18 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Sonia Small
First Lady Visit
At a gathering with the First Lady and UFS management were, from the left: Prof Prakash Naidoo, Vice-Rector: Operations; Prof Maléne Campbell; Chacha; Dr Tshepo Motsepe, First Lady of South Africa; Prof Petersen; Prof Puleng Lenka-Bula; Vice-Rector: Institutional Change, Student Affairs, and Community Engagement; and Prof Danie Vermeulen, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

“I am from a very small town called Marquard. I am a granny’s boy – who was a domestic worker – and can speak fluent Afrikaans. I am fearless and I understand my calling for greatness. I stand and advocate for social justice and I am not scared to challenge any form of injustice. I hate people who abuse power and I am no friend of mediocrity. I speak my mind.”

This and much more describes Thapelo Chacha, a graduate in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, who received his Honours degree in Spatial Planning at the recent April graduation ceremonies of the University of the Free State (UFS). 

The First Lady

He is also the student who brought Dr Tshepo Motsepe, the First Lady of South Africa to Kovsies. 

Chacha tells his story: “I met the First Lady some years back through Dr Vuyelwa Manzana, who was my mother’s doctor at the time – after dropping out of university due to a financial crisis. I was handed over to the lawyers, with a debt that accrued over three years. I knocked at every door you can think of – with no luck. One day I got a call from a lady who introduced herself as Mme Tshepo, asking me to go to university. I laughed, because I knew my debt was too big to allow me to study again. She insisted, and when I arrived at the UFS, my outstanding debt had been paid and I was able to register. The same Mme Tshepo called to assure me that she will pay for my tuition, meals, books, and accommodation. I did not even know that she was the wife of Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, who would later become the Deputy President and now the President of the country.”

“Mme Tshepo sponsored me from her own pocket until I became part of the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET).”

“She personally texted and called me about my graduation information so she could attend. You can imagine the excitement and the shock. Although I have met the First Lady many times, it will be the first time that I will introduce her to my family. She is taking me and my family – my mother and my grandmother – to lunch after the ceremony. I see that as a favour of God upon my life.”

Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor at a meeting with Dr Motsepe and Chacha said: “Access to university is crucial. However, we would also like our students to exit with a qualification. This is how a bursary like this one from CRET helps. We would like to exit students that contribute to the economy.”

Making a difference

Chacha is now doing his master’s in Urban and Regional Planning. “I am so looking forward to registering with the South African Council for Planners (SACPLAN) as a professional town planner at the end of my master’s degree within a few months. 

“I see myself joining a town planning division anywhere in South Africa, dedicated to changing the living conditions of ordinary citizens. Spatial planning speaks to the heart of land use and ensures that the land is used and occupied in a manner that is beneficial to everyone who needs it,” Chacha said. 

He believes town planning has been largely influenced by politics, thus forcing town planners to move away from serving the needs of the ordinary citizen. Chacha would like to see the injustices of the past, especially with regard to townships, being addressed. “This is why my dissertation is about township infrastructure and the contribution it makes towards township economy.”

“I would like to see a South Africa that is centred on the well-being of its citizens. The older generation has fought the brutality of apartheid; our battle as the youth is to be academically equipped to fight and win the land battle,” he said.

Kovsie encounters

For Chacha, his studies in Urban and Regional Planning was very tough. But the support he received from his lecturers was immeasurable. “Prof Maléne Campbell, Head of the UFS Department of Urban and Regional Planning has the most competent team. This is the best department on campus, with no racial issues or unpleasant vibes. I just love the space.”

“The UFS has taught me resilience, hard work, the importance of networking, and the knowledge that you need to be radical when it comes to your future,” Chacha concluded.

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