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Ms Lwanda Maqwelane
Ms Lwanda Maqwelane
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Determination and drive steers Rhodes graduate to achieve her goals

Date Released: Thu, 5 July 2018 14:00 +0200

By Matebello Motantsi

Lwanda Maqwelane formed part of the 63% female representation at this year’s Rhodes University graduating class and who, through strong-willed dedication and tenacity, managed to defy the odds and obtain her BSocSc Honours Degree in Anthropology in record time.

In 2014, Maqwelane had hardly begun her studies at Rhodes when she was confronted with a shock – her initial minimal tuition payment totalled R40 000. “I come from a single-income household in Berlin, Buffalo City, where my sisters, brother, parents and I were all dependant on my mother’s modest primary school teacher’s salary,” explained Maqwelane. 

Maqwelane understood the implications that her study fees were having, and would continue having, on her family. “I knew I had to do something to contribute to my own tertiary education. I had to get a job, because failure was not an option,” she said.

Maqwelane soon applied for a student supervisory post at the Victoria Girls’ High School (VG) hostel, and when she was accepted, dutifully moved out of her university residence and into the hostel at VG.

“It wasn’t ideal,” she recalled. “Being on campus made many things easier with my studies, but I knew that the sacrifices I was making, even though they hindered me academically, were ultimately the only hope I had for completing my studies at all. Unfortunately, this is a Catch-22 situation that many students all over the country must face.” And Maqwelane faced it with extraordinary tenacity and steadfast willpower. “At one stage, I was carrying four jobs in order to support myself,” she said.

In 2015, after a truly exhaustive year of work and study, Maqwelane joined a student activism group, to try and make a difference in her life and the lives of those students who were similarly affected by the burden of financial strain.

The group’s focus was on the removal of a minimum initial payment for tuition, the end of closing of residences during end-of-term vacations, as well as the transformation and representation of black university students.

Initially, the group didn’t mobilise much support or attention, but it quickly became what Maqwelane describes as “rife”. It embodied its advocacy on campus, and had conversations with movements that drove similar agendas at Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town. “It was heart-warming to see that I was not alone in my gruelling struggle with financial marginalisation,” Maqwelane said.

Since then, Maqwelane has occupied the position of Secretary General of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) at Rhodes, and was appointed as part of the Regional Executive Committee for the Western Region. Her involvement in advocating for social change led to her partaking in the Barack Obama Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), and receiving the African Development Bank best speaker award. She has worked with the Pan African Parliament, NED Africa, and was part of a BRICS programme that pioneers youth agendas.

This year, Maqwelane received funding to study for her Masters in Environmental Education, with a focus on small-scale farmers. “I hope to empower farmers, like my father, who generally have no educational qualifications or access to the necessary information they need to develop their farming projects.”

Although Maqwelane’s story has a happy ending, there are still many students that are faced with the same difficulties she had. To lend a helping hand, Rhodes University has started Isivivane,which is fundraising campaign that helps cover student fees and living expenses. According to the Financial Aid Administrator, Luyanda Bheyile, the raised funds are channelled to the relevant divisions for the various needs of the students. Isivivane plays the role of connecting the donor and the student who needs funding. This initiative is open to assist any academically-deserving student who is tied by financial constraints. For more information on Isivivane, please visit: https://www.ru.ac.za/isivivane.