Pretoria - As thousands of students across the country battle to find money to pursue higher education which often result in violent protests, a South Africa-based non-governmental organisation, the Canon Collins Trust, has awarded at least 57 new scholarships.
Since 2004, the Trust has invested nearly R300 million towards tertiary education funding in South Africa.
The Trust has assisted students with educational scholarships since 1984. Although most are for postgraduate studies some of the funds are for undergraduate students.
The Trust’s spokesperson, Catherine Sofianos said the scholarships support students in fields relating to social justice.
“The scholarships are unique in that they are awarded not only for academic merit but also based on the scholar’s personal vision for justice and willingness to work for change with other scholars across the network”, said Sofianos.
One of the beneficiaries of this mega investment is 27-year-old Andani Tshiitamune, currently studying at the University of Cape Town. Tshiitamune, whose research looks at the production of vaccines that are affordable and accessible to the poor, is grateful for the scholarship.
“The financial support provided by the scholarship offers much-needed relief ... however, the greatest reward of this scholarship lies beyond financial benefits. The opportunity to be part of a whole community of like-minded scholar-activists and social justice advocates is truly invaluable,” said Tshiitamune.
She is one of many examples of the beneficiaries “helping transform the world”.
The Trust’s CEO Stuart Craig, said southern Africans were distinguishing themselves in their diverse fields across the globe.
“But the most remarkable feature of the programme is that 96% of Canon Collins graduates continue to work in and serve the region by remaining in Africa,” said Craig.
He added that the Canon Collins Trust had awarded over 4,000 scholarships to southern African exiles, activists and leaders in its 40-year history.
Based on the belief that Africa's greatest wealth is its people, the Trust insists that the scholars’ ideas, creativity and solutions are key to a free and open southern Africa, especially those from marginalised communities and sub-communities.
While scholars come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, special consideration is given to those who will be the first in their family to receive a postgraduate degree.
“Some are the first in their village to receive a degree, whose attendance at university is funded and supported by their entire community,” said Craig.
This is a powerful manifestation of ubuntu, the southern African philosophy of spiritual generosity and human interconnectedness, says the Trust.
“Every year, those of us who participate in the selection process are profoundly impressed, and often deeply moved, by the achievement of candidates in even getting to the stage of submitting applications. Many applicants come from challenging backgrounds which have not made their progress through schooling and first degrees easy.
“They are often the first in their family to have higher education. They are often financially and practically supporting other family members at the same time as pursuing their studies,” said John Richmond, a supporter of the Trust who coordinates a group of mostly British teachers who together fund raise annually for some of the social justice-oriented scholarships.
Access to the scholarship is the first step in a programme of network-building between scholars, alumni and social justice organisations.
“You will find us scholars arranging Zoom meetings to support each other. You will find us meeting at our annual conference to inspire each other in our individual work and create opportunities to collaborate and make an impact together as scholars,” said PhD scholar at University of Pretoria, Athenkosi Nzala aged 31, whose research seeks to ensure that everyone has access to an equitable and quality primary and secondary online education.
“As I am being supported by the scholarship to train teachers for online teaching, so the scholarship also bolsters the dreams of many Africans of all ages who want to pursue formal and informal learning opportunities,” he said.
Another case in point is former Canon Collins Trust scholarship recipient and now Professor, Maano Ramutsindela, who became the University of Cape Town’s first African Dean of Science in 2019.
Having also served as a board member of the Trust, Ramutsindela said: “It is important for me as the dean of science to think of how we can transform science and make it more relevant to the social issues the country, region and continent are faced with.
“Canon Collins has over the last few years emphasised a sense of urgency for change. I never thought it would come to rest on my shoulders, but as the dean I am now an agent of change. I feel that Canon Collins has prepared me with the value system that will guide me in my dreams of what this place could become.”
The problem of tertiary funding was again highlighted last week, when the University of Witwatersrand said it could not meet the demands of protesting students who demanded that students who owe the institution amounts of up to R150 000 be registered.
Chaos erupted at the campus when disgruntled students from Wits and the University of Johannesburg went on the rampage, looting shops and even demanding that nearby businesses assist them with paying their tuition fees.