Seeds of greatness sown in best friends’ BSc exploits

Best friends Rivoningo Ubisi and Thobile Mkhwanazi had a lot to celebrate yesterday when they each took to the podium at the University of Mpumalanga to be awarded a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree.

Ubisi and Mkhwanazi, who have been friends since 2019, while in their second year, achieved their degrees cum laude – each with 19 distinctions. They are also both pursuing their Master of Science in Agriculture degrees at the same university, and are recipients of the vice-chancellor’s scholarship.

Other than their nine-year age difference and the 0.1% that gives Mkhwanazi bragging rights in the friendship, the two have a lot in common. They also want to pursue their doctoral degrees in agriculture at the university.

Ubisi, a 31-year-old mother of two, says she was buoyed by the R5 000 prize money that students who pass with distinctions each year receive.

“I got it four years in a row,” she said, adding that she sent it all to her mother who is looking after her five siblings and is dependent on social grants and money she makes from selling the vegetables they grow in their yard. “I also used my bursary to help my mother support our family.”

Ubisi is a tutor to third-year plant production practice students at the university and says she is looking forward to a long career in academia.

For the 22-year-old Mkhwanazi, her graduation ceremony is the moment she had been looking forward to since she started at the university. She found a friend, confidant and motivator in Ubisi. The two encouraged each other to excel and achieve the best marks each year.

They are among 1 112 graduates that received their qualifications at this year’s graduations, the seventh for the varsity. Women make up 67% of the graduates and 33% are male.

The qualification with the highest number of graduates is the diploma in agriculture  with 176 recipients.

Tomorrow, former teacher and lecturer Menzi Thango will make history at the University of Pretoria (UP) when he is conferred the Master’s in Creative Writing in isiZulu.  The 33-year-old will be the first person at UP  to graduate with the Creative Writing degree in an African language other than Afrikaans and English.

“I’m proud.  IsiZulu is a part of me; I think in isiZulu and then translate to English. My language defines who I am,” said Thango, who is already busy with his doctoral studies at the University of the Western Cape.

The KwaZulu-Natal-born author of eight poetry books says he was ridiculed by his peers at the University of the Witwatersrand for studying an African language for his Bachelor of Education degree.

This will be his second master’s degree. He also has a Master of  Arts in African languages from Unisa.

“They would ask questions such as ‘why would you come to such a big institution like Wits only to study isiZulu? What is it that you don’t know already that they going to teach you here?’

“I got my strength to pursue my dreams during those times when no one was buying into my vision. Don’t invite a crowd or expect a crowd to buy into your vision,” he said.

“Today, some of these people who were making fun of us have ventured into studying African languages and come to us as advisers.”

“Don’t look down on African languages, it defines us.”

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