Sunday Times

The univer­sity of life

A cam­pus pho­tog­ra­phy project gives a rare in­sight into the frus­tra­tions and chal­lenges that sparked the #FeesMustFa­ll move­ment

- By SUE DE GROOT Society · Bullying · Nelson Mandela · Johannesburg · Zimbabwe · Facebook · Bath

Dur­ing the #FeesMustFa­ll protests and the me­dia cov­er­age sur­round­ing them, most South Africans saw face­less mobs of an­gry stu­dents, not sep­a­rate in­di­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent back­grounds and var­ied rea­sons for frus­tra­tion. In the midst of the may­hem, few stopped to won­der where the stu­dents came from and what ob­sta­cles they faced in their path to grad­u­a­tion. This is part of what moved Port El­iz­a­beth pho­tog­ra­pher Leonette Bower to cre­ate #Sto­ryOfMyLife, a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy project that tells the story of stu­dents at Nel­son Man­dela Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity (NMMU). These por­traits and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing sto­ries are now be­ing ex­hib­ited in Jo­han­nes­burg. Bower said her col­lec­tion fo­cuses on the theme of ac­cess, namely “stu­dents who are con­fronted with and ne­go­ti­ate var­i­ous chal­lenges in ac­cess­ing the univer­sity. The project por­trays eight stu­dents in their per­sonal spa­ces, giv­ing a glimpse into their lived ex­pe­ri­ence.” The stu­dents were in­volved in choos­ing the set­tings in which they were pho­tographed, al­low­ing Bower ac­cess to their homes and other places they fre­quent, so that she could “cap­ture the essence of the var­i­ous facets of their daily lives”.

She also asked them to write their own sto­ries, which are dis­played along with the por­traits. “Through telling these sto­ries, I wanted to max­imise the con­tri­bu­tion of the stu­dents as part of the process of their por­trayal, pro­vid­ing them with the op­por­tu­nity of pro­ject­ing their own voices by means of hand­writ­ten notes to ac­com­pany the im­ages,” said Bower.

The sto­ries pro­vide a mov­ing back­drop to the strik­ingly in­ti­mate monochro­matic im­ages.

Faith Moyo moved with her five younger sib­lings to Port El­iz­a­beth from Zim­babwe when she was in grade 10. Her fa­ther was an as­sis­tant farm man­ager and she was en­rolled in the lo­cal farm school, within walk­ing dis­tance of their home.

“As a teenager,” she writes, “I went through a se­ries of ad­just­ments which ranged from learn­ing a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, sur­viv­ing life in im­pov­er­ished school­ing con­di­tions and grow­ing up in gen­eral. My par­ents guided me through the tran­si­tions. I had in­valu­able sup­port from my teach­ers be­cause I car­ried the cul­ture of dis­ci­pline and hard work from the ground­ing I re­ceived grow­ing up.”

Faith helped her par­ents make ends meet by be­com­ing a young en­tre­pre­neur. “I saw the need for good cheap snacks amongst the learn­ers as there was no tuck shop in the school, so I sold R2 sand­wiches. My prod­uct range grew to sweets, chips and stewed chicken heads and feet that I would cook ev­ery morn­ing be­fore school. I en­joyed the taste of in­de­pen­dence and ap­pre­ci­ated the sup­port I got at home and at school.”

When her fa­ther lost his job, her par­ents took over Faith’s bud­ding food-ven­dor busi­ness. “They in­creased the stock lev­els and fur­ther di­ver­si­fied the prod­uct range to in­clude fruit and ice lol­lies. That was the in­come the eight of us sur­vived on. It was hard but we kept close and happy as a fam­ily.”

‘I spent four hours trav­el­ling to and from cam­pus ev­ery day. I had good test re­sults, which was a con­fi­dence booster’

Faith ma­tric­u­lated with seven dis­tinc­tions. The one that ➜ pleased her most was the A for isiXhosa as home lan­guage, even though she had be­gun learn­ing it only three years be­fore.

She, her teach­ers and par­ents were all con­fi­dent she would re­ceive a scholarshi­p to univer­sity, but, she writes, “lit­tle did I know that my cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus would be the ice­berg that al­most sunk my dreams of at­tain­ing a univer­sity qual­i­fi­ca­tion. My fa­ther had found an­other job as a gar­dener in Jef­frey’s Bay but his salary would never be enough to feed and send six chil­dren to school.”

Her fam­ily con­vinced her to at­tend the first lec­tures un­til the last date for late reg­is­tra­tion. In that time her fa­ther’s em­ployer agreed to help with her ini­tial fees, but she was also re­quired to pay med­i­cal in­sur­ance fees be­cause she was not a South African cit­i­zen.

“It was the first time I ever felt ex­cluded. I had been in­te­grated into the so­ci­ety very well, from liv­ing in an RDP house, see­ing the daily strug­gles in ekasi and re­lat­ing very well with the lo­cal cit­i­zens … the sud­den dif­fer­ent treat­ment I re­ceived from the univer­sity was very dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand.”

Fi­nally a way was found. “I re­mem­ber the way I ap­pre­ci­ated my stu­dent card, hung it on my neck ev­ery sin­gle day of my first year.

“I spent four hours trav­el­ling to and from cam­pus ev­ery day. I had good test re­sults, which was a def­i­nite con­fi­dence booster. My friends con­tin­ued to sup­port me, I am for­ever grate­ful for the bus fare and food at times. But the tu­ition debt had to be set­tled oth­er­wise I wouldn’t get my end-of-year re­sults.”

Her pro­gram­ming pro­fes­sor helped Faith raise her tu­ition fees through an ap­peal post on Face­book, and she spent ev­ery hol­i­day work­ing, as “a house­keeper, farm­worker, wait­ress and ad­min­is­tra­tor … I also re­ceived some aca­demic mer­its from the univer­sity and as­sis­tance from the alumni bur­sary fund. So­cial life went past me but it is a trade-off I was will­ing to make. I found so much joy in men­tor­ing first years in pro­gram­ming fun­da­men­tals, which I still do. I am hum­bled by the fact that the first group I men­tored turned out as bril­liant stu­dents who are now pur­su­ing their hon­ours de­grees.”

Faith ob­tained her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in record time and is now do­ing a post­grad­u­ate di­ploma in ac­count­ing. “It is a jour­ney that I am still trav­el­ling,” she writes, “but I sure am a bet­ter per­son than I was on the first day I regis­tered at NMMU. My dream is to do things that will make a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives. I want to have a pos­i­tive im­pact in so­ci­ety. Grace car­ried me this far and by grace, I will carry on.”

Bower’s project has opened these win­dows into the lives of South African stu­dents, their strug­gles and as­pi­ra­tions. She said “the process of pho­tograph­ing these sto­ries has been an en­rich­ing and re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. While my main ob­jec­tive was to of­fer oth­ers a win­dow into the lives of these stu­dents, I of­ten found my­self be­ing taken out of my own com­fort zone and into an­other’s re­al­ity. I have been wel­comed into their homes, have shared meals with them, met their par­ents, sib­lings, mem­bers of their com­mu­ni­ties, and dogs. My wish it that this project will en­cour­age the shar­ing of our life sto­ries, as it has the abil­ity to break down walls.”

✼#Sto­ryOfMyLife is at the Fo­toZA Gallery, Shop 402, Level 4, Rose­bank Mall, 50 Bath Ave, Rose­bank, Jo­han­nes­burg, un­til Oc­to­ber 28

‘Your back­ground doesn’t de­ter­mine your fu­ture’

 ?? Pic­ture: © Leonette Bower ?? STEAD­FAST Faith Moyo works in the kitchen of her fam­ily’s home in Rock­lands, Port El­iz­a­beth. As a pupil she helped make ends meet by sell­ing school lunches to other kids, and later worked her way through univer­sity.
Pic­ture: © Leonette Bower STEAD­FAST Faith Moyo works in the kitchen of her fam­ily’s home in Rock­lands, Port El­iz­a­beth. As a pupil she helped make ends meet by sell­ing school lunches to other kids, and later worked her way through univer­sity.
 ?? Pic­tures: ©Leonette Bower ?? LOOK­ING FOR­WARDKhakal­omzi Gcwabe Dlamini lives with his mother and brother in Mother­well out­side Port El­iz­a­beth. His fa­ther died when Khakalomzi was in grade 3 and his mother lives on a gov­ern­ment grant. He is in his third year of study­ing to­wards a na­tional di­ploma in man­age­ment. “Your back­ground doesn’t de­ter­mine your fu­ture,” writes Khakalomzi. His stud­ies have been partly funded by a stu­dent grant but he also re­lies on “sup­port from in­di­vid­u­als who have an in­ter­est in my fu­ture, peo­ple who come from my church, the ones who ini­ti­ated the first steps to get me into NMMU. They paid for my reg­is­tra­tion and have con­tin­ued to sup­port me fi­nan­cially and per­son­ally.” He would like one day to run a con­sult­ing busi­ness that will help small busi­nesses grow, and “start my own foun­da­tion to spon­sor ma­tric­u­lants with funds to study, men­tor­ing young adults and equip­ping them to change the world and cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture”.
Pic­tures: ©Leonette Bower LOOK­ING FOR­WARDKhakal­omzi Gcwabe Dlamini lives with his mother and brother in Mother­well out­side Port El­iz­a­beth. His fa­ther died when Khakalomzi was in grade 3 and his mother lives on a gov­ern­ment grant. He is in his third year of study­ing to­wards a na­tional di­ploma in man­age­ment. “Your back­ground doesn’t de­ter­mine your fu­ture,” writes Khakalomzi. His stud­ies have been partly funded by a stu­dent grant but he also re­lies on “sup­port from in­di­vid­u­als who have an in­ter­est in my fu­ture, peo­ple who come from my church, the ones who ini­ti­ated the first steps to get me into NMMU. They paid for my reg­is­tra­tion and have con­tin­ued to sup­port me fi­nan­cially and per­son­ally.” He would like one day to run a con­sult­ing busi­ness that will help small busi­nesses grow, and “start my own foun­da­tion to spon­sor ma­tric­u­lants with funds to study, men­tor­ing young adults and equip­ping them to change the world and cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture”.
 ??  ?? DAD KNOWS BEST Jenna-Leigh Greyling, pic­tured with her fa­ther, is a third-year stu­dent in tourism man­age­ment. She writes: “I feel bad that I’m not help­ing my dad pay but he said he’d rather have good marks than me work­ing and not hav­ing time for my stud­ies. He works very hard to make my dreams come true.”
DAD KNOWS BEST Jenna-Leigh Greyling, pic­tured with her fa­ther, is a third-year stu­dent in tourism man­age­ment. She writes: “I feel bad that I’m not help­ing my dad pay but he said he’d rather have good marks than me work­ing and not hav­ing time for my stud­ies. He works very hard to make my dreams come true.”
 ??  ?? HIGHER LOVE An­gelo Ka­pank (sec­ond from right) is com­plet­ing his na­tional di­ploma in lo­gis­tics man­age­ment. He was in­spired by the Rasta­fari move­ment: “They made me re­alise that I need to seek higher ed­u­ca­tion in or­der to lib­er­ate the youth in my com­mu­nity from poverty and crime.”
HIGHER LOVE An­gelo Ka­pank (sec­ond from right) is com­plet­ing his na­tional di­ploma in lo­gis­tics man­age­ment. He was in­spired by the Rasta­fari move­ment: “They made me re­alise that I need to seek higher ed­u­ca­tion in or­der to lib­er­ate the youth in my com­mu­nity from poverty and crime.”
 ??  ?? SPORT­INGCHANCE Nandipha Jack lives with her fos­ter aunt in New Brighton. She stud­ied pub­lic man­age­ment at NMMU thanks to a net­ball bur­sary and the na­tional stu­dent fi­nan­cial aid scheme. She is the first grad­u­ate in her fam­ily.
SPORT­INGCHANCE Nandipha Jack lives with her fos­ter aunt in New Brighton. She stud­ied pub­lic man­age­ment at NMMU thanks to a net­ball bur­sary and the na­tional stu­dent fi­nan­cial aid scheme. She is the first grad­u­ate in her fam­ily.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa