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Alumnus hoists Unisa flag as South African diplomat in foreign lands

Manqoba KaMpiyamampondo Mdluli was born and raised in different locations within the hinterland of what is today known as the Province of KwaZulu-Natal. His first recollection of human activity, as far as he can remember, takes him back to eMlazi, T Section male hostel (famously known as Ezimpohleni) in Durban. The first ten years of his life were spent in the area, living with his mother and father and housemates and their families. The ten years would see him beginning his schooling at a day care creche in Q Section as a two-year-old.  

At the beginning of 1994, when he was then a senior at primary school, impi yomkhaya (civil war) began between the political parties, ANC and IFP, resulting in unrest in the area. The war was brutal, with many of his friends, relatives, and family members losing their lives during the period. His family had to uproot him with speed and whisk him away to a place of safety in Durban, in an area called Ezimbokodweni, where his father had recently bought a house.

Manqoba KaMpiyamampondo Mdluli and colleagues welcome the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa in the Republic of South Sudan.

Just when Mdluli was settling at Ezimbokodweni and preparing to embark on his high school journey, the impi yomkhaya affected him yet again, forcing him to relocate. This would see Mdluli moving in with his older sister at the Siyanda squatter camp in KwaMashu. He did his Standard 6 at Slimela Higher Primary. He completed his high school education at Inhlakanipho High School, located at D Section, KwaMashu.

The years 2000 and 2003 were quiet for Mdluli as he had no funds to further his studies, relied on his mother’s pension fund, and held a few temporary jobs for survival. He lived in a squatter camp with no electricity, proper ablution facilities, and poor living conditions, including food scarcity in the house and no source of income. These challenges could have led him to a life of crime; however, he avoided taking that dark path at all costs – a decision he is grateful to have taken with the guidance and assistance of his ancestors and uMvelingqangi (God).

During the last quarter of 2003, Mdluli learned that Unisa offered Tefsa (NSFAS) funding from the commencement of a student’s studies to the completion of their undergraduate bachelor’s degree, provided that they were doing well in their studies. He applied for funding successfully. In January 2004, he began his bachelor’s degree in Communication Science.

For as long as he can remember, Mdluli had long been fascinated by current affairs. He had been an ardent reader of books and newspapers and wanted to keep in touch with current affairs. Listening to the news on the radio or watching it on TV had always been his pastime and passion. From this passion, choosing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree in Communication Science was a no-brainer for him. At one point, Mdluli wanted to be a political news journalist; however, this did not materialise. “During my first year, the second semester to be precise, I did mainly politics modules and one Economics 101 module. Out of ten modules I did on my first level, which I aced, four were modules in politics, including international politics. For the first time in my life, I had passed my modules with distinctions.”

At the beginning of his second level, Mdluli switched the degree to a BA specialising in International Relations and Diplomacy as well as African Politics. “I must confess, before that period, I had never heard of anything called diplomacy in my entire life,” he says.

Asked what the most important thing he had learned while studying for his degree, Mdluli says: “Independence of thought, effective communication, building lasting and beneficial relations. You need to share ideas at times, take calculated risks, self-determination and reliance and stay linear as I walked the tightrope of my Unisa degree journey.”

Mdluli’s philosophy is that educating oneself is a never-ending journey. In his line of work, he points out that there is now something called Cyber Diplomacy. He adds that this is a new strand in the diplomacy field set to dominate and determine how countries execute their foreign policy objectives in the 21st century. He has already earned a certificate in Cyber Diplomacy  from Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands, and he indicates that he intends to pursue the qualification further, possibly to a degree level.

Mdluli highlights that studying at Unisa requires endurance, patience and focus from the student. He emphasised that  Unisa students push themselves and become self-disciplined.

Asked how his Unisa degree had helped him in the work he does, he says:In a broader spectrum, I’m one of the lucky ones, a rare breed, you might say; in that, I get to practise, as a career, exactly what I studied at university level. I’m currently on my third tour as a South African Diplomat in foreign lands and on my second assignment in the Republic of South Sudan (2023–2026). Before that, I served in Tanzania between 2015–2018 and the Republic of South Sudan between 2012–2014. Through this career path, I have been granted an opportunity to see the world, experience different cultures, and write speeches, speaking notes, and briefing documents for political principals. Thus, without this degree, I would never have had a clue on how countries relate to one another.”

The advice Mdluli gives to someone who wants to pursue studies with Unisa is that they need to be ready to work on their own, expect to do more than what a student at a resident university is expected to do, and be grateful in advance, that the skillset they will be learning while studying, would put them at the top of the food chain when they venture into their respective workplaces.

*By Sakhile Mtshali, Communications Officer, KwaZulu-Natal Region

Publish date: 2024/07/04

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