The University of Pretoria (UP) has programmes and initiatives in place to ensure that the capabilities of students are not limited if they live with a disability – this is according to visually impaired student Thabang Manamela (29), who recently graduated from UP with an LLM in Law and Political Justice.
“I am so proud to have received a master’s degree,” he said, standing outside the Aula with his friends and family during the spring graduation sessions. “Obtaining this degree was demanding, more so because I registered at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various phases of lockdown. That made it challenging in terms of accessing the campus and resources, but it was an enriching journey. I worked on the master’s project, but the master’s project also worked on me – you do not come out the same once you do a postgraduate degree such as this.”
Manamela, who also holds an LLB degree from UP and is an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa, has become prominent in the University community and outside of it, with many stories about his academic journey having been published over the years.
Thabang Manamela and his mother, Grace, outside UP’s Aula Theatre after the graduation ceremony.
In February 2022, he joined the Department of Jurisprudence in the Faculty of Law as an academic associate, where he is currently on the teaching team of Jurisprudence 420, a final-year elective module for students. He is also an assistant on the teaching team for the History and Philosophy of Human Rights module, which is part of the LLM programme he has just completed. Manamela’s LLM mini dissertation, which is available at the UP Repository, is titled ‘#Black Lives (Could) Matter: Azania as a Remedy for the State of (Dis)ease’. In it, he writes from the perspective of a member of the “born-free” generation, and contemplates a different mode of thinking, imagining and reading the South African political and legal foundations in pursuit of a just society. Manamela hopes to further this study in his doctoral research.
His ability to triumph in the face of adversity has likely resulted in many looking up to him. If there are such people, he said, he hopes to prove worthy of their admiration. “If there is a reading of my life that allows someone to believe that there is a window of possibility and opportunity where they previously believed there was none, then it is heart-warming for me to hear that.”
Juan Erwee, senior disability officer for the Disability Unit (DU) in the Department of Student Affairs, said the unit provides support services to registered students with various disabilities; this includes academic concessions, assistive technology and additional orientation and skills development.
“As a member of staff at the DU, it is always rewarding to witness a student graduating after working with us from first-year level,” Erwee said. “It is especially rewarding when students become fully independent and go on to postgraduate levels of education, and continue to break barriers and change the expectations that surround people with disabilities.”
Manamela would like to remind young people to aspire to accomplish their goals rather than focus on their immediate circumstances.
“No matter who you are, when pursuing a dream, what is important, above all, is conviction, if you know what you stand for,” Manamela said. “Then you can use any and all resources that you have access to in pursuit of what you believe in. There are many challenges that are outside of your control, but you need to take it one step at a time, and work on yourself and your environment to make a contribution to the point of even changing some other aspects of the society in which you live.”