Lessons in leadership from a ‘foreigner’

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Incoming deputy president of the Rhodes University SRC Kudakwashe Rejoice Chingono wants to challenge the notion that Africa is a developing continent. Photo: Moono Chungu

By MOONO CHUNGU

Logged on to Facebook. Clicked the ‘Rhodes Confessions 2017’ page. There it was, Submission number: 3913, staring into my eyes. It read:

“… So nje foreign students were out of the question in our (protest) struggle… I just wonder if people know that should we have a student leader that will have to choose between their visa and the “promise” they made to the student body sinyile bantase lo leader that will be a walk over instead of a barricade to management”.

The anonymous Rhodes University student was proposing that a foreign student should not be elected in the Student Representative Council (SRC). Other anonymous confessions were similarly posted on the page suggesting that a foreign student would never relate to South African struggles.

They logged on to Facebook. They typed. In the process, they engaged with the irrational dislike of people from other countries; yes their fingers adopted xenophobia and typed it for all to see.

At the centre of all this xenophobia was 22-year-old Zimbabwean student Kudakwashe Rejoice Chingono. Labelled as ‘nothing more than a foreigner’, there is much more to this interesting young and vibrant young woman.

“Yes, I’m a foreigner. It’s who I am, but it doesn’t define my understanding or reaction to struggles,” Kuda said. “I’ve been a student here for four years. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been able to identify with people during the struggle.”

Kuda hails from Hwange, a town in Zimbabwe. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Sociology last year and is currently pursuing an Honours Degree in Development Studies, a branch of Sociology.

“I am a person who loves working with people so it made sense to continue studying Sociology. I am concerned about the development of Africa. I want to challenge the fact that Africa is still being called a developing continent,” she explains.

Her love for “working with people” prompted her to stand for SRC President for 2018. She says, “I wanted to be in the SRC since first year, but it was important for me to mature first and learn how things work.”

Kuda says it was “sad to see” discouraging xenophobic comments during her campaigns. She explained, “People have different feelings towards foreigners being around, and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I think we need to realise that we are all Africans and our struggles are the same. It’s not good to fight against each other; we should be fighting together for a better Africa.”

During the SRC Grazzle, candidates are invited to inform students about their plans when they are elected. A student asked Kuda, “Why haven’t you said anything about what you’ll do for Zimbabwean students?” Kuda intelligently responded saying that she was standing to represent all students and not only students from her country.

She further suggests, “We should not have internal conflict at Rhodes. Let’s stand together to solve these things. How do we achieve transformation, for example, when we are divided?”

On Friday 18 August, the SRC election results were announced. Kuda was sworn in as Vice President. She says, “I was happy that the students believed in me in the midst of what was being said about foreignness. The strength of a leader is not in them standing for what they believe in, but standing for the people who they are leading.”

The Vice President will be pursuing her Master’s Degree next year. She says that balancing her degree and SRC position will be manageable. She hopes to get advice from the current SRC Vice President, Dingani Booi, who is also pursuing his Master’s Degree in Sociology.

So there you have it! She’s intelligent, passionate, she’s a foreigner – and a foreigner who flourished despite attempts to bury her in xenophobia.

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