A long way from home

2011-04-19 00:00

HE grew up in rural Trust Feed, near Wartburg, and attended a farm school. He is the school’s first pupils to receive a university degree.

His school had no laboratory, and he was exposed to advanced equipment for the first time when he arrived at university. His English was so poor he couldn’t even interact with people of other race groups.

Manqoba Zungu (21) has come a long way since he enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2008. Last year he was top of his class, and yesterday he graduated as a bachelor of science in ecological sciences.

Zungu told the The Witness that when he attended his first lecture at university, it became clear to him that he was in serious trouble.

“Here I was at university. I had never been taught by an English-speaking person in my life. And worse of all, the style of teaching was very different.

“The lecturers spoke so fast that I really struggled to absorb what was being said. It was a reality shock. At school I was among the top achievers because I worked hard. But when I got to university, I literally felt stupid.”

Zungu said he made self-discipline, dedication, determination and hard work his winning formula.

“The way I saw it was that I had not come this far to fail. And quite frankly I didn’t want to shame to my school. So I had to make a decision right there and then that if I was to realise my dreams, I needed to up my game.”

Zungu is one of six siblings — five boys and a girl. To support the family, their parents sold pillows, food nets and clothes in the streets on pension paydays.

They also patched up torn clothes for people in order to make money.

They were never rich, said Zungu, but they managed.

His father died when Zungu was only 14 years old.

“I actually count it a blessing to have been born in the family that I was.

“My parents were extremely strict and didn’t take any nonsense. I think that helped because I was never confused about where I came from. I knew what I came to university to do and chose friends who had the same vision as I did, which helped to ground me.”

Zungu said he was never embarrassed to ask questions if he didn’t understand. He also asked for help from other students.

The most challenging aspect of his studies was conducting practicals for subjects like chemistry, which he had only read about in textbooks at his school.

Zungu said he chose ecology since he realised that there were not many black people in the field, and besides, he has an inborn love of nature and wildlife.

He is reading for an honours degree and has his sights on working with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

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