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Maties take on ‘ultimate human race’ for students needing financial support
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]
Published: 03/06/2024

Running almost 90 km uphill from Durban to Pietermaritzburg is no mean feat, but for 60 Stellenbosch University (SU) staff, students and alumni, the Comrades Marathon on Sunday, 9 June is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for students who need financial support to complete their studies.

They will tackle the gruelling up-run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg as champions of SU's #Move4Maties initiative to raise funds for the “missing middle" students who don't qualify for assistance from government's National Student Financial Aid Scheme, but who cannot afford tuition.

“With over 2 000 Maties running and 60 champions raising funds, we are demonstrating the true spirit of Stellenbosch University – turning every challenge into an opportunity to make a difference," says Alwin Mabuza, Individual and Regular Fundraiser at Development and Alumni Relations (DAR).

“Organising our alumni for the Comrades Marathon has been an inspiring journey. Maties are known for their resilience and strength, qualities that shine brightly in both the gruelling race and our commitment to supporting students in the 'missing middle'. Just as the marathon's 89 kilometres between Durban and Pietermaritzburg challenge every runner, students who fall between financial aid and affordability face their own uphill battle."

Candice van Wijk, an SU alumna, will run her first Comrades Marathon for this good cause. “I am filled with excitement and nerves, but 'Nakanjani' (this year's slogan which means 'no doubt'), this will be an extraordinary adventure. I am dedicating this Comrades Marathon to the future doctors, accountants, politicians and leaders who, at this moment, lack the financial means to pursue their studies."

Chris Zaayman, a former NSFAS beneficiary who graduated in March this year with an MBA from Stellenbosch Business School, says he knows all too well how education can lift a person from poverty and open doors to opportunity. He is running to help as many people as he can avoid economic exclusion. “A struggling economy has exacerbated (students') financial challenges, pushing talented and deserving students to the brink of dropping out. But together, we can change their trajectory."

Zaayman hails from Durban but is now based in Mkhondo where he runs with the Assegaai Marathon Club. “They're an awesome bunch and one of the people I run with, Tannie Tessie, is in her sixties and running the Comrades for the last time. She is also an inspiration to me." He says running for a cause will also motivate him to cross the line. When asked how he feels about the task ahead, he says: “Nginovalo (I am nervous), kodwa ngiyajabulisa (I'm excited) and it's only a few days to go now."

Prof Ben Loos, head of the Department of Physiological Sciences, will attempt his first up run to raise at least R20 000 for science students in need. “It has been a hard start to the year for students, with many struggling financially because funding has been tight and delayed. I have witnessed many students who quietly support their families back home, from the little they do receive. Their resilience and grit are inspiring," he says on the GivenGain platform.

The race will also be an opportunity for Loos to contribute to his department's study of the biology and physiology of the cell and the role of exercise in decreasing the risk for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Of the upcoming challenge, Loos says: “While I enjoy the Comrades Marathon's incredible spirit of togetherness, it is for me also a celebration of life and conquering that which at first seems unachievable."

Lumka Tshiki writes on the GivenGain platform that she will be aiming for her third Comrades medal this year in support of SU students who cannot afford their fees. “I believe that a little can go a long way towards making a difference," she says.

Already, over R44 000 has been raised for students who can't afford tuition and are unable to access government funding.