The theme for this year’s Social Work pledging ceremony was Human Rights and Social Justice. Fourth-year student Mninawa Ntshongwana who delivered an inspiring, and emotional speech made the 2014 event particularly memorable for the audience. Humanities News caught up with the busy student and former petrol attendant to talk about his journey to academic success.
HN: Mninawa, you’re a final year student this year. Tell us a little about yourself?
At 39, I suppose I am what people would call a mature student. I was born in Umtata in the Eastern Cape and raised by my maternal grandmother, uncles and aunts. I matriculated in 1994 from Zingisa High School, a Roman Catholic High School in Umtata. In 1995 I registered with the University of Transkei (UNITRA) for a BPROC Degree however during my third year, I decided to drop out because I was no longer sure that it was the right career choice for me. Having dropped out of varsity without a formal qualification and no job prospects, I secured a full time job at the local Caltex service station in Fort Gale where I was employed as a petrol attendant for 3 years. During this time I became very active in youth sports administration, working for the Transkei Rugby Union and the Transkei National Sports Council.
My grandmother always instilled in me a sense of community and a desire to help others. To this day, what drives and gratifies me is making a difference in peoples lives. My involvement in youth sports development was in pursuit of this objective. In 2000 I relocated to Cape Town and I secured employment with cleaning company SuperCare at UCT. I was initially employed as a nightshift cleaner working, ironically, in the same Humanities Buildings where I now attend lectures. I also had a brief stint as a Jammie Shuttle bus driver from 2005 - 2006! Fast track to 2011 and I am now in the fourth and final year of my Social Work Degree.
HN: Why did you choose the Social Work programme at UCT?
After earning minimum wage for so many years, my partner and I decided that we needed to go back to school. After observing the shortage of support services in my own community I settled on Social Work. Coming into a university environment as a mature student is not an easy thing. I received tremendous support from the department and that is what has helped me continue. I remember my initial interview with Ron Addinall (Lecturer, UCT Department of Social Development) who asked me how I would cope for four years without an income. My response to him was that I didn’t see it as four years, rather as 36-month commitment and therefore an achievable goal for me. So whenever I had my doubts or faltered, I would always try and focus on the short gains, the achievable as well as the positives. This gave me the strength to carry on. I am now in my fourth year, looking forward to graduating this December.
HN: You delivered an incredibly moving speech at this year’s pledging ceremony. What was the core message to your fellow students?
The theme of my speech was resilience. I divided it into four components: becoming a student of life and making your choices; believe that you can change and train your eyes to see what is good; playing the right background music and never give up and lastly, finishing well and going back to the source. My main message is that in life you can find yourselves at the very bottom but that doesn’t mean that you must stay there because life always brings something positive. As long as you can focus on positive goals, you will be able to achieve greatness. Going back to the source of your energy, not forgetting where you come from and understanding what it is that has made you the person you are today are important life lessons.
HN: What, in your opinion, is the significance of the Social Work Pledging Ceremony?
The ceremony provides an opportunity for personal introspection. You are making a very public commitment in front of your peers, lecturers and members of the public that you are going to make a difference in the lives of others. Social Work is also not a lucrative profession so its definitely a calling.
HN: What are your plans following graduation in December?
I received funding for my studies from national government (Department of Social Development) so as part of the deal I must serve a community for three years. Next year I will be going back to the George community due to the high need for support services in the area. However DSD can place me anywhere they choose in the Western Cape. In the future, I intend to register for a postgraduate qualification through UCT’s Department of Social Development. I also hope to pursue a Masters degree in HIV/Aids, exploring issues such as disclosure and coping mechanisms amongst survivors.
Commenting on Mninawa’s story, Associate Professor Viviene Taylor (Head, UCT Department of Social Development) underscored the role that Social Work has to play in South African society. “21 March was Human Rights Day and the 18 March was designated as World Social Work Day globally. We need to claim this day and use the space it provides us to assert the place and significance of social work and social development in addressing some of the terrible social conditions that deprive many of their basic welfare and human rights. Social work practice and social work education in South Africa has a central role in ensuring that basic welfare rights are accessible to all. Making human rights a reality for millions of people is part of a transformative social work agenda. Mniniwa’s life history exemplifies how individuals can not only overcome adversity but make choices to contribute to social change within society” said Taylor.
Faculty of Humanities
University of Cape Town
Private Bag X3