By Abigail Javier | Eye Witness News
JOHANNESBURG – Last year, Gibson Nzimande was a homeless man in Sandton, sleeping under a tree next to the busy Rivonia Road, listening to the sounds of passing cars.
On Thursday afternoon, the only sound Nzimande heard was applause as he was finally conferred his Master’s degree from the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
As the tall and unassuming Gibson Nzimande walked onto the University of Johannesburg’s graduation ceremony stage, he looked up and smiled at the audience. When his name was called, the crowd applauded him for his resilience and determination.
With his new certificate in hand and his academic hood donned on his shoulders, Nzimande can now officially be recognised as a Master’s graduate of history.
The graduation ceremony took place at the university’s Kingsway campus in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon.
After the ceremony, Nzimande could hardly contain his happiness.
“I’m very, very, very excited about this moment today. I don’t know what to say, but I’m excited.”
For the first time, Nzimande appeared relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
More than a year ago, Nzimande was homeless, surviving by recycling waste.
Unable to afford his studies, he was forced to defer his Master’s degree towards the end of 2019.
Despite not being registered to a tertiary institution, Nzimande’s determination drove him to continue his studies at a public library, holding onto the hope of one day completing his degree.
Eyewitness News first published his story which led to an outpouring of support to get him off the streets. Two weeks later, he was re-enrolled in the UJ Master’s programme.
During a small media address after his graduation, Professor Thembisa Waetjen, Nzimande’s programme supervisor, and someone he affectionately calls “his mum,” stood by his side.
Waetjen said: “I’m just so proud of this man, that I feel very choked up, and it’s quite an emotional thing. It’s been a long road, and I think Gibson has shown tremendous resourcefulness and courage, and we’re just really, really happy to be here today standing together.”
She also drew attention to the unseen perceptions of students.
“There are layers and layers of complexity in people’s lives,” she said, “and I think it really encourages us to reach out to all those different layers and try to see the human in every student and do the best we can to make a connection with each and every student.”
Nzimande is now pursuing a PhD in Anthropology.
He said his formula for success was perseverance and praying hard.