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Pursuit of excellence pays off for Nelson Mandela University's blind students

Apr 9, 2019
Pursuit of excellence pays off for Nelson Mandela University's blind students

Nelson Mandela University's blind students making a name for themselves

Port Elizabeth - Just over a year ago – fresh into his honours course and with a newly obtained postgraduate certificate in education – he threw in the towel because of what he described as a “very difficult” undergraduate journey.

The plan? To pursue an opportunity to fulfil his lifelong dream of teaching and exposing his pupils, particularly the differently abed, to the array of opportunities that have seen him continuously climb to greater heights.

When that did not pan out, Mount Frere-born Avukile Jeke “conceded defeat”, resumed his studies and soldiered on.

This week, as he crossed the stage at the Nelson Mandela University South Campus Indoor Sport Centre to rapturous applause and ululation, and a standing ovation both on and off the stage, Jeke found himself thankful for what had at the time seemed like a major obstacle.

“The way the journey was so difficult in my undergraduate university experience, I decided to quit and look for an alternative path to follow,” he said.

“As a result, I started looking for a job to compensate for the lost academic year because I believed I would never manage my academics.

“Fortunately, I found a job. The unfortunate part, however, was the lack of funds to transport me to and from the workplace.”

“I did some introspection and realised that this was a sign, I needed to pursue my studies and get yet another qualification.”

Jeke, from Mount Frere, was born partially blind and gradually lost his sight completely. He was part of the group of students initially not admitted to the University due to a lack of adequate faculties to accommodate completely blind students.

NMU's Universal Accessibility and Disability Services (UADS) unit

The University’s Universal Accessibility and Disability Services (UADS) unit has since vastly improved its facilities, having worked closely with organisations working with the Blind in developing comprehensive support for the students.

Since beginning his studies at the University in 2014, Jeke – a first generation graduate – has made it his mission to excel in all that he does.

He was one of 15 Bachelor of Arts Honours in IsiXhosa graduates – including another blind student Ntsikelelo Williams – obtaining the degree cum laudealongside six others.

He said he pursued the degree because he wanted to teach the language as a means to preserve it in its purest form.

“It pains me that our mother tongue is dying. People speak it, but not in its purest form. This concerns me because is a fundamental aspect of who someone is. If you lose that, you also lose your identity,” he said.

The former pupil of the Mthatha-based Ifata School for the Blind says when he came to University, he expected the same “special treatment” that he was afforded at the school, which catered solely to the visually impaired.

“As time went by, however, I realised that I should never expect to be granted special attention, as everyone knows that there are lots of students in different lecture modules,” he said.

“One of the best ways to gain due recognition by a lecturer in class, and to obtain excellent academic marks, is active participation and asking critical questions. I told myself that in order to gain due acknowledgement I need to be confident in myself.”

True to his word, he obtained a general BA undergraduate degree in 2016 and went on to acquire a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) the following year, both cum laude, as he wanted to heed a calling to teach disabled children and contribute to bettering their lives.

During his time at the University, Jeke has won the hearts of many and garnered quite a following from peers, many of whom are influenced and inspired by his gallant character.

He is an avid sportsman and was once a very popular sports presenter on the campus station Madibaz Radio. In the five years at the institution, he has also served on the Student Representative Council and as a House Committee member at one of the male on-campus residences. He was a tutor in the Applied Languages department and student assistant in the UADS Unit.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunities afforded to me. Nelson Mandela University is transformed and allows anybody to utilise the opportunities granted, regardless of race, gender or disability,” he said.

His beaming mother, Zandile Jeke, who was surrounded by his siblings could not be prouder of her son.

“I don’t know how h keeps on doing it but I’m extremely proud of him,” she said.

“Like, he surprises me and also doesn’t because he has always been strong and not afraid of things. He’s going far this one.”

Jeke is pursuing a masters degree, with the aim of ultimately crossing the stage in red gown as Dr Avukile Jeke.

Another Nelson Mandela University making waves

Ntsikelelo Williams is following a similar path, having joined the institution last year with three qualifications under his belt and the Honours in IsiXhosa his fourth.

Williams, who was born with full sight, grew up in the rural areas of Lady Frere. He lost his sight following a medical procedure in a bid to cure severe headaches he had been suffering from.

“I was born with full sight and the ability to do anything. [The procedure] left me blind because the optic nerve was damaged in the process,” he said.

“The incident, however, did not stop me from chasing my dreams, like every child. I will always be grateful for the support from my family and those who continue to make it possible for me to achieve my goals.”

The Universal Accessibility & Disability Services (UADS) unit at the University supports differently abled students in various ways, including making learning material accessible to blind students and helping with orientation and mobility trainings to familiarise students with the University and its surroundings.

Head of UADS, Nosiphiwo Delubom, said the unit was “so proud of these students and the lecturers as well for their persistence and unending support to the students”.

“Blind students received the bulk of their support from the Braille Office and the Information Access Officer is doing an outstanding job to assist these students with their learning material that is converted to braille format.”

Main image: BA Honours in IsiXhosa graduate Avukile Jeke with, from left, his mother Zandile Jeke and siblings Aphiwe Jeke, Zenani Jeke and Aphelela Jeke.

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