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02 September 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Xolisa Mnukwa
Shannon Arnold and Samkezi Mbalane
Shannon Arnold (left) and Samkezi Mbalane (right), the 2019 UFS recipients of the prestigious International Abe Bailey Travel Bursary.

The University of the Free State (UFS) has selected MPhil (African Studies) student and self-proclaimed ‘radical feminist’, Shannon Arnold, and former Golden Key UFS Qwaqwa Campus Chapter President and Political Studies and Governance honours student, Samkezi Mbalane, to represent the institution this year on the Abe Bailey Travel Bursary tour

The Abe Bailey Travel Bursary is a leadership-development programme that honours and targets university students or junior lecturers with a strong academic background, and who have shown exceptional qualities of leadership and service during their university careers as well as in a wider social context. Recipients of the bursary are expected to function as an integral part of a select and highly skilled group of individuals who will be embarking on a five-stage tour in December, starting in Cape Town (South Africa) and finishing in London (United Kingdom).

“Success comes from a feeling of satisfaction in what I have done for myself” – Shannon Arnold

Shannon Arnold, who is originally from Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, completed her undergraduate and honours studies in Political and International Studies and English Literature at Rhodes University. She moved to the UFS and is currently completing her transdisciplinary MPhil in African Studies, focused on Peace and Conflict in Post-conflict African Societies from a gendered perspective. 

“Moving to the Free State was an interesting cultural transition,” Arnold remarked. 
She further expressed how “pleasantly enlightened” she was by the UFS’s active and direct approach to transformation, and how it allowed her to spearhead and coordinate crucial student-movement initiatives such as the total shutdown protest which saw women and students march from the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018. Arnold believes that her passion, work, and experiences with community and service-based organisations against South Africa’s plight of gender-based violence has branded her a leader and qualified her for becoming an ‘Abe’.

Arnold grew up in a community-minded family and has thus been aligned with politics from a very young age. She is inspired by the thought of manifesting a reality where women in South Africa are able to pursue their own choices. She looks forward to exposing herself to foreign cultures on the tour to the UK, engaging with people who have like-minded convictions. 

“The desire and compassion to motivate and uplift others is what inspires me.”  – Samkezi Mbalane

Eastern Cape, Mount Fletcher-born Samkezi Mbalane, who graduated from the UFS with his undergraduate degree in Political Studies and Governance (Cum Laude), labels his life journey as ‘very difficult, yet fascinating’. 

Having been raised by a struggling single mother, he reflects on being dependant on other people in his immediate community for basic needs. He lived in a foster home for three years (Grade 10 to 12) as a means of survival. Mbalane explained that such experiences motivated him to pursue a career in politics, as he dreams of playing a pivotal role in the creation and implementation of South African governmental policies that will one day effectively benefit the poor.

Mbalane believes his claim to leadership came through ‘hard work and persistence’. He has served in various leadership positions, including President of the Golden Key Society UFS Qwaqwa Campus Chapter, Prime at Steve Biko Residence, active member of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, Enactus, and the Secretary General of the Student Parliament. Mbalane deemed being selected an ‘Abe’ as an “iconic opportunity for all aspirant leaders in South Africa.” 

He looks forward to working with people from different cultural backgrounds and career fields, but mostly, to seeing the world outside South Africa from a unique perspective.

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