An afternoon of laughter and palpable excitement is how the launch of the 2022 MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program (MCFSP) at the University of Pretoria (UP) can be best described.
The launch took place as an in-person event on Hatfield campus, with all necessary COVID-19 protocols observed.
It was held to welcome the 35 newcomers to the programme – and to the University – and give them the opportunity to interact with previous programme scholars. The 2022 cohort is made up of 69 scholars, with the remaining 34 scholars falling into previous cohorts and transitioning from undergraduate studies to honours, and from honours to master’s degree programmes.
This year’s group originates from Angola, Benin, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Angola, Benin and Liberia are new additions to the programme’s reach. Since its inception at UP, 26 African countries have been represented in the programme.
UP’s relationship with the MCFSP began in 2013 when it became the first South African university to partner with the MasterCard Foundation. In the ninth year of a 10-year agreement signed between the two parties, 352 scholars have been recruited to pursue their studies at UP through this programme, exceeding the 347 scholars agreed upon. The University has seen 163 scholars achieve one degree, 62 receive two degrees and four awarded three degrees over this period.
The launch event was also an opportunity for the 2022 cohort to meet members of UP’s leadership including Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Principal of Academic Prof Norman Duncan and the deans of faculties represented on the programme: Professor Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law; Professor Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities; and Professor Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences.
During his opening remarks, Prof Kupe encouraged the scholars to never lose their questioning spirit. “Do not be afraid to be inquisitive; ask questions, explore answers to these questions, make mistakes and learn,” he said. “Please do not forget home – be sure to keep your family up to date with your latest news and developments – and always remember why you are here. We look forward to journeying this road with you.”
Prof Kupe also highlighted that the candidates have the potential to become the leaders that the continent so desperately needs. “As an MCF scholar, you have been selected to this programme because you have shown the capacity and potential to be that leader who will meaningfully contribute to the economic and social development of our continent,” he said. “Thank you for choosing UP as your academic destination, and for partnering with us. Education and knowledge are the key tools that the University employs to address the many challenges our planet currently faces. Let us together create new societies for a better, more sustainable world.”
Mekayla van Huyssteen, a 2022 scholar who holds a BA (Hons) in International Relations, said she was initially drawn to the programme because she needed funding in order to pursue her postgraduate studies. “I found out about the MCFSP on one of my WhatsApp group chats, where we share information about bursaries,” she said. “It seemed like a great opportunity for someone who might not have specific funding.”
Van Huyssteen said she is looking forward to the world of opportunities that a programme like this can open up for her. “I am surrounded by people who are just like me, but who from other study fields; this gives me the opportunity to learn more about those fields. Also, this scholarship has so far given me assistance in ways that other bursaries and scholarships usually don’t. That support gives me the comfort of knowing that when I am studying, I have nothing else to worry about.”
Brian Ndlovu, who’s been with the MCFSP for the past seven years and is now pursuing his master’s in Industrial and Systems Engineering, said the programme had become like a second home to him. “When I started out, I expected that I would simply be provided with financial support,” he said. “After my first year with the MCFSP, I realised it was so much more. They have a psychologist who is there for you in case you have problems and they have tutors for academic support. This support system has been an important part of my success so far.”
As part of the launch, three scholars performed a musical item and another group performed a short skit re-enacting the highlights of their orientation and the personalities of the programme’s different staff members, much to the audience’s delight.