A record 52 Gadra alumni graduate from Rhodes University in 2021

Dr Ashley Westaway with one of the 52 Gadra alumni graduates, Athenkosi Nzanzeka
Dr Ashley Westaway with one of the 52 Gadra alumni graduates, Athenkosi Nzanzeka

For the first time ever, over 50 Gadra Matric School alumni graduated from Rhodes University in a single graduation ceremony, which marks a significant milestone in the journey to transform education in Makhanda. 

Gadra Matric School is a second-chance school for learners who seek to improve their marks in selected National Senior Certificate subjects with the goal of acquiring the required points to gain access to universities.

Gadra partnered with Rhodes University in 2015 to assist with the vision of Pathways to the Future, which was spearheaded by Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, upon his inauguration. The initiative aims to address the issues of unequal access to quality education in Makhanda through various programmes.

This focus has since also been solidified in the University’s Institutional Development Plan (IDP 2018-2022), particularly Goal 2, which states, “Enable access to Rhodes University by all academically-qualifying students and provide them with conditions which enable all students to flourish and which promote their holistic development as critical citizens.” and Goal 7: “Promote Rhodes University as an institution for public good in local, provincial, national and international contexts.”

According to Gadra Education Manager, Dr Ashley Westaway, the School started with a small cohort of 10 students in 2012, a number that has grown to 120 since then. “The turning point started in 2015 with the launch of the Vice-Chancellor’s Education Initiative and we have seen exponential growth since. Just in the last three years, our Gadra Rhodes University graduates have gone from 31 to 52,” he said.

He believes, based on this trajectory, we can soon expect to see an average of 100 disadvantaged students from Makhanda graduating from Rhodes University in a single year. “And think of how this will increase the skill levels in the city and the entrepreneurial boost we can expect to see,” he stated.

This is even more achievable given a recent generous donation of over R2.3 million from The Nedbank Eyethu Community Trust towards Rhodes University projects that aim to make education more accessible, including Pathways to the Future and Isivivane. Nedbank has been a trusted and generous donor of Rhodes University projects since 1985.

Helping young people reach this point in their lives, said Dr Westaway, is incredibly rewarding. “Behind each of our students, there is a story, a person, a family, a neighbourhood. The positive effects are wide-reaching,” he said.

One such story is Linda Rulumeni, who went to Gadra in 2015 after her matric results were not enough to get her past university waiting lists, despite her having a Bachelor’s pass. “I applied to more than 10 universities and I was either outright rejected or put on their never-ending waiting-lists,” she said. “It was so disheartening.”

Rulumeni recalls her experience at Gadra to be about so much more than simply upgrading her matric results. “Gadra Matric School taught me to be humble, to learn from my mistakes, and to never give up. I had to be humble in repeating the year to improve my results. I became patient with myself and learned not to push myself too hard when I fail, but to instead learn from the mistakes and not repeat them again.”

Rulumeni was one of the 52 record graduates this year, and she obtained her BSc Honours. She is currently working as a Geospatial and Environmental Management intern and plans to do her Master’s Degree to allow her to help her reach her dream of becoming an acknowledged GIS Technician.

“Gadra Matric School and Rhodes University’s community engagement initiatives continue to bring hope to those who, like me, thought graduating at Rhodes University was just a distant dream,” she said.

Dr Mabizela expressed pride in these young people who “have taken full advantage of the opportunity presented to them”.

“I honour, commend and salute Gadra for the tremendous work they are doing in assisting these young people to regain their confidence and dignity after having struggled with their matric year,” he said.