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Unisa students share their journeys – Phumelela Nzama

Education student Phumelela Nzama says that the more he taught and helped other students, the more he understood that being an educator is not about you, but rather about serving others.

Education student, Phumelela Nzama, with some of the children he teaches at his home

When someone shared with me what a student called Phumelela Nzama is doing in his community, the phrase ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ came to mind. Literally, it means that a person is a person through other people. Ubuntu, of which Phumelela is such a wonderful example, has its roots in African humanist philosophy.

Phumelela, who is registered for the BEd (Intermediate and Senior Phase) and is waiting for the results of his last module, says that choosing Unisa was the best decision he ever made and that his life changed completely the day he set foot on campus. His passion for education started when he was busy with his adult basic education and training (ABET) studies in 2014. Having read all his ABET books – and having understood them – he came to the realisation that being an educator covers a broad field of activities and that it needs one to be fully responsible for all aspects of the lives of the learners entrusted to you.

Unisa gave him an understanding that teaching – or being a teacher – begins where you are. He started helping his friends with the BPT 1501 online module and that is what set him on his path as an educator. He says that it was the best feeling ever when he received feedback from his friends to say that they passed their modules.

Phumelela helps students with many modules on campus and is proud to say he has helped over 117 of them. He used to travel to campus specifically to help other students and, the more he taught and helped others, the more he understood that being an educator is not about you, but rather that it is about serving others. The more he saw people change, the more his passion for teaching grew.

Phumelela says that he is a very loving person and that he is committed to everything associated with teaching and music. He comes from a very loving and caring family and believes that without their support, he would not have completed his matric and registered with Unisa. During his school years he had no vision at all, having fallen into a drug habit and failing matric. This caused him to give up on life and he started smoking and drinking, but his parents never gave up on him. One day, his younger brother (who was in his first year of practising medicine) motivated him to finish his matric. He went back to school, completed his matric and registered with Unisa for the first time in 2014. He has never looked back.

Phumelela likes the Unisa study guides as they are very helpful and full of wisdom, and he also praises the lecturers who present the various modules. Distance learning has helped him to be independent and have order in his life. He likes how the university accommodates every learner and how, when he asks for help, he gets help. He says it was good decision on the part of the university to allow students to stay on campus and study overnight when exams are approaching. The campus creates a safe, warm atmosphere, conducive to learning. He says that Unisa is a university of opportunities and that it teaches students to be disciplined in their studies. Phumelela says he has never had a problem studying at Unisa or faced any problems with his studies.

Phumelela started teaching from his home in Bonela in Durban in 2019 after identifying a need for help in his community after doing his last session of practical teaching there. The learners were always playful, and he realised that a lot of them knew nothing. He felt then that something needed to be done about this. The knowledge he had gained from his studies meant that his heart, body and soul would not give him peace until he started teaching from home. Therefore, he is practising his craft and putting the skills and knowledge he gained from his studies with Unisa into action teaching learners at Bonela and Avoca. He hopes soon to spread his teaching services to Umlazi.

Phumelela has found that planning and adjusting to his life during the Covid-19 pandemic has helped him to adjust to life generally and he makes sure he follows all the protocols laid down by government when he is teaching. Before the pandemic, he had seven learners, but this number has now grown to 15. He splits them into two groups and teaches these at different times. It is compulsory for all learners to wear their masks and, if they have any flu-like symptoms, they must stay home until they are better. The biggest challenge he is facing now is obtaining a space from which he can teach. The more space he has, the more he will be able to do to help the community and those learners who are struggling with their schoolwork.

Phumelela certainly has big dreams as to how he can continue to support and help members of his community.

* By Jo Cossavella, Communications Officer, Unisa KwaZulu-Natal Region

Publish date: 2020/08/20