‘I studied politics to make an impact and help people by doing it’ – SRC president and Autumn 2020 UP graduate David Kabwa on receiving his degree

Posted on April 29, 2020

The president of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Student Representative Council (SRC), David Kabwa, was one of 11 000 students who were recently awarded their qualifications in absentia during a virtual ceremony necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Kabwa received a BA in Political Studies (BPolSci) and is pursuing an Honours Degree in International Relations (BA Hons), also at UP.

“Growing up, I had an intense passion to help people,” Kabwa, who was born in Tsimanyana Village in Limpopo and spent his formative years in Groblersdal, says. “I wanted to be a [medical] doctor, much like my father. I got good grades throughout high school, but I did not qualify to study with my final matric results as medicine was all that I had applied for. So I decided to take a [gap] year and upgrade my marks. In that year, I joined the Children’s Parliament, where I was elected chairperson of my commission. I loved what I was doing and felt impactful. At the end of that year, I decided to study politics to make an impact on the parts of politics that I did not like and help people by doing it.”

Making a positive social impact

Kabwa chooses not to focus on particular social ills in isolation, but rather on the nuanced and intersectional manner in which discrimination manifests itself in society. “I am passionate about addressing the apathy that exists among youth,” he explains. “One should not consider societal ills in isolation. If we change our mindset as young people and apply ourselves, we can address these issues. To this end, I have been involved in youth empowerment programmes both through my role in the SRC and collaborations with the Gauteng Provincial Legislature [GPL].”


David celebrating his graduation at home with his family.

Kabwa serves in many other roles besides that of SRC president: as prime minister of the Commonwealth Youth Parliament and chairperson of the second commission in the GPL Youth Sector Parliament; he is an ex-officio member of the South African Union of Students and a youth leader at his local church. He is also a national and international gold medallist in a specialist event known as Laser Run.

With so many responsibilities, how does he manage his time? “I set up a calendar to manage my priorities and identify which commitments require the most attention. Then I organise my other activities around those.”

Life as SRC president

Student politics is often characterised by polarisation along ideological and organisational lines. Kabwa believes that under his leadership, the SRC is working towards becoming a cohesive unit. “Student governance is greatly characterised by factionalism, yet students of different political affiliations, ethnic backgrounds, race groups and religious affiliations sit around a table and talk to me about the issues facing the student body. I am a firm believer that we can help more people together. This is why I have campaigned with the tagline ‘Lead With You’.”

Adjusting to COVID-19

Students are having to come to grips with changes to their daily routines and lives in general as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “My advice would be to develop new habits and make a new routine,” Kabwa says. “If you can develop a routine for how you will work from Monday to Friday, Saturdays and Sundays will start to feel like actual weekends again, because you can dedicate that time to relaxing and recharging with family.

“I’ve adjusted my routine to remain productive. I still work in the time slots that would have been my office hours if we were on campus. I am in constant communication with students [regarding] issues they are facing. Being active and productive has helped me to maintain a sense of normality. Exercise also helps greatly to ease stress and tension.”

Youth and politics in South Africa

Apathy among youth regarding political issues in South Africa is evident in the low voter registration and turnout rates among young people. Kabwa believes there are practical ways in which young people can be encouraged to get involved in politics and legislative matters. “I would suggest getting in touch with the public participation office of your provincial legislature. Every time I am invited, I make it a point to take as many students with me as possible. Seeing it in action is a good way to get students interested and involved.”

Kabwa has also taken a keen interest in the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country and its people, and has an idea of which socio-economic reforms he would implement if he was the president of South Africa. “I would focus on the incremental revitalisation of important sectors such as the agricultural sector. Working on important procedures for quarantine during this time would be paramount to avoid a food shortage down the line. This sector is also the lynchpin for many other sectors.”

What the future holds

Kabwa is UP’s first SRC president to be re-elected to serve another term as an independent candidate. “I intend to continue to serve. This time it will be in the governmental sphere while better equipping myself to be effective by studying simultaneously. I intend on studying for my master’s degree. The more one knows, the more empowered you are. If you want to continue studying, do not do it for acclaim or money but because your heart is invested in applying what you are learning.”

- Author Kaya Nocanda

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