Rhodes University’s newly inaugurated vice-chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, has vowed that no academically talented – but financially needy – young person will be turned away from Rhodes University in Grahamstown.
“It is a bit aspirational,” he told Wits Vuvuzela. “But we have to make a point that we will raise funds. I will make it my personal mission.”
When Mabizela became deputy vice-chancellor in 2008, he made a “salary sacrifice” and contributed part of his salary towards a bursary fund that assists financially needy students who are academically talented, mostly from poor and rural families.
As vice-chancellor, he said that he will increase this contribution, to about R300 000 in total. He will also continue to encourage community members and university staff to contribute.
“In fact, I encourage every young person in this country to make a contribution,” he said.
Mabizela is the first black African vice-chancellor at Rhodes University in over 100 years, but does not want people to “get hung up on this”.
“That I happen to be black and African is simply an accident of history from which we have just emerged. I don’t want this to be elevated above any and everything else, because I would be deeply troubled if I was appointed simply because of that.”
He said that when he accepted, he made it very clear that he was not motivated by personal glory or material and financial gain, but rather by a commitment to serve the university and wider South Africa.
Rhodes had to turn away approximately 130 students at the start of the year, because they were denied National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds and were unable to register. Mabizela described the experience of having to deny qualifying students an education as “painful”.
Under Sizwe’s leadership as a part of senior management for over six years, Rhodes has matched NSFAS’ contribution of R32-million by spending approximately R34-million on assisting “desperately poor” but academically strong students.
One of Sizwe’s aims is to make the university more socially aware and one that “tackles local problems and challenges facing Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape”.
The university plans to make it a centre of academic excellence, improving primary school education, all the way to tertiary education.
“We have to brighten this corner where we find ourselves.”