From registering with no funds to obtaining a PhD

2016-09-05 21:02
Estimé Mukandila (Supplied)

Estimé Mukandila (Supplied)

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Pretoria - His story started out with little more than a bus ticket to South Africa as he left the political unrest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But after getting over several hurdles like learning English and securing enough funds to pay for his studies, Estimé Mukandila is now a PhD graduate in civil engineering from the University of Pretoria.

Mukandila completed his degree in mining at University of Lubumbashi in the DRC, but the turmoil there resulted in him leaving it all behind and coming to South Africa with no money.

His bus ticket was paid for by someone who was also travelling to SA.

"The political unrest in the country and the unsecured future pushed me out of the country and I landed in South Africa in April 2004 as an asylum seeker. My passion for study directed me to the University of Pretoria," he said.

"In the corridor of the department of civil engineering, I fortunately met Mr Louis Roodt who was a lecturer in transportation. [He] introduced me to Professor Alex Visser, who facilitated my inscription in transportation in the department of civil engineering. I was admitted for BSc honour's from the 2nd semester of 2004."

With a clear ambition of wanting to study, nothing would stand in his way despite various challenges such as learning and understanding English.

As a citizen of the DRC, Mukandila's first language was French.

Settling fees

"When I arrived in South Africa, I was just able to greet in English. Imagine the frustration I went through. I remember the first lecture class I attended in June 2004, basic traffic engineering. The lecturer, Mr Roodt, realising that I am not able to follow the lecture, came and suggested to me to find some French speaking students on campus to help with the translation of the course. My first test was in basic pavement materials and design with Professor Visser. I got 17 out of 40. Prof said to me that my problem was only the language," he said.

But struggling with the language was not the only hurdle.

At the back of his mind was the issue of settling his fees.

Mukandila still had no funds and was unemployed. That however did not deter him and he soldiered on. His dedication caught the attention of his lecturers.

"One of the biggest challenges I had was financial. I remember most of the people, including some of my lecturers were asking me, 'How will you pay [for] your study?' Mr Roodt provided me with a few opportunities for temporary jobs that helped me to survive; he also contributed largely to settle my honour study's debt," he said.

Mukandila then focused on his studies and improving his English. He said he often studied with a dictionary in hand.

Perseverance, faith

"Finally I passed all my Honours subjects with a final mark of 73%. Prof Emile Horak, who was the head of the civil department, suggested [that I] help with some literature review on the characterisation of sand for bitumen treated materials. It was the same project he was involved in. [This] lead me to laboratory research and [to enrolling in a] MSc degree. In the meantime, I eventually got a proper study permit with the help of the university. Now I have a permanent residence in South Africa," he said.

His diligent work ethic resulted in Horak introducing him to people at Goestradra, a materials laboratory of engineering company Aurecon in order for him to perform his research for a master's degree (MSc).

"At this laboratory I met Dr Terence Milne who was the head and he offered me a temporary contract to work as a material engineer in a major project in Angola. Eventually I got permanent employment with Aurecon and I worked for four years for Aurecon in more than seven countries in Africa. I am currently working as a principal engineer at WorleyParsons," he said.

Mukandila formally enrolled as a PhD student in 2012. On Thursday he graduated at the University of Pretoria. He said his achievement was thanks to hard work.

"I am not necessarily the most intelligent but I must say that perseverance and faith always pays," he said.

Read more on:    university of pretoria  |  education

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