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Rhodes students scoop record number of Mandela Rhodes Scholarships

Date Released: Mon, 1 December 2014 11:01 +0200

Six outstanding young South Africans at Rhodes University have been recognized for their potential to make a difference in society with the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship. This is a record number of scholarships for the university.

Rhodes has the highest number of scholarships awarded to a University in South Africa. Mandela Rhodes Scholarships received 400 applications nationally, 60 applicants were interviewed and 40 scholarships were awarded for 2015.

Rhodes University submitted nine applications (2.25% of the applications assessed came from Rhodes), and seven were interviewed (7 of the 60, 12% interviewed were from Rhodes) and six were awarded (of the 40 awards). Fifteen percent of the awards made were from Rhodes.

Aviwe May, Ameil Harikishun, Lumumba Mthembu, Abigail Branford, Kyla Hazell and Selokwane Morake represent a range of disciplines including Law, English, Marine Biology and Biotechnology, and epitomize the best of what South African youth have to offer society.

Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, met with the students recently and congratulated them on their achievements and asked them to share their research interests and ambitions with him.

Describing Rhodes as a leader in many of the fields represented by the six awardees, Dr Mabizela said they couldn’t be in a better place to pursue their particular research interests at a postgraduate level than Rhodes.

Aviwe May, who aspired to be a medical doctor throughout school, changed his mind after his love for Chemistry was “revitalized” during career exhibitions in his Grade 11 year at Toise High School, King William’s Town.

May is interested in thebiological side of Science, and wants to pursue studies in medicinal chemistry. Currently, the Rhodes chemistry department offers research topics ranging from designing inhibitors of molecular chaperones, medicinal natural products and the use of photodynamic therapy in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The research for his BSc Honours will be determined early next year, but of all the topics offered by the department, the use of magnetic fluid (MF) to treat cancer stands out for him.

“In South Africa I have a responsibility to play with regard to rural development and reconciliation.” In the short term he plans to continue with chemistry research, and plans to pursue his dream of moving into the medical side of science in the long term.

May said he didn’t expect to make it to the final selection round of contenders: “I did not expect to make it this far due to the competitiveness of the selection process. When I was informed that I was awarded the scholarship, I began to give praise to God.”

Fellow scientist Ameil Harikishun’s passion for marine biology developed early on in life. “I was always fascinated by nature and this lead to many hobbies with my siblings. My family encouraged this passion by providing me with books and documentaries and I soon became aware of environmental change and the anthropogenic activities that underpinned it,” he said.

He described himself as a “passionate environmentalist” from the age of 10. “My childhood passion for environmental conservation and sustainability has matured into a pursuit to understand the political and socioeconomic complexities that underpin environmental change,” he said.

His research interests lie in marine ecosystem response to climate change, marine conservation and resource management and his current research spans the effects of climate change on the coral reefs in Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, to an undersea mountain off the Madagascar Ridge.

The results of this research will contribute to climate change monitoring of South African marine ecosystems as well as the potential demarcation of open ocean marine protected areas. Harikishun completed a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science Honours at the University of Cape Town before moving to Rhodes to pursue his MSc. He is a recipient of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation fellowship for 2010-2013 and National Research Foundation (NRF) scholarship (2012, 2013).

Determination and resilience have gotten first year Masters in English scholar Lumumba Mthembu this far in his academic career. Eleven months into his undergraduate studies at Rhodes Mthembu lost his mother to alcohol poisoning. The loss destabilized his academic performance and precipitated a withdrawal from public life.

Three years later, his father disowned him and his sister, Khwezi, for failing to obtain university degrees. “I responded by obtaining my BA with distinction in English; Khwezi’s reaction was to go on to become a CA,” he said. Before coming to Rhodes Mthembu attended St Peter’s College where he was Deputy Head Boy and received full colours for Oratory, was senior debating team Summator, and a semi-finalist at the provincial debating trials (2004).

Following graduation Mthembu picked up odd jobs over the next three years, including a brief stint as the youngest member of staff at Lebone II College of the Royal Bafokeng. Then in June 2013 Mthembu was faced with “one of the most defining moments of my life” when he suffered second degree burns from a winter house fire.

“For the next four months I lay on my stomach enduring mind-shattering levels of pain. My body fought back and co-opted my mind, demanding a single promise that if I get back on my feet I have to take over the world,” he said.

Following a steady recovering he approached Professor Mike Marais of the English department at Rhodes in November 2013 enquiring about funding opportunities for postgraduate studies for 2014. “I bussed down to Rhodes on the ghost of a chance with no accommodation or guarantee of funding. All my hopes hinged on was the promise I had made to my body,” he said.

Since then Mthembu has gone from strength to strength. Currently enrolled for a Masters in English at Rhodes, he intends to pursue his PhD and stay at Rhodes in the future.

He is researching and writing his thesis on four young South African authors, all under the age of 40, writing for Kwela Books. “I am interested in how they depict post-apartheid black identities in their fiction,” he said.

Of the scholarship, Mthembu said: “For me, the scholarship is my most significant academic achievement to date. It means everything. It is the chance to step into better things, as a character in one of the novels I am studying states.”

A deeply personal and absorbing engagement with gender inequality has contributed to Abigail Branford dedicating herself to developing inclusive ways to interrogate the ideas which generate and excuse gender violence.

After majoring in Politics and History during her undergraduate degree at Rhodes, Branford came to realize the vastness of the interrogation required. “How could a question, with no acceptable answer and which so grotesquely configured our past, reiterate through every day of our present.

“The further I took my intellectual enquiry the more I saw the same blindness and self-delusion play out, the same brand of horrifyingly destructive beliefs so vulnerable to any sustained examination,” she said.

In order to provide a platform for the necessary interrogation, and after being inspired by the work of engaged scholars Eusebius Mckaiser and Beth Vale, Branford founded the Gender and Sex Project.

“I identified the outrageously underutilised Life Orientation in high schools as an opportunity to translate an excellent tertiary education into discursive change in my community.

“Teenagers, while challenging at the best of times, are incredibly intellectually supple; they are ready to be challenged by many of the issues which currently are only leveled at Humanities students,” she said, explaining that during the classes she introduces the learners to the social, political and historical concerns of gender studies through contemporary and relevant stimulus.

According to Branford, “it is only by leading them to self-reflection, not by pushing my liberal dogma at them, that I will make a meaningful impact in their development as thinking beings.”

Kyla Hazell is currently studying a joint Honours degree in Law and Political and International Studies, with a focus on Political Philosophy and Human Right’s Law and is currently on exchange at Utrecht University in the Netherlands completing the second half of the curriculum.

Selokwane Morake is well on his way to fulfilling his vision of establishing himself as a “firm and positive contributor in Africa through scientific development”. Morake, who has been a Candidate Fellow of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation since arriving at Rhodes in 2011, plans to fulfill this vision by not only using the skills and knowledge I have acquired through my academics, but through my various leadership roles and experiences as well,” he said.

Currently studying for an Honours in Biotechnology, Morake completed a BSc majoring in Biochemistry and Chemistry.

The Mandela Rhodes Scholarships aim to help in building leadership excellence in Africa.

Photo by: John Gillam

Photo: from left to right Aviwe May, Selokwane Morake, Abigail Branford, Lumumba Mthembu, Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela and Ameil Harikishun (not in the photo Kyla Hazell).

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