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MSc student Francisca Darkoh recipient of prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship
Author: Faculty of Science (media & communication)
Published: 16/04/2024

When Francisca Darkoh applied for yet another bursary to support her postgraduate studies in physiological sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) last year, she had no idea that the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, administered by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, is one of Nelson Mandela's three official legacy projects.

“I had no idea it was such a big thing! I thought it was just another bursary with Mandela's name attached to it, like so many other things out there," she laughs. The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship provides comprehensive funding, including tuition and registration fees, allowances for study materials, research and medical aid, accommodation and meals, as well as a personal and travel allowance.

Moreover, to her surprise she learned that the scholarship does not only involve financial support: “They do not just give you money for your studies, they actually have a programme in place to help you succeed in your studies," she explains.

Coming from a family that has struggled greatly financially, Francisca has become used to hustling to make ends meet. Taking inspiration from her Ghanaian mother, she has applied for a host of bursaries and established three businesses while studying – from offering personal training sessions to fellow students, to selling Jollof – a traditional rice dish from West Africa.

She is currently enrolled for an MSc in Physiological Sciences under the guidance of Dr Theo Nell and Professor Resia Pretorius in the Department of Physiological Sciences at SU

Francisca, a former learner from Stirling High School in East London, initially came to Stellenbosch University on a sports scholarship, as she has been playing hockey on national level since U/16. During this time, she excelled in her studies and fulfilled several leadership roles, such as House Committee member of the women's residence, Erica, and Chairperson/Primaria of Huis Russell Botman House.

Her biggest and most unforeseen setback, however, came in the middle of her BScHonours year, when she was hospitalised for months at a time for sepsis. In the process, she suffered a partial foot amputation undergoing six surgeries over the span of five months.

“Fortunately, the physiotherapist taught me to walk again just before graduation, so that I could walk over the stage by myself."

An eternal optimist, she is now focusing her research on sepsis, with the hope of making a significant contribution to the early diagnosing and detection of sepsis in the African and South African context.

The title of her dissertation is “Characterizing hemostatic and vascular blood parameters in systemic inflammatory processes during sepsis: a multidimensional analysis".

On the photo above, MSc student Fransisca Darkoh on the Stellenbosch University campus. Photo: Wiida Fourie-Basson