Blind NMU students beat the odds

Obstacles experienced during his undergraduate studies did not deter Mount Frere-born blind student Avukile Jeke.

On Monday, he walked onto the stage at Nelson Mandela University’s (NMU) south campus indoor sports centre to obtain his Bachelor of Arts honours in isiXhosa.

Jeke had thrown in the towel after obtaining his postgraduate certificate in education, describing his undergraduate journey as a “very difficult” one.

He had planned to fulfil his lifelong dream of teaching and exposing his pupils, particularly those who were disabled, to the array of opportunities that led him to greater heights.

However, when that did not pan out, Jeke “conceded defeat”, resumed his studies and soldiered on.

“The journey was so difficult in my undergraduate university experience, I decided to quit and look for an alternative path to follow,” he said.

He started looking for a job and found one, but struggled to pay transport fare to and from work.

“I did some introspection and realised that this was a sign. I needed to pursue my studies and get yet another qualification,” said Jeke.

Jeke was born partially blind and he gradually lost his sight over time.

He was part of the group of students who were initially not admitted to the university because they couldn’t accommodate blind students.

However, the university said its Universal Accessibility and Disability Services (UADS) improved its facilities. The institution worked closely with organisations that work with the blind to develop comprehensive support for the students.

READ: Applause as guide dog leads visually impaired student on stage for graduation

Since beginning his studies at the university in 2014, Jeke – a first-generation graduate – has made it his mission to excel in all that he does.

His mother, Zandile Jeke, who was accompanied by Avukile’s siblings, expressed that she was proud of her son.

“I don’t know how he keeps on doing it, but I’m extremely proud of him.”

“Like, he surprises me and also doesn’t because he has always been strong and not afraid of things. He’s going far this one,” she said. 

Jeke is now pursuing his master’s with the aim of ultimately crossing the stage in a red gown as Dr Avukile Jeke.

Jeke was one of 15 isiXhosa graduates, including another blind student, Ntsikelelo Williams, who obtained the degree cum laude alongside six others.

Preserving isiXhosa 

Williams said he pursued the degree because he wanted to teach isiXhosa as a means to preserve it in its purest form.

“It pains me that our mother tongue is dying. People speak it, but not in its purest form. This concerns me because it’s a fundamental aspect of who someone is. If you lose that, you also lose your identity,” he said.

isixhosa blind graduate

BA Honours in IsiXhosa graduate Ntsikelelo Williams. (Supplied)

Williams, who is also a former pupil of the Mthatha-based Efata School for the Blind, said when he arrived at NMU, he expected the same “special treatment” that he was afforded at the school, which catered solely for the visually impaired.

“As time went by, however, I realised that I should never expect to be granted special attention, as everyone knows that there are lots of students in different lecture modules,” he said.

Williams, who was born with full sight, grew up in the rural areas of Lady Frere. He lost his sight after a medical procedure that was aimed at curing the severe headaches he suffered from.

“I was born with full sight and the ability to do anything. [The procedure] left me blind because the optic nerve was damaged in the process.”

“The incident, however, did not stop me from chasing my dreams, like every child. I will always be grateful for the support from my family and those who continue to make it possible for me to achieve my goals,” he said.

Head of UADS, Nosiphiwo Delubom, said the unit was proud of the students as well as the lecturers for their unending support to the students.

“Blind students received the bulk of their support from the braille office and the information access officer is doing an outstanding job to assist these students with their learning material that is converted to braille format,” Delubom said.

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