaped from the Belgium Congo in a dugout canoe. Our incredible headmaster, Mr Cheetham, who had been a prisoner of war in World War II. Our Afrikaans teacher, who took the time to introduce me to the wonderful works of many Afrikaans poets, and the Art teacher Mrs Nel, who was an institution in herself and who I remained in touch with after I left school – even though I had locked her in the storeroom once”.

Roland Jones, an Old boy from Cordwalles, was born on 14 July 1937. He was orphaned by the time he was three days old and fostered by a great aunt and uncle. He attended Cordwalles in 1947, as his father had left a little money for education.

Growing up, Roland lived at Baynesfield where he had adventures and experiences, notably learning about the uses of plants and what was edible. This eventually became Roland’s passion, and he loved exploring the Cordwalles bush on Sundays. He was previously employed by Wessa and started his conservation education program, teaching others about conservation as well.

He returned to Cordwalles in 2017 in the hopes of finding a 1947 photograph and met Charlotte Usher, Cordwalles Old boys’ liaison. His visit lasted almost five hours, and he was warmly welcomed by everyone at Cordwalles and felt disappointed that the forest had been turned into a gum plantation.

Roland now lives in Barberton and is involved in numerous projects, namely:

  • Establishing a nursery at Consort Mine to rehabilitate areas damaged by mining, conducting plant surveys for a proposed dam near Barberton.
  • Working on providing explanations about the earliest rock formations for the Cordwalles samples related to a Geotrail between Barberton and Eswatini.
  • He has been a Rotarian since 1997 and is also responsible for the route markers and marking of 280 kilometres of mountain bike routes for their Rotary mountain bike race since 1997.
  • Additionally, he is also an outdoor guide.

Roland is the most incredible inspiration to all who he interacts and engages with at Cordwalles. He has a passion for the outdoors with his unbelievable wealth of knowledge and his longing to enrich the lives of all he meets. He continually gives his time to the development of our outdoor area, from being an integral part of every Arbor Day to geology, conservation, and water studies lessons.

He has undertaken the massive task of labelling all of Cordwalles’ indigenous trees, and he so willingly gives of his time. He is a true Cordwalles gentleman, a precious Old boy, and a legend of note.