Pietermaritzburg - If at first you do not succeed, dust yourself off and try again.
That is the message from Nhlakanipho Mkhize, the Pietermaritzburg student awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study towards a PhD in Materials Science at Oxford University in England.
Mkhize (24) graduated with a Master of Science in Chemistry summa cum laude at Rhodes University last year.
He leaves for Oxford in September and will be there for at least three years.
Mkhize, from Imbali Township, has become the pride and joy of his parents and the city’s Carter High School where he matriculated in 2008.
The Rhodes scholarship is the icing on the academic cake that has seen him achieve honours in high school and university.
He almost lost out on the scholarship though. After being unsuccessful in the first interview for it, he became disheartened, and it took a friend’s mother’s “pep talk” to get him to try again.
“I applied for the scholarship and was called for an interview in Durban, but I was not successful. The panel recommended I should try for a second interview in Johannesburg. I was dejected and did not see the point because I thought I would be unsuccessful again,” he said.
“My friend’s mother, Ingrid Andersen, pushed me, saying I had worked hard and I should not give up. I was quite surprised to get the scholarship in the end.
“That taught me a lesson that should inspire other young people, that we should not give up.”
Mkhize is no stranger to hard work. He made sacrifices of his personal time with friends, giving up parties and girlfriends to study.
His academic prowess has saved his mother a fortune in school fees. She last paid fees when Mkhize was in Grade 7 at Scottsville Primary School.
“I wrote a scholarship exam at Carter and I was successful. I had to be in the top 10 in the class in all grades to keep the scholarship. That was another reason that motivated me to work even harder.
“When I graduated from high school, I received another scholarship from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship. It paid for my university education.”
Mkhize said doing what he loves is key to his success. “My family wanted me to study accounting because I was good at it. But I wanted to study science and chemistry because that was something I loved.”
The devout Catholic, amateur video maker and jogger hopes to come back and pursue a career in the private or public sector, teaching other young people what he has learned in the field of chemistry.
Speaking about his upcoming trip, he said he made another sacrifice to make it a reality.
He turned down an employment opportunity with one of the country’s leading mining companies to take up the scholarship.
The cold weather and being homesick are concerns for him, but uppermost in his mind is the food. “It is going to be hard going without eating uphuthu [mealie meal pap] for such a long time,” he said
Thamsanqa Magubane, The Witness