‘SPU helps people from disadvantaged backgrounds change their situation’ – 2022 SPU graduate shares her inspiring story

When 2022 Sol Plaatje University (SPU) Bachelor of Education graduate Ms Akolwanosha Sakuya took her five-year-old daughter onto her graduation stage with her, it was the proudest moment of her life not just because she was graduating, but also because she’d managed to graduate while raising her daughter with the help of her fellow SPU-student housemates – and life-changing interventions and help from the University itself.

“My daughter went through it all with me, so I felt almost like she deserved her own honorary degree,” Sakuya says with a laugh.

Sakuya – who grew up near Kimberley but was born in Zambia to a Zambian mother and South African father – struggled with school admissions because she did not have a South African birth certificate. “My mother passed away in 2009 and I had to take care of myself and my brother as my father was working out of town. Writing matric in 2012 was stressful as I still did not have an ID book.”

Despite scoring four level 6s and one level 5 in the exams, she failed because she’d scored under 30% in two subjects. “I went back to school in 2014, doing self-study as I could not attend classes. When the results were released, I passed both subjects with a level 5 pass and finally had my admission to bachelor’s degree pass.”

After another battle over her lack of ID document, she managed to register at an institution in the Free State in 2016, on condition that she would have a SA ID number by the end of the first semester. “I passed all my modules but was still struggling to get my ID, so I was deregistered.”

Her daughter was born in August 2016. “I did not want her to struggle the way I did, so I went to Home Affairs every month, and even went to the Public Protector, and with their help we finally got our documents in 2017.”

She says her luck changed when she started at SPU in 2018. “I found that most staff members are willing to help, if you just ask for help. The registration process was very easy, and I was helped with the NSFAS bursary application.”

There were still challenges when it came to balancing full-time study with raising a baby. The only accredited landlord who didn’t mind a student having a baby living with her was 30 minutes’ walk away from campus. “There were no taxis, so I had to walk to campus, and had to leave classes early to pick up my daughter from day-care in time. It was so stressful that I considered dropping out in my second year.”

Instead of dropping out, Sakuya showed her determined spirit again when she asked the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for help. “The DVC was understanding and came up with solutions to my problems. I was moved closer to campus the following month.”

She says she got lucky in her accommodation – it is difficult to find accredited hosts who are happy to have a baby sharing the room, and it can also be difficult to find housemates who are happy to live with a baby. “When I moved, I was the first student in the house and the landlord tasked me with finding students who would not mind living with a child, and who I felt my child would be safe around. Most of my housemates were fellow BEd students and we were practically family.”

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