Scholar, campaigner, South African: Ntokozo Qwabe

Last week the social rights campaigner and Rhodes Scholar Ntokozo Qwabe graduated with a BCL from Oxford University. Qwabe’s graduation came as a personal triumph after he was forced to drop out of the University of KwaZulu-Natal after his one semester. Rather than abandoning his studies, Qwabe worked as a cashier in Checkers in order to save up money to fund his degree.

Qwabe was later awarded a two-year scholarship from the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation to study in South Africa and to complete a degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Here, he completed a law degree summa cum laude (the highest possible praise given) with 17 commendations and 34 distinctions.

This success led to him attaining a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, where he completed the BCL.

Qwabe felt that this scholarship was highly significant in his educational career, telling Cherwell, “as appears in its alumni list, the scholarship remains incredibly elitist and has a long way to go in terms of breaking the cycle of systemic barriers in the way of more black, poor and other marginalised people getting it – both in South Africa and elsewhere.”

Qwabe now intends to complete a Masters degree in Public Policy at Oxford following his graduation. The South African is proud to have attended Oxford University, stating to Cherwell,“it is one of the leading institutions in the world with incredible alumni, with whom I feel privileged to be in the same space.”

Qwabe has now called on Oxford to “walk the talk” in terms of equality and inclusion and describes campaigning for this as a highlight of his time in Oxford. He is a supporter of “movements driving institutional, curriculum and other change at Oxford like CRAE, Black Students Union, Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford, Oxford ProBono Publico etc. Some of these are key in getting Oxford to be a transformed space which fully embraces inclusion as it purports to. The space can feel incredibly elitist and isolating in its cultures and traditions so these movements are important.”

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The Rhodes Trust told Cherwell, “Ntokozo Qwabe’s story is hugely inspiring and we hope it will encourage other talented applicants wherever they come from and whatever disadvantages they face. Financial support, as well as candidates’ abilities, makes such stories possible, and so we are working hard to provide as much scholarship funding as possible for all our students.”

Of his own success Qwabe says, “My mandate it to use that position of privilege to ensure that more people who share my story are able break systemic barriers in the way of them getting to institutions like Oxford.”

The Rhodes Scholar has refused to stay silent on issues concerning inclusion and diversity at Oxford. Qwabe told Cherwell these problems are “why we must love our institutions while challenging them to be better. Doing that has been great – and I look forward to doing more in the coming year.”

Qwabe’s work campaigning across Oxford has not gone unnoticed. Kiran Benipal, Qwabe’s close friend and colleague in various liberation campaigns, described him to Cherwell as, “the greatest guide and mentor for me at Oxford.

“Ntokozo is so much more than the remarkable story being circulated on the web. He is unafraid to voice his opinions and stand up for justice, regardless of whatever circumstances he might find himself in. I always feel blessed to be in his company and to learn from his fantastic mind.”

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