Phumeza Mgxashe strove for excellence; graduated posthumously

06 June 2022 | Story Stephen Langtry. Photo Supplied. Read time 4 min.
Phumeza Mgxashe graduated posthumously with an MPhil in Inclusive Innovation from the UCT GSB.
Phumeza Mgxashe graduated posthumously with an MPhil in Inclusive Innovation from the UCT GSB.

Phumeza Mgxashe passed away on 18 February 2021 due to complications relating to lupus. According to her brother, Vuyisa Mgxashe, Phumeza had suffered from lupus for 16 years. Despite her illness, she persevered and strove for excellence throughout her academic education and career. She completed and submitted her master’s dissertation while in a hospital bed.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – commonly known as lupus – is an autoimmune disease for which there currently is no cure. The body’s immune system becomes “hyperactive” and attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body, resulting in inflammation. Lupus can affect the lungs, skin, kidneys, joints, blood cells, heart and brain.

Phumeza was born and grew up in Zwide, Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). She attended Khwezi Lomso High School in Zwide before furthering her studies in public relations at PE Technikon (now part of Nelson Mandela University). She was employed by TSIBA Ignition Academy while she was enrolled for an MPhil at the UCT GSB.

A special person

Vuyisa described his sister as “a special person; not someone that you easily forget. She was not the type of person that would give up.” She had been hospitalised previously and the family expected that she would again recover and be discharged as in the past. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

“But being and remaining in Cape Town made sense,” Vuyisa said, “because she had a great relationship with her doctor who was treating her at Groote Schuur Hospital. He was incredible.” While she was in hospital from September 2020 to January 2021, she worked on her dissertation. Due to the severity of her illness, she could only work for up to four hours a day.

Phumeza was readmitted to hospital in February 2021 before she passed away. As a result of lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she could not receive any visitors. She maintained communication with friends and family via text messages because at some point she was no longer able to speak.

Thesis topic

The topic of Phumeza’s dissertation was “Exploring the potential of intermediaries to support the implementation of the programme’s socio-economic development obligations in low-income communities”. She was supervised by Dr Badri Zolfaghari at the UCT GSB and Dr Holle Wlokas, who, at the time, was based at Stellenbosch University. Dr Zolfaghari described Phumeza as “dedicated to her cause, which was to provide low-income communities with alternative sources of energy”.

Her thesis research explored the intricacies of how entrenched power dynamics and inequalities in society influence the implementation of community benefits through the utility-scale renewable energy procurement programme in South Africa. “This is a topic of acute relevance to the country’s challenge to seek out ways for a just energy transition,” said Dr Wlokas.

Part of her legacy

Her family appreciated the effort that UCT made to deliver Phumeza’s degree certificate to her sister’s home in Gqeberha. Her brother said that it was important to have received her certificate since “this was part of her legacy. Phumeza loved people,” he said. “She was a feminist. She supported small growing businesses. She loved women-driven businesses and she availed her services when they needed it.”


“Phumeza did what our parents could not do.”

One of the memories that Vuyisa will treasure is coming from Pretoria to Cape Town to watch the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament with his sister. The next time that he does this it will be without her but he will do so in her memory.

Phumeza’s father passed away in 2010 and her mother passed away in 1994. Due to circumstances at the time, neither of her parents had opportunities to study further. “Phumeza did what our parents could not do,” her brother said, “and inspired others to better themselves. We miss her.”

She was the third of four siblings. She left behind her brother, Vuyisa; sisters, Bulelwa and Bongiwe; and five nieces. Her funeral took place on Saturday, 27 February 2021, in Gqeberha. A memorial service, which was organised by one of her friends in the United Kingdom, was held via Zoom on 25 February 2021.

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