Ludwe Qosho was just 16 years old when he participated in his first University of Cape Town (UCT) Mathematics Olympiad. The experience completely altered his perspective on life and opened his eyes to the exciting prospects offered by an unfamiliar world. Ludwe remembers being captivated by the beauty of the university: historic buildings and beautiful flora as far as the eye could see, against the backdrop of Table Mountain … It couldn’t get better than that.
But it did. Fast forward a few years and UCT was no longer just that revered university on the hill. Instead, it became his campus and the institution where dreams were realised. On 14 December Ludwe will graduate with his master’s in city and regional planning from UCT’s Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE).
“Victory tastes sweet, I can tell you that much,” he said. “The UCT Mathematics Olympiad led me here and I could not be more grateful. Let’s not underestimate these competitions. They have the power to shape young minds in ways that you will not believe.”
After the competition Ludwe yearned to return to UCT, and was over the moon when he was selected to participate in the Wannabe@Humanities project – an initiative by the Faculty of Humanities that prepares high school learners for their National Benchmark Test (NBT) and provides them with career guidance and mentorship as they prepare for life as a student.
It is hardly surprising that UCT was his university of choice for his undergraduate degree. And when he finally arrived for his first day as a student in 2015, he felt right at home. Ludwe registered for a Bachelor of Social Science in the Faculty of Humanities, keen to make the most of his opportunities.
“As students we can’t just excel in our academics; we need to think beyond that.”
He loved campus life. His studies were his number one priority, and as a result, his marks were right where he needed them to be. He also accepted several student leadership roles both on campus and at his residence, and was always available to assist at campus events such as O-Week at the start of the year.
“Being an all-round achiever has always been important to me. As students we can’t just excel in our academics; we need to think beyond that. It was important for me to get involved in things on campus and at res,” he said.
As Ludwe approached his graduation, it was time to make some important decisions about his postgraduate studies. He took the “not-so-difficult decision” to move from Humanities to EBE to complete his honours in city planning.
“The built environment, which includes city planning, always fascinated me, especially because of our country’s history and all the spatial injustices. With town planning we can undo those spatial injustices of the past, and work towards creating a just city for all. I want to be part of that,” he said.
The move was challenging. Familiarising himself with a new faculty, new ways of working, a new environment and a demanding course load had many ups and downs. But Ludwe was determined to make it work. He passed his honours with flying colours and received a bursary from the Western Cape Government’s Department of Public Works to complete his master’s degree.
“This bursary was a dream come true for me. The faculty swap was not easy; there were many questionable moments for me during my honours year, but I knew that I needed to keep at it. I didn’t have a choice,” Ludwe said.
Master’s in the making
The road to his master’s was bumpy and he faced many obstacles – the first being the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 2020 necessitated a nationwide shutdown. All students were forced to return home to comply with stringent lockdown Level 5 regulations.
“I wasn’t happy. Studying from home has never been ideal because the environment is just not conducive for learning. That’s why I’ve always been in res,” he said.
To make a bad situation worse, both his parents contracted SARS-CoV-2 and his father spent months in hospital. This placed added pressure on Ludwe, who was forced to step into a new role as the interim head of the household. As he focused on his duties at home, his mental health took a massive knock and his studies fell by the wayside.
“This pandemic tested our resilience and how we view everything. It forever changed everything.”
Caring for his parents, juggling family responsibilities and his studies during the height of the pandemic were not the only setbacks Ludwe experienced in 2020. On 11 October 2020 his cousin Mayibongwe was brutally murdered as he walked home from a local tavern in the Marikana informal settlement in Philippi in Cape Town.
“He was here today and gone tomorrow and that was hard to process.”
Ludwe said Mayibongwe had been like a brother to him and was his number one supporter, especially when he started his master’s programme. He assisted Ludwe with his research by rounding up respondents in Marikana who Ludwe interviewed for input for his dissertation.
“His death affected me badly because we were very close. He was here today and gone tomorrow and that was hard to process,” Ludwe said. “He also played a very important part in my research because he helped me navigate Marikana – the community I chose to focus on for my research case study.”
About a month after Mayibongwe’s death, Ludwe’s childhood friend Xolisile also became a victim of crime and tragically lost his life in similar circumstances. With so much adversity in a short space of time, Ludwe struggled to cope. As he battled to process the loss of two people close to him, his mental health took another knock. To regroup he opted to take a mini break from his academic programme.
“It became too much to handle. I felt like a ticking time bomb that was going to explode at any time.”
After about three months he resumed his studies, and there was loads of coursework to catch up on. But with the support of the School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics and an extension on his dissertation, he was able to get back on track.
“I was so grateful for the break and dissertation extension. It gave me time to process things and reflect on what both of them would’ve wanted for me, which was to carry on and do well in my studies,” he said.
A noteworthy achievement
After what feels like forever, Ludwe said, he is elated to finally receive his master’s degree. He praised his supervisor, Associate Professor Tanja Winkler, for her guidance, supervision, open-door policy and for never being too busy to help.
Thanks to her efforts and his hard work, Ludwe is one of the top 15 students in his class. In recognition of his work, he received an invitation to join the Golden Key International Honour Society – the world’s largest international collegiate honour society for graduate and undergraduate students. The membership, he said, has been the highlight of his academic journey.
“There will always be challenges, but challenges are the seeds that sprout beautiful opportunities.”
“I’ve learned many life lessons during my time at UCT: know your strengths and weaknesses, have a road map and don’t be afraid to fail because you can always try again. There will always be challenges, but challenges are the seeds that sprout beautiful opportunities,” he said.
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