PORT ELIZABETH – Born in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape Avukile Jeke, who is blind, has come a long way in the face of adversity bagging a BA Honours in IsiXhosa at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth.
Jeke 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 it is a fundamental aspect of who someone is. If you lose that, you also lose your identity,” he said.
Just over a year ago – having just started 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.
Jeke wanted to pursue an opportunity to fulfil his lifelong dream of teaching and exposing his pupils, particularly the differently abled, to the array of opportunities that have seen him continuously climb to greater heights.
When that did not pan out, Jeke “conceded defeat”, and resumed his studies.
On Monday he crossed the stage at the Nelson Mandela University South Campus Indoor Sport Centre to a standing ovation.
“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, was born partially blind and gradually lost his sight completely.
He was part of a group of students initially not admitted to the university due to a lack of adequate faculties to accommodate completely blind students.
Nelson Mandela University spokesperson, Zandile Mbabela said the university’s Universal Accessibility and Disability Services (UADS) unit had 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 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 laude alongside six others.
The former pupil of the Mthatha-based Ifata School for the Blind says when he started 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.
Jeke 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.
“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 mother, Zandile Jeke, who was surrounded by his siblings, said she was very proud of her son.
“I don’t know how he 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 now pursuing a masters degree, with the aim of ultimately crossing the stage in a red gown as Dr Avukile Jeke.
Ntsikelelo Williams is following a similar path, having joined the institution last year with three qualifications under his belt and honours in IsiXhosa as his fourth.
Williams, who was born with full sight, grew up in the rural areas of Lady Frere. He lost his vision following a medical procedure done 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.”
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.”
African News Agency (ANA)