Fleeing Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis, Hloniphani Ndebele sought refuge in South Africa only to find the going tougher than he had expected.
But, after his arrival in 1999 – a painful period during which he encountered visa problems, xenophobia as well as accommodation and financial struggles – the Zimbabwean student has finally made his mark by graduating with a Master of Arts degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“It was not an easy road,” said Ndebele, 28, who decided to study in South Africa after reading that as a Masters-by-research student, he would be exempt from paying tuition fees if he registered full-time at UKZN. “This was like a dream come true for me, considering the cost of doing a postgraduate degree in Zimbabwe.”
But Ndebele soon realised that because he was on a visitor’s visa, he could not study or work in South Africa. His only option was to apply for a temporary asylum permit, a process which took six months. Only then was he able to apply to UKZN. Ndebele then moved to a fellow Zimbabwean’s house in Inanda, where he said he was subjected to a spate of xenophobic attacks. “At first, I felt so insecure, but with time I integrated into the community and they began to accommodate me as one of their own,” he said. “One major advantage that I had was my fluency in isiZulu.” After getting a job as a bricklayer, Ndebele was able to pay for his studies and basic living expenses.
In February 2010, he embarked on his Masters degree. “I knew my goals and I was confident that one day I would achieve them,” he said. “I managed to secure small jobs over the weekends and I was appointed as a tutor in my second semester, which helped me financially.”
While living in Inanda, Ndebele, whose degree centred on isiZulu studies, developed an interest in studying the people around him, leading to a research topic on language behaviour. “As I interviewed more and more people, I managed to break down the barriers and I was more accepted by the community,” he said. Ndebele’s research focused on code switching – the use of more than one language in a conversation. “My goal was to find out why people do this and what function this has in language and culture,” he said.
Now that he has his Masters, Ndebele has applied to the Department of Home Affairs for a study visa so that he can continue with a PhD in information technology and localisation. “I want to introduce IT to indigenous languages,” he said.
“I will always cherish the support of my supervisors – their encouragement, guidance, and moral support kept me going.”