GEORGE NEWS - Tatenda Mapeto's lifelong dream to change her world through education began under an avocado tree two decades ago.
Today the Zimbabwean-born Mapeto (33), a forest management lecturer at the Nelson Mandela University George Campus, can write the title "doctor" before her name.
She was one of two students who received their doctorate degrees at the university's summer graduation, which took place virtually on 17 and 18 December. Mapeto's PhD in nature conservation, in the field of forest hydrology, offers critical research into eco-hydrological patterns in tree production systems - vital for negotiating South Africa's ongoing water scarcity.
Milisa Piko, the spokesperson of the George campus, said in a press release last week that Mapeto is a person with an unwavering commitment to water conservation. Mapeto's journey started during a mini project on wetland delineation, using biophysical principles to understand how placing the right trees on the right sites contributes to managing for both water and fibre provision. "Mapeto completed bachelor's and master's degrees, focusing on the delicate balance between trees, humans, and water usage," Piko said. "Her research contributed to a body of knowledge on water balance processes in both plantation and indigenous forests in South Africa's Southern Cape region."
From zero to somewhere
According to Mapeto it wasn't always easy, but her father managed to send them to good schools. "All the cents from bread and milk sales [in the family's spaza shop] went into our education. He vowed to make sure that we would have a good basic education and he did just that. This qualification is about him and his struggles," she said.
Mapeto's mother qualified as an accountant and obtained a master's degree - all while "being a great mom to her children".
It was this "start-from-zero-and-get-somewhere" approach to life that inspired Mapeto to do more than just make ends meet; she excelled at school, particularly in math, science and chemistry.
A national diploma in forestry from Zimbabwe College of Forestry was followed by studies at the University of Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela University, where she completed postgraduate degrees and qualifications in project management and forest science.
Her university lecturing job focuses on forest inventory, management, planning and the decision-making environment in which forest resource managers operate.
"I teach modules connecting forest management skills and the informational needs and flows that underpin ecologically bearable, economically viable and socially acceptable forest production systems."
Education is liberating, allowing one to "live life to its fullest", Mapeto said in the press release. "My education journey was fraught with financial challenges. One day, aged nine or 10, I was sitting under my granny's avocado tree, where I asked my father what would happen now, as I'd been sent home for non-payment of school fees. He said that he would get me to university, with or without money, as I could get a bursary, because I was smart. That stayed with me. And when I wanted to do my master's but had no funds, my supervisor, Professor Jos Louw, told me that money should be the last thing that stops one from achieving one's dreams."
Her mentors included Louw, Dr Mark Gush, Dr Richard Bugan, Professor Jenny Fincham and her uncle, Watson Mlambo, a high school math and physics teacher, to whom her PhD is dedicated.
She also credited her grandmother, parents and siblings as inspirational cheerleaders in all her adventures.
"What I Iove about education is that it is a process of becoming," said Mapeto. "It has carved a pathway to creating value for myself, my family, my community and, I hope, in the world one day. I hope that I can inspire others with the words: it can be done."
* Piko said that the series of online ceremonies acknowledged those students who graduated at the end of a long and difficult year. While virtual ceremonies will never be the university's first choice, the safety of their students, their families and their staff is their overriding priority. "We are committed, however, to supporting all parties in celebrating this milestone occasion safely at home with both an online ceremony and additional digital opportunities. These, and other ideas, will be shared in the build-up to students' own 'home-based' graduation celebrations."
George campus saw about eight students participate in the virtual graduation. In addition to the eight candidates, the campus had two PhD graduates, including Mapeto.
'We bring you the latest George, Garden Route news'