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I Am UWC: Kader Asmal Fellowship Sandisele Mtandana

I Am UWC: Economics student Sandisele Mtandana brings SA flavour to Ireland with Kader Asmal Fellowship

For University of the Western Cape (UWC) Economics Master’s student, Sandisele Mtandana, economics is not just a dry academic discipline – it’s something he lives every day. He’s done that through two degrees at UWC, through tutoring others in the Economics department, through assisting the department with lecturing – and now he’s taking his economic lifestyle international, having been awarded the prestigious Kader Asmal Fellowship.

The Fellowship was set up in 2012 in honour of the late Professor Kader Asmal, professor of human rights at UWC, co-founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, and part of the team that negotiated South Africa’s transition to democracy. The Fellowship sees Irish Aid support South African students to undertake Master’s-level studies in Ireland in strategically important disciplines.

Sandisele will be spending a year at Maynooth University, Ireland – with course fees, flights, accommodation and other expenses covered.

It’s a long way from where he started - as he explains…

What got you interested in Economics in the first place?

I was born and raised in the Eastern Cape in a small township called Whittlesea, and as a single parent with four children – I’m the last-born, two sisters, one brother – my mother had to make lots of choices and sacrifices to ensure efficiency in the allocation of limited resources. This really contributed to my understanding of economics as a household science, and led me to choose to enrol for it here at UWC. Since then, I’ve always based my understanding of the concepts of economics on my childhood experiences.

What do you find most interesting about the subject?

Economics isn’t just about GDPs and interest rates and debt relief. It’s also something you live: if you give me R10, I will have to decide how to use it as efficiently as possible to maximise my utility as much as I can. A better understanding of economics can help with that.

What made you decide to apply for the Fellowship?

I’ve always wanted to study abroad – and when I saw the application for the Fellowship, and what was required, I knew that this was my opportunity. I’m a very curious person (though I don’t always show it), and I believe it’s always great to see things from a different perspective. And this will allow me to get a view from an international platform and exchange ideas with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

What are you most looking forward to about Ireland?

Well, there’s the opportunity to enhance my economic thinking, naturally – but I’m really looking forward to engaging with people from around the globe, and hopefully learning some new languages. Of course, I’m going to work harder than ever before – but I’m ready for it.

What made you decide to come to UWC?

Honestly, I’m not really sure why I chose UWC – I think it was actually my sister who suggested it; she was already staying here in Cape Town and she assisted me with the application. But UWC was the only higher education institution I applied to – and I’m grateful that I did. This University has been a home away from home for me – literally as well as figuratively, since I’ve spent my time here at res, and made lots of good friends.

What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned at UWC?

Well, one thing I learned is that there’s no challenge that can’t be overcome, if you’re willing to try. The University can only do so much – it’s entirely up to the individual to make use of what they have learned.

What will you remember most about your time at UWC?

That has to be my first graduation. My mum coming here; seeing the smile on her face. That was priceless – and definitely worth all the hard work.

So where do you go from here?

Well, to Ireland first, of course. And then someday to the National Treasury or the Reserve Bank, and also owning my own company. If there’s one thing I learned from my brother – the first person in my family to obtain a university degree – it’s that nothing is impossible. Before him, I never knew that a person from our kind of background could do that…and his example has inspired me to achieve all I can.