The Power of Dreams
An article on Thabisa Xhalisa as it appeared in Humanities Newsletter November 2011
What could so easily have ended in disaster has instead become a truly inspirational story because this year, Thabisa will graduate with a master's degree in Education. In this article Humanities Update talks to Thabisa about her journey and the lessons she has learnt along the way. Talking to her, it is clear that she is an incredibly driven, confident and determined young woman who has succeeded despite the odds. Juggling high school with a job as a part-time domestic worker could not have been easy, but Thabisa always dreamt of a better life. Even though she was a dedicated student who excelled at school, her prospects in Knysna were bleak. "From a young age I knew that if I worked hard, I could make something of myself so I set my sights on going to university. Where I come from, my peers either become domestic workers or waitresses. I didn't see myself in either of these jobs because I knew I could achieve so much more," says Thabisa. After her application to study at UCT was rejected, she decided to travel to Cape Town in order to plead her case in person. She recalls that her mother used their last R190 to buy a R100 one-way bus ticket and to give her R50 spending money. An unsucessful bid to enter the MBChB programme at UCT led to an interest in the Faculty of Humanities. However, she still could not afford the R300 acceptance fee. Fortunately, she obtained both a bursary and a loan from the Student Financial Aid office and in 2002, was registered for a BA in Media Studies. "My first year at UCT was extremely tough. I was struggling academically and I felt totally overwhelmed. I ended up failing so I had to repeat my first year in 2003. I thought about quitting but I decided to stay and to try much harder," she says. In November 2003, Thabisa's mother passed away from cancer. This meant that she was left with the responsiblity of raising younger cousins so she took on odd jobs on campus in order to support the family. It was during this time that she secured part-time employment as a translator, which in turn sparked an interest in literacy studies. Fast forward to 2011 and Thabisa is now a masters graduate with a bright future ahead of her. Her Master's research interest was in early childhood literacy in the townships. She is currently lecturing in the Department of African Languages where she is involved in teaching isiXhosa to medical students as part of a new community-orientated curriculm. This busy academic also plans to pursue a doctorate which will focus on her observations whilst teaching medical students, specifically the doctor-patient interaction. In addition, she wants to produce a documentary on her mother, who she says has taught her many importanat lessons. "There have been many times in my life when to give up would have been the easier option. I refused to give up, I always pushed myself harder. I realise now that I'm just like my mother in that sense. She was an incredibly strong woman who taught me to dream big and to pray for strength. In many ways, my life is a replication of hers except that my future is better because I have an education," Thabisa concludes.
African Language Association and UCT Staff
An article on Rose Mantoa Smouse & Tessa Dowling as it appeared in Humanities Newsletter November 2011
Tessa Dowling(left) has won the ALASA (The African Language Association of Southern Africa) Linguistics Prize for "the most outstanding Linguistics article for 2010". Her article is about signage in the townships. Rose Mantoa Smouse(right) has been elected on the ALASA Board and Executive. As Executive member she is the sub- editor for the Linguistics and Literature prizes. The African Language Association of Southern Africa is the biggest Indigenous Languages and Literatures body for academics in Southern Africa.
Colleague Dr Mantoa Rose Smouse visited the Department of Communication Disorders at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
On April 8-29th 2010
Dr. Smouse, a linguist, is on faculty in
the Department of Languages and Literature at the University of Cape
Town in South Africa. Dr. Smouse and Dr. Frances Burns of the
Department of Communication Disorders are collaborating on several
projects including studying the acquisition of non-dominant language
varieties, in particular African American English and Xhosa.
Research Interests: Morphology and Syntax; Second Language Acquisition and Teaching; Childhood Bilingualism; Child Language Development; Discourse Analysis; Language Policy and Planning and Digital Communication
Congratulations to Dr Ian Van Rooyen, Dr Mantoa Rose Smouse and their teaching teams, who, together with Prof Derek Hellenberg of Health Sciences have won the PanSALB 2010/11 Multilingualism Award in the Education category for the use of multilingualism in language policy and implementation in courses and study guides.
Section gears up to rekindle interest in African languagesMonday Paper, 10 August 2009
Welcome back: To boost interest in African-language studies at UCT, Adjunct Prof Tessa Dowling, back after a break of 12 years, will be using some of the teaching tools she's developed in her company, African Voices.
Adjunct Professor Tessa Dowling of the African Languages and Literatures section has learned a few valuable lessons in the 12 years she's been away from UCT.
As director of African Voices, which provides a suite of celebrated language-related services and teaching guides, Dowling has witnessed first-hand the march of African languages. This, after all, has been the age of the cellphone, the SMS, blogging, MXit, an explosion of brand names and the rise of English, all assimilated and remixed into African languages.
As a result, urban isiXhosa, for example, charged with township jargon and slang, is a far cry from the version generally taught at universities. It's that kinetic, colloquial touch Dowling wants to pass on to her students at UCT.
"I'd like our department to have an ear in the townships," she says. "We should not just be teaching standard varieties, which of course we must uphold; we should also be researching and teaching varieties that are non-standard."
It's that approach that Dowling and the section hope will lure back an audience it has lost over the past few years.
While the section still attracts substantial numbers of international (especially American) and non-mother-tongue South Africans to its beginner courses, curriculum changes in the late 1990s saw a sharp drop in registrations from mother-tongue speakers, who were possibly not interested in the deep linguistic analysis that was part and parcel of the mainstream programme. This, for one thing, undermined any plans the section may have had to boost postgraduate studies in these languages.
Which is why they called on Dowling who, in turn, leapt at the opportunity. ("I think like an academic," she says with a laugh.)
"Since her company was involved in second-language learning we thought she might bring that experience into our classroom," says Dr Abner Nyamende, section head. "As a white urban South African who acquired isiXhosa when she was already at university, she is an ideal model for our students."
Among the first things Dowling did was set up a new website, www.afrilang.uct.ac.za, designed by computer science students Michael Dube and Mononts'i Nthontho and founded on the groundwork of Rose Mantoa Smouse, who runs the African language courses in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
And, over the next couple of years, the section will bring in a raft of new, self-pioneered courses. These will be open to all students, they will, perhaps controversially, be taught in English, and will include:
Yebo Gogo, which will analyse advertising in African languages.
Introduction to Texts and Talk in Africa, which explores the beginning of writing in African languages (using texts going back to the 1850s), and how - if at all - contemporary African-language texts and sources, such as radio, reflect the spoken version.
Sex, Love and Taboo, which will look at how people speak about HIV/AIDS and sex in general, and how modern-day ads and magazines in African languages portray and talk about sex and sexuality.
Growing up in Africa, studying children's first experience of language, and how they learn language.
New majors are planned in Xhosa Communication and Indigenous African Languages and Literatures.
Dowling and Nyamende echo each other's sentiments about where they'd like to see the section in a few years' time - chock-a-block with postgraduates breaking new ground.
"There is still so much initial research to be done in the field of African languages, and we need to produce home-grown scholars who will lead in this field," says Nyamende.
"I would love to see the section full of students who have ideas for research that are completely pioneering," adds Dowling. "We want to prompt them to think about the linguistic world, and the multi-lingual society they live in."
Six months into this, her second term at UCT, Dowling is still bristling with enthusiasm, even if the decision-making pace is slightly slower than what she's grown used to. Academia's just her cup of tea, she says.
"I think I'm a better academic now because, for one thing, I spend far more time reading academic journals than I did before. I love being paid to read and research."
That can only bode well for her students.