University of Cape Town

04/02/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 04/02/2024 06:22

Destiny delayed, not denied: Postgraduate fulfils her (and her father’s) dream to study at UCT

Chipo Chidakwa

Chipo Chidakwa was dealt more than a few crushing blows on her path to the University of Cape Town (UCT). But with a cool head, a bit of grit and the memory of her father's high hopes for her, she stayed focused on her ambition to be a graduate of the "best university in Africa".

Chipo is fortunate to have been gifted with a striking sense of self-awareness at a relatively young age, being able to recognise her capabilities and value, not simply for her own gain, but that of her community too. It's an outlook that was born out of adversity, and one which has supported her through it. It's also an impressive outlook for a 22-year-old, and it's one that was fostered by her "North Star": her late father, Patrick. So, it's no surprise that when she recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Information Systems and Finance, she wore her father's graduation gown.

"I've always strived for leadership, while also wanting to give back to the spaces I'm in," said Chipo, who hails from Marondera in Zimbabwe. "I grew up in an environment where people gave back, so I want to cultivate that environment in the places I go."

A place to grow

In addition to navigating a demanding academic schedule as a current Information Systems honours student, Chipo is an assistant in the computer science laboratory and a tutor in UCT's Department of Computer Science. She's also the head subwarden of Forest Hill residence, where she oversees a team of nine wardens; it's a role she gunned for to "get more involved with the res community".

"I came to understand my capabilities and how I can contribute to the environment I'm in. I learnt this from my dad."

"I didn't think I'd get the position, as I'm not a South African student," Chipo said. "But UCT is so welcoming to international students. It's really helped with my confidence. Someone saw potential in me, and I realised that I needed to see more of that in myself and step up to the task."

She's come a long way, considering what a daunting prospect leaving home was for her. But, as with so many pivotal decisions in Chipo's life, it was the convictions of her father, a businessman and politician, together with the support of her mother, Patricia, that swayed her.

"I'd wantedto study in Zimbabwe, but my dad wanted me to come to UCT," she explained. "He always said, 'My daughter must go to the best university in Africa.' That was his vision. I also realised that by not coming to South Africa, I might have missed out on following a similar leadership path to my dad. I enjoy taking on leadership roles, which is what he did."

A blessing in disguise

Having set her sights on UCT, at the beginning of 2020, the excited matriculant readied herself for the transition to university. But accommodation difficulties delayed Chipo's visa application, and by the time she'd secured a spot in residence, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing her to defer her entry to UCT by a year. It was heartbreaking.

"I thought I'd done everything right; I really pushed myself to get into UCT," Chipo recalled. "I thought I was going to end up at home in Zimbabwe, unable to achieve what I'd worked so hard for. But eventually, I realised it was a matter of destiny being delayed, not denied."

She regrouped and threw herself into working as a personal assistant for her dad's real-estate company and organising outreach projects in his constituency. Chipo describes that "gap year" in 2020 as character building.

"The time spent with my father was precious. I came to understand my capabilities and how I can contribute to the environment I'm in. I learnt this from my dad."

Keeping the dream alive

Then, in September 2020, the unthinkable happened. Chipo's father died of a heart-related issue. After encountering delays in being admitted to hospital because of COVID-19-related restrictions, he had to be flown to South Africa, where the appropriate medical equipment was available to treat him. Of course, leaving the country during a pandemic proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare - which Chipo had to deal with.

"It was a horrible time, because I had to be his daughter and his personal assistant," she recalled. "I had to talk to foreign affairs in Zimbabwe and South Africa's Home Affairs department for clearance. Fortunately, he was permitted to fly out the following week. But he passed away just before he was due to have surgery."

"I wanted to make him proud. That's what got me through the tough times."

This was a devastating blow for Chipo, not least because she was grieving the tremendous loss of the person she considered to be her guiding light, but - because her father was her sole financial provider - her studies were yet again hanging in the balance. Most of his resources had been drained trying to get him medical help, which meant her first-year fees couldn't be paid.

Thankfully, her family came to her rescue, assisting her with her fees in exchange for her working for the family-owned company. In March 2021, she finally arrived at UCT. During her first year, Chipo worked remotely for her family, and on-site when she went back to Zimbabwe for the holidays.

"It was demanding to work and study," she said, "but I wanted to be here; my dad wanted me to be here; and I wanted to make him proud. That's what got me through the tough times."

There's no doubt that Chipo is primed to meet whatever challenge comes her way, and is very much in a position to dole out a few words of wisdom.

"Know yourself, know your worth and know that you deserve to succeed," she said. "Make sure your voice is the loudest one you're hearing - and make sure it's a positive voice."

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