When Tefelo Mathibane received the news that he had been awarded the Santilal Parbhoo Prize for best study project in molecular medicine, he felt like he was dreaming. As surreal as it may be, this is an accustomed reaction for someone who may easily be considered to be living his dream.
It was always Mathibane's ambition to pursue a career in medicine and today he is in his third year of study at UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences.
His success is attributed to a sense of passion for wanting to help people and he is driven by a need to make a difference in combatting diseases, such as tuberculosis, in Africa. This was the focus of his laboratory-based project – monitoring the distribution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) on the human lung system. His curiosity for asking questions and approaching problems from many different perspectives kept him up for many a late night on his experiments and write-up, which ultimately earned him top honours.
Mathibane is one of the students who was part of the first cohort of 100-Up learners to begin their studies at UCT in 2014. The 100-Up programme is a high school intervention hosted by UCT's Schools Improvement Initiative (SII). Each year 100 talented learners in Grade 10 are selected from schools in Khayelitsha and then coached over three years to prepare them for university.
This journey continues with students qualifying for admission to UCT through 100-UP Plus, which is hosted by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). It supports students with the critical transition to university life and with discerning their individual career paths. Mathibane attributes much of his academic achievement to the 100-Up revision programmes, which gave him a more competitive edge on his mathematics and science results in Grade 12 – an edge that he now maintains at the top of his class.
Donor funding is largely responsible for the upward trajectory of 100-Up, which is now expanding to include schools in Mitchells Plain. The programme has received considerable support from individual donors, both locally and internationally, particularly in the UK through the UCT Trust in London. The largest corporate donors were HSBC Africa, Nedbank Eyethu Community Trust and AfriSam. Another local corporate, The Foschini Group, has given support to the 100-Up Plus programme with a multi-year pledge.
Mathibane is also a bursary recipient of the Moshal Scholarship Programme, which funds talented students to help them realise their higher education dreams and grow them towards successful careers.
Besides Mathibane himself, no one is more excited about his achievements than his father, who he visits in the Eastern Cape during the university vacations.
“He always tells me how proud he is, and the fact that I am the first child of his to make it to varsity excites him even more. Whenever I speak with him about my studies, he reminds me that I should continue to work hard and he prays to the Lord that he doesn't die before I graduate. He wants to see me succeeding.”
Mathibane likewise looks forward to completing his degree over the next three years and then nurturing his interest to specialise in cardiothoracic surgery.
“I want to make a difference in people's lives and to give back to the community because I also received immense support.”