College of Human Sciences

A love for politics earns him a PhD at 26

Many 26-year-olds are still undergraduates and wondering if they should study further. However, at the same age, Dr Mlungisi Phakathi, lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences in the College of Human Sciences, already has his PhD under his belt.

Phakathi, who teaches in the African Politics discipline, began working at Unisa in February 2016. Before this, he worked as a developmental lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in international relations. He also obtained his PhD from UKZN in just over three years.

“I love politics,” he says, “And when I am not reading about politics I am discussing it…I also love Africa and its people; nothing is more beautiful than Africa is my opinion.”

We caught up with this achiever to find out more about his PhD journey.

How do you feel having obtained a PhD at age 26?

It’s very difficult to explain how I feel but I’m happy to have achieved a target that I set for myself.

What did you focus on in your PhD?

The title of my doctoral study was The management of intergovernmental relations in KwaZulu-Natal’s Operation Sukuma Sakhe. The thesis focused on the management of intergovernmental relations in the delivery of services in poor municipalities in KZN. It also goes beyond intergovernmental relations and looks at the role played by non-state actors in the delivery of services.

What did it take for you to succeed in obtaining your PhD?

It was a combination of things. Firstly, I read a lot. What they don’t tell you when you register for a PhD is that you are going to read a great deal and that you are going to spend extended periods of time alone in the library or at your study desk. The programme also taught me the value of planning your time. Without proper planning it is very difficult to get anything done. Every minute, every hour must be accounted for if you want to finish a doctoral study.

I also learned that it is important to attend conferences to share what you are working on. Conferences give you an opportunity to test your ideas in a public forum. They also help you to identify gaps in your arguments and to improve on your strengths. I also think it helps to attend as many research workshops as you can. In these workshops you always learn something useful that you can integrate into your study.

Discussing your work with colleagues is also useful; however, you must make sure that you stay away from negative colleagues who always try to tell you that it is difficult and impossible. During my PhD journey I learned that what people say has a big impact on how you feel about your work. So I would advise candidates to avoid negative people. I also think it helps to attend as many research workshops as you can. In these workshops you always learn something useful that you can integrate into your study.

During the final stages of the journey working out helped greatly. Getting time to exercise was a challenge because I was leaving the office after midnight on most days. But I cannot overstress the importance of exercise; it helps you think better.

What motivates you daily?

I am motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge is liberating and I cannot think of anything better to do than to pursue knowledge.

What is your next academic step?

My next step is to publish papers from my thesis in accredited journals. I aim to publish four papers from the thesis and have already started working on that. I will also be working with the KZN government to implement some of the recommendations of the study.

Dr Mlungisi Phakathi (Department of Political Sciences, CHS) has been awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree focused in Political Science by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

*Compiled by Katlego Pilane