“I fervently support that education is the most powerful tool that young South Africans can use to ensure we adapt how we meet our needs in order to enable future generations to meet theirs.”
These were the wise words University of Cape Town (UCT) graduate-in-waiting Jabulani Nyathi wished to share with South Africa ahead of his graduation. Jabulani will receive his degree in chemical engineering with first-class honours.
Reflecting on the past four years since he joined UCT in 2016, he described his time at the institution as “turbulent yet fulfilling”. His academic programme started just as the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests gripped the university.
“It was challenging to have to deal with the turmoil on our campus and engage in important discourses while ensuring that my academics remained at the level I expected for myself,” he said.
His studies were important and achieving good grades and making his mother proud was his ultimate goal.
Jabulani’s mother won’t get to see him walk onto the stage in the Sarah Baartman Hall to receive his degree, however. UCT has suspended all campus events, including the autumn graduation, following the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jabulani maintains it’s the right decision.
“I am disappointed, but the decision is wise. As a campus community, we need to strive to protect the most vulnerable during this uncertain time.”
Obtaining an engineering degree
Jabulaniʼs degree of choice was informed by his love for science and the desire to find solutions to real world problems. In spite of finding his academic programme “demanding” on many levels, he committed to investing himself “wholeheartedly” in attaining his degree.
“This course has set me up to become the high-impact and responsible individual that I really want to be in the future.”
He put measures in place to ensure that his studies were at the top of his priority list so he could avoid getting sidetracked. His strategy included proper planning and accepting guidance from his mentors. His efforts were not in vain.
“Nothing could stop me from success.”
He described the UCT campus community as diverse and said the university and the relationships he has made contributed to his personal growth and helped him to understand the needs of others.
“[This] course has set me up to become the high-impact and responsible individual that I really want to be in the future.
“I’ve had many stand-out moments during my time at UCT. These include connecting with some of our country’s brightest and most passionate minds.”
Although it may sound as if he had everything under control, Jabulani admitted that it had not been an easy journey. During his undergraduate years, he explained, he suffered from a mental health condition, which in the beginning hampered his ability to commit fully to his academic programme.
The anxiety of being in a new environment far from home was real and was accompanied by his fears of settling into his course and scoring good grades. But his support structure on campus, as well as from his close-knit family back home in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, helped him to weather the storm.
“I have been blessed to have people in my life who truly believed in me and who supported me completely. This motivated me to be unafraid to seek help.”
He encouraged students experiencing mental health challenges to make use of the resources available on campus.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out and get help; it can only be beneficial for your progress. Ensure you have a good support structure that contains people who will always have your best interests at heart,” he said.
Believe in yourself
When it seems the load is too heavy and when self-doubt kicks in, press on, Jabulani advised – eventually it will all be worth it.
“I often fall into self-doubt. However, it is important to strive to believe in yourself and the contribution you would like to make in the world.”
For the duration of his academic journey it was this approach that kept him going, and now he hopes other students in need will take heed of his words.
“I often fall into self-doubt. However, it is important to strive to believe in yourself and the contribution you would like to make in the world,” he said.
“Believing in yourself also means others will recognise the great potential you have.”
Jabulani said his approach of “pressing on” through adversity had kept him grounded and focused on his end goal: to get to graduation day. When he heard earlier this year that he had been awarded the Cecil Renaud Overseas Scholarship, he knew his sacrifices were worth it.
The scholarship will allow him to continue his postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom where he will pursue an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development as of October this year.
“I am delighted to continue my academic journey at this prestigious university,” he said.
“My experiences have given me the opportunity to realise that I can actively contribute to shaping the future, irrespective of my circumstances.”
His postgraduate studies, he added, will help him develop his engineering skill set to help create “meaningful and lasting” change on a national and global front.
“This scholarship will play a crucial role in supporting the growth of my talents that will someday be used to serve society at large. I am grateful.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.