Musiwa Rambau registered for a B.Sc degree at the then University of the North, Turfloop, majoring in Microbiology. Pic Bhekikaya Mabaso (ANA)
Musiwa Rambau registered for a B.Sc degree at the then University of the North, Turfloop, majoring in Microbiology. Pic Bhekikaya Mabaso (ANA)

Financial exclusion has killed 55-year-old Rambau’s dream

By Don Makatile Time of article published Oct 25, 2021

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Musiwa Rambau registered for a B.Sc degree at the then University of the North, Turfloop, majoring in Microbiology. Pic Bhekikaya Mabaso (ANA)

He has a handsome face; the glasses and greying beard that age gives a stylish silver tint make him a pleasant sight to behold. He also makes for an interesting interlocutor.

But if you look deeper into Musiwa Rambau’s face, you see despair. It is the face of a man whose dream has been killed; not by a rampant mob of street rogues, but by an institution of higher learning that should have enhanced that very dream.

In 1990 Rambau registered for a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree at the then University of the North, popularly known as Turfloop, majoring in microbiology.

The institution is now called the University of Limpopo.

He could have finished his studies in record time, had it not been for one year when he had to sit out examinations because he could not pay his annual fees.

As a phrase, ‘academic exclusion’ is bandied around a lot on campus. It was at the core of the recent #FeesMustFall campaign.

Amid the marches, it’s casualties hardly make it into the news bulletin. Rambau is the microcosm of this victimisation.

It has dealt him a cruel blow.

Long story short … he left owing the university just over R18 000 and though he finished his studies and qualified in 1994, he’s still not able to graduate because of the outstanding fees.

“I went to Shell House,” Rambau says of the ANC headquarters of the time. He was looking for financial help.

“I also went to our President’s home. The mother was still alive,” he says of his neighbours - the family of Cyril Ramaphosa, in Chiawelo, Soweto.

Still, he did not get help.

Three years after completing his degree, he was still applying for jobs at science laboratories and went for several job interviews. In the end, the absence of his academic record was the deciding factor – he couldn’t be taken on.

When days are dark, the saying goes, friends are few. Rambau has seen this in action. “They are few,” he says of the so-called friends.

“Some of them seem to enjoy seeing you struggle.” He has been promised jobs by friends, to no avail.

Then for a year he was taken on an internship by Joburg Water where he worked at their laboratory. He was ecstatic, working in the natural sciences, his field that is now known as life sciences.

When the internship period was up, the post was advertised and he was encouraged to apply for the job.

He did not get it. He had no papers to show!

At his wits’ end, he took Joburg Water to the CCMA, and, needless to say, lost. Still eager to further his studies, he went to the University of Pretoria (UP) to read towards an Honours degree.

He stayed for a year, most of the time putting out fires regarding his academic record from Limpopo.

In no time, the head of department in the Faculty of Biological Agricultural Sciences at UP, Professor T E Cloete told Rambau the university pressured him to expel him as he was not properly registered. Ultimately, Cloete took Rambau to a branch of a well-known bank to apply for a loan.

The letter Cloete wrote, dated June 13, 1997 begged the bank to give Rambau a loan “so that he can settle the outstanding amount, get his academic record from his previous university so that he can be properly registered here”.

Writing in Afrikaans, Cloete gave all guarantees that the bank would get their money back as the student was capable of finishing his studies, getting a job with the university and start servicing his loan.

The application was declined.

“I thanked Cloete for his help, and quit,” Rambau says.

He recalls travelling by train to Pretoria for his Honours studies. There is no other sign of how badly he wanted the qualification.

How he still manages to smile is a mystery.

“I do not go to bed hungry. I never said to myself that I’m a loser. I told myself I cannot allow myself to wallow in self-pity,” Rambau says.

The last correspondence from the University of Limpopo, a student statement, came on March 4, 2019. He owed R19 686. 51.

“You keep telling your child that you have a degree, but you have nothing to show for it. He’ll end up thinking you’re a liar. I just need to get that certificate, maybe hang it in his bedroom, just to inspire him,” he said.

The biggest tragedy isn’t that his dream has been deferred; it is that it is being killed, with each passing year.

“I’m ageing. How do I compete with youngsters?”

He’ll be 55 on November 28.

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