‘Don’t allow your circumstances to define you’

10 April 2019 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Brenton Geach. Read time 7 min.
Minkateko Ndlovu says consistency and balance helped her to achieve her degree in psychology.
Minkateko Ndlovu says consistency and balance helped her to achieve her degree in psychology.

During Minkateko Ndlovu’s matric year her world was turned upside down. Her parents died tragically in their home in Ennerdale, Johannesburg, and in the blink of an eye the life she knew changed forever.

Her anchors were gone, and her family was reduced from five members to just three. Ndlovu, her older sister Xichavo and younger brother Amukelani were left to pick up the pieces and restart their lives.

She remembers being on “autopilot” after her parents’ death in April 2015. Grade 12 had already been demanding up to that point, and suddenly it got worse. Her exams were fast approaching, and she was under pressure to perform academically to qualify for a university entry.

“It was a very, very difficult time. Not just for me, but for my sister and brother too,” she said.

“After my parents’ death I remember thinking ‘you need to focus because you need to pass your exams well to get into university’.”

Despite her emotional turmoil, Ndlovu, now 21, passed her mid-year exams with flying colours and applied at three universities. She was accepted at all of them, including the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Her acceptance at UCT was the stepping stone the family needed to start over in a new province.

“I really wanted to do a BSc in property studies and was accepted for it at Wits. But I decided against it. My sister found a job in Cape Town and she and my brother were coming to live here. I rethought – we needed each other’s support to get through a very difficult time.”


“My sister found a job in Cape Town and she and my brother were coming to live here. I rethought – we needed each other’s support to get through a very difficult time.”

A degree in psychology was her second choice and UCT was her chosen institution.

Ndlovu has emerged successful from three tumultuous years; a family tragedy, moving to a new province and having to adapt to university life. In spite of all the challenges, she will receive her degree in psychology this month.

Rollercoaster ride

During her first year at university, Ndlovu said she struggled with confidence issues. She majored in psychology and social development and obtained good results. But with long-term plans to pursue a career in forensic psychology, she needed law as a major too.

When she registered for her second year, she chose law as her second major, replacing social development. She also needed a 65% aggregate to get onto the programme, and when she obtained this result she was “ecstatic”.

“I was so happy when I got the required mark. But on registration I saw that my class times for psych and law all clashed,” she said.

This meant that she needed to apply for a special deanery concession to major in both disciplines, which required the green light from the dean of Humanities and heads of department of both psychology and law.

“As a result of clashing classes and because both courses were so difficult, they were reluctant to sign and tried to discourage me. But I was determined and had to convince them that I would make it work. Eventually they agreed,” Ndlovu recalled.

The months that followed were “tougher than I ever imagined”, but after deferring clinical psychology once because the exam times coincided with those of another course, Ndlovu persevered and managed to turn a massive ship around.

Despite the “craziness of it all”, she said she did reasonably well that year. Looking back, she wouldn’t do anything differently. She describes it as “my perspective year” which helped to shape the professional path she wishes to follow.

Choosing psychology

Her parents’ death had a lot to do with her career choice, guiding her decision to make it her mission in life to help people facing similar hardships. She believes that as a psychologist she will be able to achieve that.

“Psychology gives me the opportunity to reach out and really help people who are struggling.

“I know what it’s like to experience hardship of the worst kind and I know how important it is to have someone there to listen, understand and to advise. I want to be that someone for someone,” she said.


“I know what it’s like to experience hardship of the worst kind and I know how important it is to have someone there to listen, understand and to advise. I want to be that someone for someone.”

For now, she is focused on completing her honours and has selected gender-based violence as her research topic for her thesis.

“It’s a topic that is close to my heart. It’s a pertinent issue in South Africa that needs to be addressed urgently.”

But it doesn’t end there. Ndlovu’s goal is to complete her masterʼs in clinical psychology at UCT as it is a requirement for practising as a psychologist in South Africa. She describes this leg of her studies as tricky, since UCT caps its masterʼs intake for clinical psychology at just eight students.

After that she plans to make her way to the United States or the United Kingdom to complete a programme in forensic psychology and realise her dream.

Consistency is key

To UCT freshers, and other undergraduate and postgraduate students, Ndlovu’s advice is to remain consistent, find balance and prioritise student and home life. These helped her to remain grounded during challenging periods at university.

“I can’t emphasise enough just how important consistency is. If you started, you need to keep going. Establish a pattern that works for you and soldier on regardless of how difficult it gets.”

What also helped her achieve success in her undergraduate studies was not allowing her personal circumstances to define her academics.

“As sad as situations are, don’t ask ʻwhy me?ʼ. It will tear you up inside. Just keep going, you can do it.”

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Graduation April 2019

The University of Cape Town honoured over 5 000 students during 14 graduation ceremonies that took place from Wednesday, 10 April until Thursday, 18 April 2019. During the 14 ceremonies – attended by about 14 000 people – 70 doctoral degrees and 383 master’s degrees were conferred. An honorary doctorate in engineering was be awarded to Professor David Roger Jones Owen on Saturday, 13 April 2019. Among the speakers at the various ceremonies were Judy Sikuza, deputy executive director of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation; Nkazi Sokhulu, co-founder and CEO of Yalu Financial Services; Sam Paddock, co-founder of GetSmarter and GetWine; UCT engineering alumnus Mavo Solomon; and Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.




Our stories: inspirational graduates

Fourth UCT degree for EMS director Medeé Rall, director of the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at UCT, collects her fourth degree from the institution today – her PhD in education. 12 Apr 2019
‘Don’t allow your circumstances to define you’ Psychology graduand Minkateko Ndlovu (21) says she has emerged successful from three “tough” years at university because she decided not to allow her challenges to define her. 10 Apr 2019
‘I am somebody because of UCT’ With help from colleagues and classmates, graduand Mteteleli Jobela has beaten the odds and will be capped in the Sarah Baartman Hall tomorrow. 10 Apr 2019
Graduation part of queer activist’s mission Nigel Patel’s graduation is a stepping stone on the way to fulfilling their life’s mission to effect the decriminalisation of queerness. 09 Apr 2019
Master’s oceanography thesis ‘all at sea’ The inhospitable Southern Ocean is not a place from which any master’s graduand – not even an oceanographer – would choose to relay final changes to their thesis. 09 Apr 2019
‘This is my mother’s graduation’ While it’s his name on the degree, Ntebogang Segone says his 17 April graduation belongs to his mother. 08 Apr 2019
Women top UCT’s civil engineering honours class UCT women are making significant strides in civil engineering, where they account for six of the department’s 11 first-class honours students graduating this month. 08 Apr 2019
Making his ‘first lady’s’ dream come true When Sanele Mangena graduates with his BCom in economics and finance from UCT, he will make his mother’s dream come true. 05 Apr 2019
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SA’s first deaf law graduate Qobo Ningiza refused to be put off by multiple rejections, and next week he will become South Africa’s first deaf law graduate. 04 Apr 2019
‘Imposter’ graduates with full suite of distinctions Severely burnt in a gas explosion 15 years ago, 24-year-old Aniek Nieuwenhuis has found new meaning in her life, defying the odds stacked against her. 04 Apr 2019