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Patient teacher helped Nxumalo to love maths

Student recently graduated with PhD degree

Koena Mashale Journalist
Mbekezeli Nxumalo says his peers were excited when they saw pictures of his graduation.
Mbekezeli Nxumalo says his peers were excited when they saw pictures of his graduation.
Image: Supplied

Mbekezeli Nxumalo, who recently graduated with a PhD in mathematics, says he never liked the subject while in school, even though he was always among top pupils.

His interest in the subject only peaked in high school because of one of his teachers who was patient with him.

Nxumalo, 31, grew up in Pongola, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I always did well [in maths] but when I met my maths teacher [in Grade 11], he just made me fall in love with the subject.

“You know when you have a great teacher that is patient with you and always encourages and supports you then you can’t really hate the subject. Unfortunately, he passed on in 2010 but he was the one that turned everything around,” said Nxumalo.

He said after matric, his father encouraged him to study science and he received a bursary to study for a bachelors degree in physics and mathematics at the University of Western Cape.

“I initially wanted to study just purely maths but I didn’t get into that programme. I knew that I wanted to do my honours in pure mathematics, which I did in 2017, graduating with a cum laude,” said Nxumalo.

He said when Covid hit, he still wanted to progress even further than his Honours.

“In 2021, I joined Rhodes and was enlisted in this programme that allows you to reach higher levels of qualification in a span of six years and I immediately got to work. With this programme, I would work part-time and would focus everything on my qualification.

"There were times that I didn’t leave my place for days and when I’d visit home and people would ask why I was still studying, it was hard because I couldn’t make them understand but I kept pushing and now I have something to show for that,” he said.

He graduated with a PhD in Pure Mathematics (Point-free Topology and Categorical Topology) in October. He completed it in two years.

Nxumalo said after the graduation, he took his parents home and the following day he was tutoring matrics class at his local high school and he couldn’t believe the town’s reaction to the news.

“When I had posted the pictures of myself and my family of the PhD, I kept getting messages on WhatsApp and Facebook of my peers from my home and they were all congratulating me and I was really taken aback because I didn’t expect that at all.

“When I went to teach the students, the teachers were also very congratulatory and happy for me, some of them have been my teachers,” said Nxumalo.

He said one of the challenges he faced was financial woes.

“I come from a family of seven children and my parents didn’t have the finances to send us to school and I just wanted to do this mostly for them and for myself. I believe that most of my siblings see me as a role model and even my little sister is now on her way of finishing her honours as well.

“Making my family understand why I went through so much studying is what drove me,” said Nxumalo.

Rhodes University confirmed Nxumalos qualifications. He is now a lecturer at the university.

mashalek@sowetan.co.za


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