UCT students dominate Rhodes Scholarship 2024 awards

20 November 2023 | Story Nicole Forrest. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 6 min.
Of the 10 Rhodes Scholars-Elect for 2024 from Southern Africa, six are either current or former UCT students.
Of the 10 Rhodes Scholars-Elect for 2024 from Southern Africa, six are either current or former UCT students.

Six of the 10 Southern African Rhodes Scholars-Elect for 2024 are University of Cape Town (UCT) students or alumni. As recipients of this prestigious scholarship, these talented young people will pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford – the world’s top-ranked university.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established in terms of the last will and testament of Cecil John Rhodes in 1902. Despite the controversy surrounding its founder, the grant remains one of the most coveted scholarship programmes globally. 

Since its founding, the scholarship has been instrumental in identifying young leaders from across the world who are able to “forge bonds of mutual understanding and fellowship for the betterment of mankind”.

Recipients of the award regularly go on to make significant contributions in their fields, through their outstanding intellectual achievements, passion for leadership, and focus on serving the public.

 

“[Rhodes Scholars] forge bonds of mutual understanding and fellowship for the betterment of mankind.”

Rhodes Scholarship alumni include astronomer Edwin Hubble of the Hubble telescope fame; founder of the Fulbright Scholarship James William Fulbright; and co-founder of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, Ntokozo Qwabe.

Outstanding scholars

The Rhodes Trust awards 104 scholarships annually to undergraduates around the globe. Of that number, 10 are allocated to students in Southern Africa, including those from South Africa, Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi and Namibia.

Scholars are chosen for their “outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service”, with the selection committee taking account of the following when assessing applications:

  • academic excellence: literary and scholastic achievements
  • mastery of talents: using abilities in areas such as sport, music, debate, dance, theatre and artistic pursuits to the full
  • philanthropic inclinations: a devotion to truth and duty, courage, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship
  • leadership: instinct and inclination to lead along with moral force of character and interest in fellow beings.

The scholarship covers all course fees, and includes an annual stipend for two to three years. The monthly stipend for the 2023/24 academic year, to cover students’ living expenses, is £1 591 (about R36 400).

A select group

The six UCT Rhodes Scholars-Elect for 2024, whose fields of study range from neuroscience to astrophysics and law, are:

Justine Crook-Mansour

A current UCT student, Crook-Mansour is completing her honours in astrophysics. She has a strong interest in space and wants to work at the intersection of computer science and astrophysics.

Crook-Mansour has a strong academic record, being named South Africa’s top matriculant in her final school year, and going on to occupy the top spot in various courses at university. She has taken part in the Vatican Observatory Summer School in Italy, worked at the South African Astronomical Observatory, and is an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Candidate Fellow.

Daniel Erasmus

As a student of law, Erasmus is particularly interested in the philosophical and political challenges facing the field in modern South Africa and globally. They are motivated by a desire to create a more caring world.

During their studies at UCT, Erasmus served as secretary general of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and participated in both national and international moot competitions. They won the Kate O’Reagan Inter-varsity Moot Competition in 2022.

Sagel Kundieko

Kundieko is currently pursuing an MSc in Neuroscience, with support from the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. Her research uses single-nucleus RNA sequencing and electrophysiology to study the link between inflammation and epilepsy.

In addition to her commitment to academic excellence, Kundieko is dedicated to growing neuroscience in Africa. The young scientist has demonstrated this with her involvement in the Southern African Neuroscience Society, Society of Neuroscientists of Africa, and the ALBA Network. She also tutors and mentors science students.

Mothibi Mathivha

Currently completing a BSc Honours in Physics at UCT, Mathivha is interested in bundling dynamical physics simulations in low-resource environments. An Allan Gray Orbis Foundation scholar, and now fellow, Mathivha intends on pursuing a Master of Science in either mathematical and theoretical physics or mathematical science at Oxford.

His research interests lie in the applications of topology to aspects of condensed matter physics.

Dr Leago Sebesho

A junior doctor and aspiring clinician-scientist, Dr Sebesho earned her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 2021. Her academic excellence, dedication to community upliftment and substantial contributions to student affairs while at UCT earned her the Bongani Mayosi Academic Prize as well as the Foreman Prize.

Sebesho is deeply committed not only to academic excellence, but also youth development and empowerment. She aspires to influence health policy, with a particular focus on issues affecting vulnerable communities.

Dr Savannah Verhage

Master of Public Health student, Dr Verhage is a junior doctor with a keen interest in global health. This discipline allows her to combine her passion for clinical medicine with her interest in creating a more just and equitable healthcare system.

Verhage’s commitment to outreach has seen her establish several initiatives aimed at improving access to healthcare in her community. She has held numerous leadership positions in the healthcare field, including president of the UCT and Southern African Student Surgical Societies in 2020, and director of Mentorship and Professional Outreach for the International Association of Student Surgical Societies in 2023.


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