Student leaders blaze a trail

27 February 2006

For Thabo Mofokeng, third-year BSc student and deputy chair of the UCT Black Management Forum, it was life transforming.

"Although I saw lots of poverty in Dar-es-Salaam, the richness of the people and the love in their hearts was so much. They went out of their way to make us feel at home," he said, clearly humbled by the experience. "It has elevated my leadership role and I am more determined to see change in South Africa and on a socio-political level in Africa."

Mofokeng was one of nine undergraduate student leaders who headed off to Tanzania on a week-long exchange initiative in January, organised by the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO).

Established in partnership with the University of Dar-es-Salaam (UDSM), the UCT/UDSM student leadership programme gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different culture, while coming together with fellow African student leaders for an intensive week of mutual learning.

The pilot programme is the first undergraduate leadership exchange with an African university. It is also the first short-term outbound programme on the continent by an all-South African group.

IAPO director Dr Loveness Kaunda said that although this initiative is a departure from the traditional, semester-length academic exchanges, it is an exciting one because student leaders are our future leaders, and they need to be exposed to what is happening outside South Africa. The visit has also increased fourth-year civil engineering student and Black Management Forum member Mabohlale Mampuru's passion for progress.

"What made this experience so unbelievable was that we were able to sit as African leaders and discuss African solutions to African problems," she enthuses. "It's up to us as young leaders to start investing in the continent's well-being, from the bottom up."

Pravashen Naidoo, a BSc student who also served as 2005 Student Representative Council vice-president (internal) and on the UCT Senate, agreed that the programme is a huge step for UCT in achieving its mission of becoming Africa's leading international university.

Critical to the success of the programme is reciprocity, and UCT plans to host a visit by UDSM student leaders later this year.

IAPO hopes to build on this by establishing similar programmes that will allow students to broaden their horizons and savour life beyond our borders.

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