Stellenbosch University
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SU students undertake a transformative journey across the Gariep
Author: Tendani Tshauambea
Published: 04/08/2023

​While the rest of campus went into hibernation mode for the June-July holidays, 20 students from Stellenbosch University (SU) joined their peers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Sol Plaatje University (SPU) for a transformative journey through the TransGariep Leadership Programme. 

As part of the collaboration between the three universities, 20 students from each university were selected to participate in the programme from 2 to 13 July and visit the campuses of each university over the two-week period. The group of 60 students included undergraduate and postgraduate students from several faculties and student communities, as well as positional and non-positional leaders. They were joined by staff members from the three universities who supported the students with sense-making, through their reflections, and provided mentorship during the students learning journey.  

Mr Yeki Mosomothane, Multicultural Educator and Coordinator in the Centre for Student Communities (CSC) in the Division Student Affairs (DSAf) at SU and the SU head of the programme, said the TransGariep Leadership Programme sought to create a new type of immersive experiential engagement.

“This type of immersive experiential engagement focuses on self-rediscovery, transformative human encounters, critical diversity, awareness, and unleashing leadership potential amongst students from the partner institutions taking part in the initiative."

The CSC, explains Mosomothane, is focused on creating “a culture where students not only have pleasant social experiences but are also serious about being effective role players within and beyond the borders of Stellenbosch". 

“The TransGariep Leadership Programme is an appropriate example of how this mission is being fulfilled through trans-cultural, transformative experiences. Because of these experiences, students can become transformed through embracing their unique identities while being open to learning from their peers."

An essential part of the programme was the trans-cultural component during which students could learn about the history, culture, and traditions of the communities they visited.

“This cultural exchange also recognises the journey undertaken by the students across the two provinces and the historic Gariep (Orange) river to be immersed in different communities."

The content of the programme reflected this primary purpose, guided by the individual theme chosen by each university: UCT's was “agenda of the soul", Stellenbosch “the transformative, transcultural experience" and SPU chose “future-focused leadership". These themes determined the activities and experiences the students engaged in at the specific university and its surrounding community.

Some of the sessions discussed topics such as 'liberating the soul-embracing self', 'ethical leadership' and 'relational transparency'. In Cape Town, the students visited the Slave Lodge and District Six Museum, while in Stellenbosch, they visited Lückhoff High School and the Pniel Museum, watched Woman King, an educational movie speaking to present issues around identity, and reflected on the SU Restitution Statement with Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd and Ms Ayanda Nyoka from SU's Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest.

In Kimberly, where SPU is located, the students engaged in a comprehensive parliamentary education programme, which expanded their understanding of Parliament and its role as an important institution of democracy, accountability, and representation. 

“Part of this education programme included the students 'joining' political parties and undertaking work done by political party members who are parliamentary representatives. This included 'oversight' visits, attending 'committee meetings' and a 'plenary session' at the Northern Cape Legislature, which was addressed by the Speaker of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature." 

While in Kimberly, the students also had an opportunity to have some downtime and visited the McGregor Museum, the Big Hole and had a celebratory gala dinner to close off the programme.

“The whole purpose of the TransGariep Leadership Programme was the development of students and their capacity to lead themselves and their communities towards the realisation of human flourishing," added Mosomothane.

Ms Charmaine Louw, a third-year SU student who participated in the programme said: “TransGariep allowed me to tap into my inner self, to determine who am I and what type of leader I aspire to be...the programme allowed me to broaden my horizons in terms of how important it is to have values embedded in yourself as a leader and how those values will then carry out into your tasks, your management skills and leadership style."

Ms Monica du Toit, ResEd Coordinator within CSC and Residence Head of Monica Residence at SU, said that one of the things that stuck with her after the journey was how students from the different institutions were able to be “powerful witnesses and fresh eyes to observe, notice and celebrate one another's growth and accomplishments". 

This observation by Du Toit, explains Mosomothane, speaks to the supportive environment the programme aimed to create while at the same time developing the inherent capabilities of the student participants.

“As an experiential education opportunity, the TransGariep Leadership Programme created a bridge which allowed students to foster networks, cohesion and an understanding of the regional challenges within the greater sphere of leadership, as well as provided every participant with a sound understanding of the contextual matters affecting leadership development in South Africa."

Reflecting further on her experience, Louw said that her biggest takeaway from the experience was “the power of being present, being in the moment and the importance of cultural intelligence as well as ethical leadership". ​