How a gardener opened all his own doors to Oxford
Sizwe Mkwanazi, 24, has been admitted to study for a doctorate in education at the prestigious UK university
When Sizwe Mkwanazi worked as a part-time gardener for a Mpumalanga family nine years ago, he never dreamed he would one day be studying at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Mkwanazi, 24, has been admitted to study for a doctorate in education at Oxford in the UK.
What makes his achievement even more extraordinary is that he is probably the first student in South Africa from a Technical and Vocational Education and Training College (TVET) to be accepted at Oxford. He worked part-time as a gardener while completing his TVET studies.
After completing Grade 9 at Qondulwazi Secondary in Platrand, outside Standerton, in 2007, he studied for a national vocational certificate in office administration over the next three years at the Gert Sibande TVET College.
“My aim was to finish TVET and hopefully find employment but in my final year I applied to study at the University of Johannesburg.”
Despite the odds against him – he grew up in poverty on a farm where his grandparents were farm workers and he has never seen his biological father since birth – Mkwanazi enrolled for a diploma in entrepreneurship at the University of Johannesburg in 2011, which he completed in 2013.He spoke of how his mother, Delisiwe, fell pregnant when she was just 17 and how his grandparents searched for his biological father.
“It was very tough for a young girl in the community to give birth after having not married. It was so embarrassing when my grandparents went to the family of the boy who supposedly made my mom fall pregnant. There was a denial that he was the father. My grandparents had to take me as their child to ease the burden on my mother, who was already embarrassed among her peers to have fallen pregnant and having to go back to school.”
Determined to continue studying, he completed a bachelor of technology degree at UJ in 2014.
In 2015, he was awarded a Mandela Rhodes scholarship to study towards a master of technology degree in operations management at UJ’s engineering faculty. He was conferred the degree with distinction in 2017.
“Being accepted at Oxford is a huge achievement for me, especially as I come from a family where I still find it difficult to say that I’m the only person with a degree,” said Mkwanazi.
“I feel like someone who is becoming truly an international citizen but it gives me pride to have a chance to immerse myself in a field that I care about, which is entrepreneurship education.”During 2015 he simultaneously studied for a postgraduate diploma in management at North West University through correspondence, which he completed in 2016. While studying he lectured in business management at UJ from 2015 to 2017.
After receiving another scholarship, he left lecturing at UJ in September last year to pursue a master of science degree in business management entrepreneurship at Oxford Brooks University. He will complete this qualification in September.
But his determination to study at Oxford, despite being turned down for three different academic programmes, finally paid dividends after he was informed earlier this year that he had been accepted to study towards a doctorate.
He will be studying at St Anthony's College, one of the 38 Oxford colleges. According to the University of Oxford’s website, there were five undergraduates and 100 graduates from South Africa at Oxford last year.
Mkwanazi said being accepted at Oxford was a step towards building his profile as a fully-fledged academic.
“My hope is, when I finish, I would have published enough and supervised enough masters students so that I can apply for a professorship in the field of entrepreneurship education.”