Durban-based alumni strongly support the formation of alumni chapters to reconnect and support needy students

Vice-Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela and alumna Dr Benita Bobo
Vice-Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela and alumna Dr Benita Bobo

Rhodes University Durban-based alumni came out strongly to support the much-anticipated foundation of alumni chapters nationwide. This sentiment was shared during last night's alumni reunion at the Umhlanga Rocks in Durban. Proud alumni of the institution came out in numbers to reconnect with each other and get an update on important matters concerning their alma mater. Members of the media were also part of this momentous occasion.

One of the alumni who called for the formation of the alumni chapters, Dr Benita Bobo, shared a touching story on what she feels that forming alumni chapters would benefit the alumni and the students at Rhodes University. She said: “When I came to study at Rhodes University in 2010, I was a part of what is called ‘the missing middle’. I was not poor enough to qualify for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) nor rich enough to study at Rhodes University. Coming from a rural community of Ngqushwa and being raised by a single parent, it was challenging for my mother to raise funds for me to study. There was minimal initial payment where I had to pay 50% of my fees and residence. It was R50 000, and my mother could only afford to raise R15 000.”

Dr Bobo said that when she arrived at Rhodes University, it was the last day to pay the fee, and she was told she would not be able to register. “Michelle Burger [Personal Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor] saw me and asked what was happening. When I explained my situation, she said she would arrange for me to meet with the then Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, Prof Sizwe Mabizela [now Vice-Chancellor],” she added.

She said that when Prof Mabizela asked her why she wanted to study at the institution, she told him that she would be the first person in her family to go to university. “Professor Mabizela said it was not fair that I could not study because I do not have the means to. He went to the fees office and told them that he would pay the R10 000 for me. I still have the student account fees printout that said, ‘Prof Mabizela said he would pay the R10 000’. That is how my journey started at Rhodes University,” she said.

The 32-year-old Dr Bobo studied Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in Psychology and Linguistics, honours in Psychology, Masters in Sociology and PhD in Psychology. “This is the reason why I feel that it is important for us as alumni of Rhodes University to establish alumni chapters to keep the connection and support needy students. I think it is unsustainable that we only meet for Convocation and for a reunion. I think Rhodes University has equipped us in so many ways that we should contribute to those who come after us. Establishing those chapters would be a good way to start mentorship and fundraising for students like me back in 2010 who could not register. There were many students who could not see Prof Mabizela, and I could have been one of them. We have the capacity to raise funds that can help other students,” she said.

Another alumnus, Lucky Mtolo, who studied Bachelor of Pharmacy at Rhodes University, echoed the sentiments of Dr Bobo. “We are sending out a strong call to all the Rhodes University alumni to form vibrant alumni chapters. This is the right time as the institution is preparing to celebrate 120 years of existence next year. Having these chapters can improve the networking and would bring us together for one common purpose of how to assist the University to continue being a place where leaders learn for the next 120 years and beyond,” he said.

Mtolo said the formation of alumni chapters would help sustain the partnership and connection with the University. “We are where we are now because of Rhodes University, and we are being given an opportunity to contribute to the University. What I took from Professor Mabizela tonight is the message that says the institution also recognises us as alumni. We do not have to contribute monetary support, but we can offer mentorship and keep up a sense of belonging. Rhodes University is our home,” he said.

Sharon Futter, who studied Journalism and Linguistics at Rhodes University, said she felt uplifted after the alumni reunion last night. “The Vice-Chancellor is an amazing person. What I love about him is that he not only looks after the University but also takes an interest in what is happening in Makhanda and the country. He understands the importance of keeping Makhanda alive to keep Rhodes University going,” she said.

Futter said she admires Professor Mabizela’s humanitarianism, foresight, and selfless character. “The idea of officially forming a chapter is fantastic because at the moment, we just wait to hear from the Alumni office inviting us to a reunion once a year. If we can have a chapter in each province, it would give a chance for more networking for Rhodents. We can do our own fundraising for needy students at Rhodes University,” she added.

Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, said the alumni’s call to formalise alumni chapters is an important call for all graduates of Rhodes University. “No academically-deserving student should be denied an opportunity to acquire quality and transformative education simply because they happen to have been born into a family that can not afford it. No one has any control over the circumstances of their birth. It is important that people are afforded an opportunity, and Dr Bobo is one of those who took full advantage of such an opportunity, and she is a tremendous success. The formation of alumni chapters would ensure that graduates of this fine University come together for a common purpose: to support academically-deserving students to acquire the quality education we continue to offer,” said Professor Mabizela.

Rhodes University will continue with its alumni reunions across the country till the end of the year. The Convocation is meeting tomorrow, Saturday 02 September, at 10h00 to elect a new President of Convocation.