From part-time gardener to Oxford doctorate candidate

When Sizwe Mkwanazi worked as a part-time gardener nine years ago, he never thought he’d one day be studying at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

But determination and commitment saw Sizwe (24) living out a dream beyond his imagination.

The 24-year-old is working on his doctorate in education at Oxford University in England, after he became one of the first South African students from a technical and vocational education and training college (TVET) to be accepted at the esteemed academic institution.

Sizwe, who is the eldest of three children in his family,  grew up in Mpumalanga, where he lived with his grandparents and siblings on a farm. His mother worked in Alberton, alongside his uncle, and therefore couldn’t take care of him.

"Growing up with my grandparents was great because they took very good care of me and my siblings," Sizwe says.

He attended Qondulwazi Secondary School and after completing Grade 9 he went to Gert Sibande TVET College in Standerton, Mpumalanga. This was where he completed levels 2, 3 and 4, which is equivalent to Grade 10, 11 and 12 in high school.

While in college Sizwe was also a part-time gardener.

“Being a gardener had its benefits because it enabled me to receive an income, helped me build relationships with the people I worked with and in some way it was very therapeutic,” he said.

Despite having to work, Sizwe managed to end top of his class, which ultimately gave him the opportunity to go to Oxford.

In 2017 he obtained his master of technology degree in operations management with distinction in the faculty of engineering and the built environment.

Sizwe says being accepted at Oxford has left him with mixed emotions.

“This opportunity means I can now enjoy being an international citizen and working in my field of interest with no geographical boundaries,” he said.

“It’s a great chance to immerse myself in entrepreneurship education, which is my research area.

“I’m a passionate scholar, researcher, community developer and pioneer of cooperatives work. So I do hope to become a professor of entrepreneurship education at the end of my doctorate degree and accelerate my work of establishing the Africa Cooperatives University of SA and advance my work in the Youth for Action Rural Youth Development Foundation.”