12 May 2021 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe | Photo Supplied
Puseletso Moqomo

A tale of sheer resistance and of never giving up, is what best describes University of the Free State student Puseletso Moqomo’s academic journey.

From changing studies three times, losing NSFAS funding, and not being able to pay her fees, to working as a cashier at a Bloemfontein filling station to fund her education, Moqomo has seen and done it all, and she says she wouldn’t change a single thing about her journey.

She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and Genetics in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences during the 2021 April virtual graduation ceremony. When asked what kept her going, she said, “I told myself that I would study hard and obtain my degree; no matter what came my way, I wouldn’t give up. I would be tired and unable to study, but I told my mind that I had to do what I had to do to advance.”

Moqomo first encountered financial exclusion when her application for NSFAS funding was not approved in 2016. She did not have the R6 830 that was required for registration, and therefore had to pause her studies indefinitely. She decided to look for a job to pay her fees, and in June of that year she was employed as a temporary cashier at the Engen filling station at Northridge Mall in Noordhoek. “I was embarrassed and ashamed when I lost my NSFAS funding but giving up was not one of the things on my mind. When I started working, I made it very clear that I didn’t want to be a permanent employee; I simply wanted to work enough to have money to pay my fees.”

Juggling work and school paid off 

She saved enough to be able to register again in January 2017, but she had to change degree programmes along the way. “After writing my November exams, I would go back to Engen so that I could save money for the following year’s registration. I would fail my modules but still try again,” she said.

NSFAS continued to pay for the rest of her fees, but in 2020, during her final year, she was told that she had exceeded the number of years she could receive funding. “I began working full time because I knew I might not get NSFAS funding even after appealing, so I would work night shifts from Friday to Sunday, then take a bath at work and go to class on Monday mornings. Through all of this, I told myself that I would pass, and I would pass well.”

Fortunately, after relating her whole story to NSFAS during her appeal, she received funding for her final year – which came on time too, as she had to be laid off work temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She went back to work again in November 2020 and saved enough money to register for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which she is currently pursuing. She is also currently completing her teaching practical at Ikaelelo Senior Secondary School, where she matriculated in 2013. “I knew I wanted to continue with my studies, so I worked hard.”

“Giving up is not an option; some things do not come easily – not even a degree. For some it might be easy, but for others there will be hurdles that they will have to overcome, but you have to keep going.”

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