On the eve of graduating from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Namibian civil engineering graduand Shade Muluti said there were many times he had doubted he would make his final year. The COVID-19 pandemic cut him off from his home country and took a toll on his family and work. But his grandmother’s wise counsel and some hard graft saw him through his master’s degree. He shared his story with UCT News.
It’s true what they say, you never know how significant a moment is until it passes. Having completed my studies at the most renowned university in Africa, and with my graduation coming up, I have not only achieved a goal, but fulfilled a long-held dream.
Twenty years ago, I never knew my life would be like this. Emerging from high school I didn’t realistically think I would get this far, and a year and a half ago I didn’t believe I would complete my studies on time, let alone make it out sane.
As it did for many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard and swiftly. It affected us in ways we didn’t think were possible. While many people were worried about getting infected, I was worried about whether I would be seeing my family again, especially my grandmother. She was in Namibia, and with the borders closed, I felt helpless in my time of need.
Isolation and worry
Things got worse as the university shut down. Nobody was allowed on campus, and during that time I needed to do my laboratory experiments. On the home front, all I received was worrying news. My family and friends started getting infected. Each call and message from across the border sank me deeper into my state of worry and fear. It didn’t help that one of my housemates tested positive, effectively sentencing all four of us to self-isolation in our rooms.
“I finally understood the need for support for expats and foreign students.”
Academically I was disconnected from my studies as the university extended its lockdown, effectively ending my hopes of completing my studies within the stipulated time. And as a slap in the face, because of the nationwide lockdown the university couldn’t procure the materials I needed for the necessary lab work.
Across the border, my sponsorship was temporarily halted as Namibia went into a total shutdown. I had no communication with them. I had no communication with anyone. I was alone and isolated in a foreign country. It was in these weeks I finally understood the need for support for expats and foreign students. I had never felt so mentally and emotionally empty and defeated as I did during that time.
My grandmother’s words finally took on a new meaning during my time of solitude. She used to say, “You only lose the cattle when you stop looking for them.” I had no intention of losing my cattle, especially far from home. So, I did what I always do when faced with challenges: I buckled down and continued to work hard on my thesis write-up during lockdown. I worked harder than anyone I know, because while I worried about my family and friends, I knew they worried about me too.
Fortunately, the university offered postgraduate students a chance to return to campus, and I was able to continue with my lab work. I was fortunate to have Associate Professor Denis Kalumba as my supervisor, guide and mentor. He helped me make up lost time because of load shedding, which affected my test set-ups. These had to be run continuously for at least 36 hours.
However, it seemed the harder I worked, the luckier I became and the better I felt, physically and mentally.
“I had found my cattle, fulfilled a promise and a dream I’d long had: dedicating my thesis to my grandmother.”
I finally managed to complete and submit my thesis on time and passed my degree with a distinction in my dissertation and coursework. Before I knew it, two and a half years had turned into a memory I will forever cherish. I had found my cattle, fulfilled a promise and a dream I’d long had: dedicating my thesis to my grandmother.
Shoulders of giants
I stand on the shoulders of giants and could not have done this alone. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Dr Petrina Johannes and Dr Ing Joachim Lengricht of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Namibia for taking a chance on me and providing me with this lifetime opportunity to pursue my master’s at UCT.
I would also like to acknowledge the financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, through its implementing agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für lnternationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and the Transport, Mobility and Logistics project. I am also grateful to my UCT supervisor and co-supervisor, Associate Professor Kalumba and Dr Laxmee Sobhee-Beetul, whose attention to detail and positive criticism were key to the completion of my dissertation.
“As for my grandmother, it goes without saying that this is for her; and am not sure if words will ever be enough to thank her.”
Much appreciation goes out to Annette and Harry, my Cape Town parents and landlords, for welcoming me with open arms and making me feel at home away from home during my stay in Cape Town. Special thanks to my sister, Stacy, my best friends Olavi, Sean, Joviita and Grant, for holding my hand, offering continuous support and encouragement throughout my studies.
Lastly, my gratitude goes out to Beaven Sikanda, my uncle and father figure, whose tough love, mentorship, guidance, support and wisdom has been key to the man I have become today. As for my grandmother, it goes without saying that this is for her; and am not sure if words will ever be enough to thank her for what she has done for me, and the amount of love and support she has given throughout my life.
This is dedicated to her.
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