From Shoprite to Oxford

Published Aug 6, 2015


Durban - A little more than six years ago you would have spotted Ntokozo Qwabe at a till point in a Durban supermarket. Fast forward to 2015 and you would be more successful looking for him beneath the spires of the world’s most famous university.

Qwabe now holds a Master’s degree in Public Law from Oxford University - and he is not done yet.

The 24-year-old received a two-year scholarship from the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation to study abroad after attaining 17 commendations, 34 distinctions and finishing his University of KwaZulu-Natal law degree summa cum laude.

He plans to complete his second Master’s in Public Policy at Oxford next year.

All this after he had initially dropped out of UKZN and went to work at Shoprite Checkers in Davenport while he saved up for his tuition fees.

Qwabe invited his mother, Nomali Qwabe, to attend the his graduation ceremony last week. The flight to England was Nomali’s first trip in a plane.

“I cannot even begin to express how happy I am that she was part of this moment. Growing up at Oyaya, in rural Eshowe, I know how hard she worked day in and day out… selling biscuits, snacks and sweets to the primary school kids so we could survive and grow like other kids.

“Her dedication and sacrifice outweighs mine by a mile - and that is why I have made this entire moment about her. Also, she stole the show at Oxford dressed in traditional Zulu attire,” he said.

Qwabe said it felt surreal to be an alumni at a university attended by some of the world’s greatest leaders and intellectuals, including Pixely Ka Seme, Naomi Wolf, Bill Clinton, Frene Ginwala, Amartya Sen, Adam Smith, Herbert Hart and Edwin Cameron.

“It feels absolutely surreal to be an Oxford graduate, and it’s definitely not something I would have thought possible not too long ago,” he said.

When Qwabe dropped out of UKZN at the end of his first semester, he had been living at a cottage at Brettenwood High School and used to walk for about an hour to get to Howard College campus.

“It makes the victory sweeter because of its potential to inspire many others who have lost hope in the country. Because of our history, and our current state of affairs as a country, a lot of young people are disgruntled and have lost hope,” he said.

“Structural injustices caused by exclusion from opportunities continue in the country for many young people - especially black people. I think my story can serve as a positive tool to show that it is possible to triumph over all adversities.”

Asked for his views on the state of the country, Qwabe, who is never shy to voice his opinion, said the country was in “serious trouble”. But he added there was still great potential in South Africa and the rest of the continent. “We are having our post-colonial moment.” He said people forget that apartheid was colonialism - a different kind because it was settler colonialism.

“So, I think the ride is going to get tougher before it gets easier. We need to be prepared to ask tough questions while holding those who have power accountable.

“While we are in a moment of great distress, I also see this as a huge opportunity for young emerging leaders to stake their claim and be the ones who give the country much needed direction,” he said.

Daily News

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