From poverty to PhD, UCT V-C Mamokgethi Phakeng on her inspirational journey

It's nearly a year since Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng took over from Max Price as vice chancellor at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The position is a far cry from her humble beginnings in Ga-Rankuwa, the daughter of a domestic worker and a high-school educated radio announcer.

Prof Phakeng sat down with Cape Talk's John Maytham to talk about her journey so far.

As a child, her greatest ambition she says was not to be poor.

I was sick of poverty. Eating pap and sugar was not something that I wanted to do all my life.

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice chancellor - University of Cape Town

My dad always said a university degree will set you up for success and that will take you out of poverty, and that was the initial dream.

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice chancellor - University of Cape Town

At just 16 years old she enrolled at North West University, where she was told by her parents that she had one chance and four years to complete her degree.

They said, if you mess that up you're out.

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice chancellor - University of Cape Town

Phakeng would go on to complete a Masters at the University of Witwatersrand, and it was during this time that the seed of ambition was planted for her current role.

I had been inspired by one professor at Wits and at the end of my Masters degree we had a meeting and I said to her how can I get your job.

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice chancellor - University of Cape Town

In 2002 she became the first black South African to obtain a PhD in mathematics education.

Earlier this year Prof. Phakeng delighted her tens of thousands of Twitter followers when she posted a video of herself ballroom dancing at UCT - a talent she nurtured while still a student.

And, says Phakeng, she's still got the moves!

Oh I can still hit the floor, bigtime! I can stop the party!

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice chancellor - University of Cape Town

Listen to the full interview below:


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