'I didn't lose sight of my dreams,' says 69-year-old PhD graduate

Anti-apartheid activists Lulama Ngalo-Morrison, 69, has earned a PhD degree from the University of the Western Cape. (Supplied)
Anti-apartheid activists Lulama Ngalo-Morrison, 69, has earned a PhD degree from the University of the Western Cape. (Supplied)

Cape Town - "Not losing sight of my dreams," is what 69-year-old anti-apartheid activist and recent PhD graduate Lulama Ngalo-Morrison says is her recipe for success.

"I always knew I would one day do a doctorate degree. It has always been a personal goal," Ngalo-Morrison told News24.

"For me, education is fundamentally a liberation tool."

READ: Former Cape Flats grass cutter receives PhD

On Tuesday August 29, Ngalo-Morrison's thesis into the "factors that influence academic attainment of sponsored students in South African higher education system" earned her a PhD degree from the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

She is the first in her family to get a degree.


Ngalo-Morrison, the former dean of student affairs at the University of Fort Hare, said it was the potential of the young people, not the handicap of poverty, that inspired her thesis.

"We know there are thousands upon thousands of disadvantaged people, however, there are also thousands and thousands of capable, brilliant individuals who need to be nurtured towards achieving their dreams.

"This study is about highlighting the strengths, possibilities, opportunities and hope that our communities need."

READ: My mom cried when she heard I got my PhD - EFF spokesperson

Ngalo-Morrison grew up in Umtata in the Eastern Cape and completed her matric at Healdtown Comprehensive School just outside Fort Beaufort.

While completing her undergraduate at Fort Hare, she said that for students at the time: "It was not a choice but duty and fundamental belief that liberation started with us."

Ngalo-Morrison, however, said she remained squarely focused on her studies despite being a student activist at the height of the anti-apartheid student uprising.

"I knew our liberation and future depended on each of us remaining committed to completing our university degrees."

She went to exile into Nigeria in the 1970s when her brother was sent to Robben Island after he was arrested on the border of Botswana. Her daughter, taken to her sister-in-law in Lesotho, joined her six months after she fled the country.


In Nigeria, Ngalo-Morrison completed a master's degree in "Special Education" and learnt American Sign Language (ASL).

After 12-years in exile, she and her husband immigrated to New Zealand before returning to SA in 1998 where she joined the student affairs department of the Fort Hare.

In 2009, Ngalo-Morrison joined Old Mutual where she founded the Old Mutual Education Trust which identifies and supports students from disadvantaged communities.

Having retired in July, Ngalo-Morrison said she looked forward to publishing her thesis and writing a book about "life experiences and the power of resilience".

She said she will, however, always be involved in cultivating "a mind-set of self-belief, hard work, positivity and resilience" among South African youth.

"When we truly own and believe in our innate abilities no matter where we come from, we can change the world," Ngalo-Morrison said.

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