Earlier this month, we were fortunate to attend a talk by Dr Musa Manzi from the University of the Witwatersrand. In his compelling speech, Dr Manzi took us through some of the challenges he faced growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal and how he overcame them to become one of the world’s leading geophysicists. It was an emotional account of his life thus far, and we were enormously moved by his story. We’d like to share it with you, to highlight why education is so terribly important to invest in, both financially and by simply taking an interest in a young person’s future. For while the R100 his mother gave the young Musa to travel to Wits so that he could apply in person may seem like nothing, for her, it was both a great sacrifice and an investment in his education that paid off beyond her dreams and we believe there are many more Musa Manzis out there, who just need a helping hand to rise to greatness.
Musa Manzi spent his childhood in a rural village at Ndwedwe, KwaZulu-Natal, with his single mother who could not write her own name. His circumstances at home and in his community inspired him to focus all his energy on his faith and education. As a Matric student, he found himself without a teacher; in fact the school he’d attended had never offered mathematics before then. So he taught himself and other students maths, physics and biology and still managed to get 100% for higher grade maths, and receive straight A’s for all of his subjects. “It’s a lesson for all young Africans that they shouldn’t let the troubles of their past prevent or limit them from reaching their potential,” he said. “Don’t let your past steal your future” is one of the quotes he lives by.
Dr. Manzi went on to do groundbreaking work on 3D seismic reflection data from the Wits Basin, which has opened new ways of understanding into amongst other things, the location of methane gas along underground faults, improving safety, resource evaluation and facilitating economic growth. He also collected a host of prestigious local and global awards for his work and was the first African to win the international award for Best Research Paper published in Geophysics of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 2012.
He is currently based at the University of the Witwatersrand where he teaches undergraduate students and supervises postgraduates. During his spare time, Dr. Manzi teaches maths and physical science in township schools and also works through various churches to help young people enhance their understanding of science. He also recently opened a foster home in the community where he grew up in with the ultimate aim of changing lives through education.
What inspired us most about his talk was his sheer determination to write his exams despite his extremely tough circumstances. Life put so many obstacles in his way yet somehow he managed to overcome them, in fact, he saw getting an education as his escape.
Also moving was a point he made about how much it meant to him to be shown love and affection. When he was at university, he received a hug and a kiss for the first time and was told he was a nice looking boy by his adopted mom. This was totally foreign to him, since as a child, he’d been brought up thinking he was ugly and unwanted.
We can also learn from another one of his motivating statements: “The obstacle shows the way, don’t try to find a way to go around it – go through it. It will enhance your experience of life, give your broader understanding and ultimately make you a better person.”
Lastly, we can learn that we need to be more positive: there are many hidden gems in this country with the potential to rise to greatness if given a little help and compassion. There has never been a better time to be more open to helping them reach their dreams, whether it’s financially or through mentoring a learner or university student. For in the words of the American philosopher John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
Click on the link below, if you’d like to read more about Dr Musa Manzi: