20 April 2024 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Emily Matabane
Emily Matabane will obtain her Bachelor of Education in Senior Phase and Further Education and Training degree. She plans to celebrate this joyous occasion with her mother and her family, who were her pillars of strength during her studies.

Obtaining a qualification and teaching many hearing students her language. These were the two things that Emily Matabane, a Sign Language Instructor in the Department of South African Sign Language (SASL) and Deaf Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), wanted most.

Since 2001, Matabane has been employed as an instructor, giving her the opportunity to do what she loves – teaching hearing students Sign Language, enabling them to communicate with Deaf people. “I was focused on providing the South African Deaf community with more access in society, for example, through qualified teachers and interpreters who know SASL,” says Matabane.

Soon, her other longstanding dream – to obtain a qualification – will also be realised. Today at 13:00, Matabane will enter the Callie Human Centre on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus, where she will walk across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Education in Senior Phase and Further Education and Training degree.

Describing her feelings around this milestone event, Matabane says she wants to cry in disbelief that she made it. “I am so grateful to my God for the achievement, because it took a long time to get here,” she says.

“As a student, I was very excited and motivated to become a qualified SASL lecturer. However, this achievement was not easily attained, as I faced numerous challenges and barriers in my journey towards education,” remarks Matabane.

Perseverance the only option

At times, the road to obtain her degree was difficult. Besides hardships such as juggling work, studies, and family responsibilities, Matabane also faced other difficulties. She was unable to enrol for her studies in Education in the same way as her peers. Moreover, while working, she received anonymous notes stating that she did not have a qualification, which left her depressed and wanting to give up. For two years she left her studies, until Prof Theodorus du Plessis, then Head of the Department of South African Sign Language and Deaf Studies, motivated her to complete her studies, which made her return to her books.

“I had to start this important path of becoming educated and finish it. Perseverance was the only option to obtain a degree,” states Matabane, whose journey to obtain a qualification started in 1993 when a community protest resulted in their school being closed for two years. Leaving school, she joined the Association for Persons with Disabilities, which provided her with several personal development opportunities. Later, Matabane started working at the university after passing an evaluation to become a South African Sign Language instructor when the language was not yet recognised in the country.

A big help was the assistance she received from the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) office. Through the RPL programme, Matabane gained access to the Career Preparation Programme on the South Campus in 2012, which supported her to enrol for the Bachelor of Education in 2016. “I am grateful for the RPL programme that helped me to gain access to higher education,” says Matabane.

Besides the RPL, there is a list of colleagues who Matabane believes supported her in realising her dream of obtaining a qualification. She thanks Prof Jacobus Naudé, who encouraged her to pursue her studies through the RPL programme; the late Teresia Kühn, who motivated her throughout the RPL process and granted her access to higher education; the Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) for its assistance, and Martie Miranda for her support as her SASL interpreter. Moreover, she believes that Dr Philemon Akach's permission to study part-time was instrumental, and Prof Du Plessis' support was also key in helping her persevere towards obtaining her degree. “I also appreciate all of my lecturers within the Faculty of Education. Thank you for caring about your students,” she remarks.

Do it for yourself

Having gone through this experience, Matabane wants to motivate other Deaf teaching assistants who aspire to become qualified teachers but do not have access to higher education. “I advise registering for an RPL programme, which recognises the skills and experience you have gained as a teaching assistant and provides a stepping stone to tertiary education. It may not be easy, but the university offers support services, such as CUADS, to assist you during your journey as a student. Furthermore, do it for yourself and remain positive and focused on working hard. I tried never to miss a class and concentrated on my studies,” comments Matabane. 

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