Ms Vanessa Swartz (23) had to overcome big stumbling blocks before graduating with a BComm degree in Management Accounting from Stellenbosch University (SU) in December 2011.
She comes from Citrusdal, where her father, Mr Klaas Jantjies, is a farm labourer and her mother, Ms Katriena Swartz, is a seasonal worker in the fruit industry.
However, she grew up with her grandmother, Ms Magrieta Witbooi, on a farm near Piketberg. Ms Mariëtte Odendaal, an SU alumna, had started a farm library there, and Swartz was one of the children who visited it regularly.
“It meant a lot to me. The books opened worlds to me and I was part of a group of teenagers who discussed all sorts of things,” she says. Despite falling pregnant in her last year at school, she wrote matric and did well.
However, she decided to first stay at home with her baby daughter, Vanashree (now 4).
“Vanessa was one of the stars of our library group. I was really keen that she should study further. I spoke to her and to her mother, and then took Vanessa for aptitude tests. I was very happy when she got admission to Maties,” says Odendaal, who now lives in Kuils River.
Vanashree remained behind with her grandmother in Citrusdal when her mother left for Stellenbosch. Swartz’s studies were financed through bursary loans from SU and the National Student Financing Scheme.
“It was very difficult at the beginning. The adjustment was big, both socially and academically, and I really missed my daughter terribly,” says Swartz.
“Aunty Mariëtte helped me through the most difficult times. For a first-generation student such as myself, it is every important to have someone like her who can be your campus mother.”
In his installation address in 2007, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman said his vision was that Stellenbosch should become “a multicultural home for all”, where “the problems of the poor with regard to access” were dealt with.
His standpoint, “We can only feel satisfied that there is fair access when the daughter of the farm worker has the same future opportunities as the son of the farmer,” has since become A rallying call.
Promoting student success is one of the strategic objectives of SU’s HOPE Project.
Support HOPE: www.thehopeproject.co.za/studentsuccess