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5 December 2022
From the SANDF barracks to growing entrepreneurs at UWC
Dr Jacob Cloete has had an interesting life journey and career path that has taken him to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as part of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force, and helped him build a reputation as a talented photographer and documentary-filmmaker whose latest documentary, The Broken String, is currently being aired on Cape Town TV. Now the University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumnus is growing an entrepreneurial mindset amongst the university’s undergraduate students as the institution’s ZoneLearning@UWC Manager.  

The ZoneLearning@UWC Programme falls under the office of Prof Vivienne Lawack, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, and functions as an “experiential learning and incubation space” for students. What makes the ZoneLearning@UWC Programme unique is the fact that “the curriculum is embedded in the learning experience” and that it also integrates community engagement through developing “graduates who are socially responsive and able to drive entrepreneurial activities in their communities”.

“Zone learning refers to a model that was developed by Ryerson University in Canada and consists of 12 zones, one of which is to redesign the curriculum for a world around us that is moving towards a digital age,” explains Cloete, adding that UWC is one of the few universities in South Africa to “adopt this innovative learning approach”.

“The memorandum of understanding that was signed with Ryerson University allows us to infuse entrepreneurial thinking in undergraduate studies. Zone Learning is currently associated with three faculties at UWC – Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), Law, and the Arts faculties – and consists of four clinics. These clinics include the Green Incubator, which focusses on the green economy, and students specifically work on business ideas that are related to sustainable development and the green economy.”

Cloete says that through this incubator, 30 students are currently completing an incubation programme that is funded by BankSETA. The students will pitch their business ideas next year and the top three applicants will receive cash prizes to help them with starting their businesses.  The aim is to “take these students to the start-up phase in the next two years, and help them build sustainable businesses”.

There is also the Small Business Clinic in the EMS Faculty that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to share what they are learning.

“There is a strong community focus which allows undergraduate students from the Economics Faculty to work with community members to help them start businesses. The Entrepreneurial Law Clinic focuses on the legal aspects of running a small business and the students in our Green Incubator make use of this. The service is also offered to community members who need help with legal documents and how to start and register their businesses.”

The fourth clinic is the New and Transmedia Clinic which focuses on storytelling by telling the stories of students and communities surrounding UWC. 

The clinic also offers a continuous education course called Transmedia for the Creative Economy that equips participants with skills to make highly technical research accessible by breaking it down in a language that the public can understand, and sharing it on various platforms to reach a broader audience. 

“The course teaches people how to produce that content, how to distribute the content, and interpret the analytics that comes from sharing that content.”

This is where Cloete’s background in photography comes in handy. 

Cloete, who hails from Bitterfontein and describes himself as a Namaqualander at heart, enlisted in the South African Defence Force after he matriculated. He completed his basic training in Kimberley, then joined the engineering corps of the army. 

“The army provided me with the means to study, because my grandparents, whom I grew up with, didn’t have the finances for me to go to university.”

A year later, he was deployed to the DRC for six months as one of the South African soldiers who formed part of the UN peacekeeping force in the country. Cloete carried an old camera with him to capture moments from his tour of duty.

“I bought my first camera in the DRC. It was a one-megabyte camera.” 

When he returned from the DRC, he joined a Community Development Workers Programme run by the then Premier of the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool. The programme brought him to UWC, and it is while he was there that he decided to register for a BAdmin in Public Administration and Political Studies.

“I remember, it was October 2006 when I got my acceptance letter. My grandparents were still alive, and they said to me: ‘Please go. We’ll make a plan’.”

At the time, Cloete was also interacting with a social worker, known as Aunty Lenie, as a community development worker in Matzikama. When he told Aunty Lenie that he had been accepted at UWC, she insisted he accept the spot and paid his registration fees. In the first three months of his studies, while he awaited funding from NSFAS, Cloete was supported by Aunty Lenie, and some of his own friends. There was also Malinda Gardener who at the time worked for the West Coast District Municipality in Bitterfontein.

“She told me that I am a good photographer and to use the money I was earning from a project I was working on to buy myself a new camera.”
To earn money, Cloete has also worked as a student mentor in the UWC Student Mentoring Programme. helping first-years who were struggling academically to adjust to university through mentoring and academic support, and as a tutor. In 2012, he became the coordinator of the Peer Mentoring Programme. During this time, he earned an Honours, Master’s, and PhD in Political Science from UWC.

In 2019, he was appointed as the ZoneLearning@UWC Manager. 

He has learnt a lot from his life journey and his career path, he says. 

“I think the biggest transformation in my life happened when I joined the mentoring programme and we started focusing on personal development. I had a military background that was strict, and rules based, and it can make you a hard, expressionless person. Growing up in poverty and being exposed to the ills in society forces you to build another layer of hardness. But the counselling methodologies we learnt helped me make peace with my background and become someone who can work more effectively with others. I was also exposed to a new generation of students who come from disadvantaged and impoverished backgrounds, but are resilient.”

The training he received as part of the student mentoring programme, his studies in politics and psychology, and his time in the DRC, inspired his PhD focus on understanding “why people kill each other”. He was able to use photographs from his time in the DRC as part of this research. 
In 2017, Cloete completed a documentary-making course at UWC’s Centre for Humanities Research.

“It’s important to constantly reinvent yourself. That’s what I did when I started taking photos and when I completed the documentary-making course.

“I also think it is important to know why you want to achieve a goal, because when things get difficult, it is your ‘why’ that will drive you. I wanted to go to the military so that I could get into university. Also set action steps because a goal without action will remain a dream. And reward yourself when you finish a task, because you only have one life to enjoy.”
 
UWC alumnis, Jacob Cloete is tasked with growing an entrepreneurial mindset amongst the university’s undergraduate students as the institution’s ZoneLearning@UWC Manager
 
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