Mandela Rhodes Scholar Strives for Leadership in EducationHumanities

Ms Simangele Msweli.Ms Simangele Msweli.

A masters candidate in the School of Life Sciences, Ms Simangele Msweli, has been awarded the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship in recognition of her academic excellence and leadership abilities.

Msweli, who is doing her degree under the supervision of Professor Steve Johnson, is investigating ecological facilitation in two indigenous plants (Sabea grandis and Thunbergia atriplicifolia) - which look similar and often coexist - to examine whether shared pollinators cause competition or assist the species.

Growing up close to the isiMangaliso Wetland Park (IWP), Msweli learned about the environment during high school excursions to the park. Her relationship with the IWP grew and they granted her a bursary for her undergraduate studies at UKZN.

Msweli’s interests do not stop with the natural environment, however, as she has been involved in several societies, including the Golden Key Honour Society, serving as President for the UKZN branch in 2015 and as service director in the previous year.

She is also part of the executive committee of the South African Youth Climate Coalition (SAYCC), and has been extensively involved in the Black Management Forum.

Msweli was also the recipient of an Abe Bailey travel bursary which enabled her to take part in a tour of universities and institutions in the United Kingdom. The bursary included a leadership and professional development course run by the Mandela Rhodes Group, which piqued Msweli’s interest in becoming more involved with the Group and benefit from the leadership programmes it offers.

She hopes that developing her leadership skills and forming connections with other young leaders will help her to start projects she is passionate about, primarily in the field of education in Africa. Msweli was involved in the Uplift Youth in Africa Group - founded by UKZN in June 2014 - which aims to facilitate mentoring and the dispensation of academic advice to school children in Africa.

In Uplift Youth in Africa, Msweli works with disadvantaged schools in the Paulpietersburg area in northern KwaZulu-Natal. A successful project included raising R45 000 to take 50 students from three different schools on an educational careers tour to Winkelspruit where they learned about law careers, and they also visited Greytown to hear about careers in aeronautics.

Msweli, who thanked UKZN for all the opportunities it had provided for her, plans to continue through to study for a PhD.

Msweli also recently received funding to attend the Student Conference on Conservation Science in England next year and take part in a one-month internship at the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology.

Christine Cuénod