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Making academic progress against all odds

Zenon Ndayisenga is determined to achieve his academic dreams. He studied for a degree in Political Science at Unisa, which he finished in record time, and then proceeded to do his honours degree in African Politics, which he completed in a year. He is currently doing his master’s in African Politics and aims to register for a doctoral degree immediately after completing this degree.

Zenon Ndayisenga, Unisa master’s student in African Politics

Ndayisenga fled from his country of birth, Burundi, to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and he finally settled in South Africa. In his home country, he was involved in political conflict after being accused of supporting an opposition political party – accusations that turned into threats. To protect himself, he initially joined the rebel forces and subsequently their political wing, until he witnessed soldiers committing atrocious deeds. From thereon, things got worse and he was hunted down and imprisoned, and had to flee from one African country to another. Of all the countries he fled to, he chose to stay in South African as it was not dominated by violence and war.

After arriving in South Africa, Ndayisenga lived in a refugee centre for a while but he also slept in the streets of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, for two weeks. He got work distributing pamphlets for traditional doctors and then tirelessly worked as a car guard for a year, which enabled him to save about R30 000 to pay for his university studies. However, it has not been easy for him to finance his studies and has been struggling with getting a long-term asylum permit.  He has to renew his asylum papers every three months, which is an expensive exercise and makes it difficult for him to get formal employment. Because of not having the required travel documents, he was not allowed to do his research outside South Africa.

Zenon Ndayisenga at his graduation ceremony

Ndayisenga says that studying African Politics gives him the chance to contribute politically to his home country but also to Africa as a whole. Having been affected by colonialism, he believes that the African continent still needs to be fully decolonised. The topic of his dissertation is Frantz Fanon’s conception of decolonisation: violence, tabula rasa, and new humanism. As a black person, he feels that he has to contribute to redirect black Africans who have been misled by perpetual colonialism.

His advice to his fellow Unisa students is the following: “I know that a study journey is not easy. However, remember that technology dominates the current world and that an undergraduate degree is not enough. Try to study as far as you can. It was very hectic for me since I started as an undergraduate and progressed to master’s level, and I especially struggled to finance my studies. Everything is about decisions; there is no gain without pain. And remember, the generation to come will ask us what we have done to take Africa a step further”.


*By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement


Publish date: 2020/02/14