The recent elections for the new student leadership structures saw two new leaders elected, and both are raring to go in order to serve their fellow students: Mbali Mkhonza was elected as chair of the Tygerberg Postgraduate Student Council (TPSC), and Kristin Arends is the new chair of the Tygerberg Student Council (TSR).
The FMHS is unique in having its own Tygerberg Student Council, as well as a Tygerberg Postgraduate Student Council.
Mbali Mkhonza – Chair: TPSC
Mkhonza, who is originally from the rural town of Mayflower in Mpumalanga, was secretary to the TPSC in the previous term. She is currently in her second year of doing a Master's in Molecular Biology, and her research focus is on tuberculosis. She completed her BSc at Stellenbosch University's main campus, followed by her BSc honours in Molecular Biology at Tygerberg. In her research, she is looking at gene expression in response to infections.
Mkhonza said she was delighted at her election and excited about her new role. “The previous chair, Sandisiwe Matyesini, has been amazing in the portfolio handover. I looked up to her in the role, and admired how she balanced her council work with studying. My fellow council members are also so supportive."
Asked why she believes it is important to be involved in student leadership structures, Mkhonza said: “It's a place for our voice to be heard. Post-graduate students have different needs to those of undergraduate students. As secretary of the TPSC, I saw the importance of advocating for post-graduate students within the faculty. For me it is all about being the link between faculty and post-graduate students."
She said her vision for the term was “to continue building on what the previous council worked on in terms of accountability and transparency, and looking at ways to personally develop the post-graduate community".
When asked about the challenges faced by post-graduate students, Mkhonza had the following to say: “Many post-graduate students are working as well as studying. It's not always an easy balance. We need to find ways of accommodating this.
“In terms of personal development, although we are students, we also want to grow as people beyond our lab work. I'd love to find ways to facilitate personal development, and create opportunities for students to, for example, learn communication and presentation skills, so that they can become well-rounded individuals."
Asked which special qualities she brings to the position, she said that she was someone who listened … rather than just responding.
In her spare time, Mkhonza loves reading and singing, and is learning to play the guitar. She also enjoys spending time with friends, volunteers at a baby shelter in Goodwood, and is very involved in her church.
When asked about her long-term plans, Mhkonza said she hopes to stay in academia. “I plan to do my PhD, to become a supervisor, and to contribute to the work being done in disease research, and to scale the academic ladder."
Kristin Arends – Chair: TSR
Arends, a fourth-year medical student, who is originally from East London, has been involved in student leadership since she arrived at Stellenbosch University. From being a mentor in the Hippokrates residence in her second year in 2018, to becoming Primaria for Hippokrates, she has just finished her term as TSR vice-chair.
Arends is clear about her vision for her new position: "I want the TSR to be a structure that truly represents students. My biggest role is to advocate for the students and their needs. In my role I have a seat on the Stellenbosch Students Representative Council, where I represent the Tygerberg students. This is very important as I can raise their needs on a bigger platform".
She takes deep inspiration from some of her leadership predecessors – including Dr Mokgohloe Chitsadi Thulare (the first black female Primaria of Hippokrates); Dr Tevarus Naicker, “who showed me how far resilience in student leadership can take you"; and Ms Wamahlubi Ngoma, who recently completed a term as the Stellenbosch University SRC vice-chairperson and who was the person who "inspired me not to be afraid to take the voices of Tygerberg students to bigger platforms".
“These powerful student leaders inspired me to be the best student leader I can be and to remember who I am doing this for, namely the students."
Arends said one of the biggest challenges facing students recently has been the transition to the online space during Covid-19. This included changes in how students were assessed. Also there has been “a lot of financial strain" among students, including changes to their accounts for residence accommodation.
“Students have struggled with mental health during the pandemic. They have been so accustomed to being on campus, around friends, in lectures, and working in the hospital. The adjustment has been very big. The Centre for Student Counselling and Development (CSCD) has been working hard during this period."
Arends believes she has gained a great deal of experience already. “Students often bring issues to me and to the other student council members. We figure out together how to link staff members and students in order to get problems solved. I am good at working out who to speak to when a student comes to me with a problem. That is one of my assets in my role as chair."
Arends, who enjoys cooking, watching series, and exploring Cape Town in her spare time, always wanted to study medicine. She has been doing her elective at the Frere Hospital in East London. “I've now witnessed first-hand the broken health system in the Eastern Cape. This experience has motivated me even more to throw myself into my medical career," she said.
She is not certain of exactly where her future lies.
“I haven't experienced all the specialities, but do have a couple of favourites, such as emergency medicine and trauma," she said. In the long run she sees herself working in a hospital with medical students.
“I enjoy teaching in a hospital setting and transferring knowledge and skills."
Caption: Mbali Mkhonza (left) and Kristin Arends (right).