In 2006, Masicorp had not yet considered supporting students with university level education. That all changed one afternoon when Olwethu Mlaza tapped Masicorp volunteer Jill Stirrup on the shoulder and asked her for help getting to university. Having achieved good grades in mathematics, Olwethu was keen to apply his technical mind to engineering. What followed was a learning experience for Masicorp, as we began to establish a programme that would see Olwethu become our first ever bursary student and our first graduate.
At the time, Olwethu lived with his family in Philippi on the Cape Flats. His mother was instrumental in sending him to school in Masiphumelele after becoming frustrated at the poor quality of schooling in Philippi. It was a brave decision given the complicated journey. Every day Olwethu began his commute by waking at 04.00 hrs to catch the first of two trains into Cape Town and then out of the city south toward Masiphumelele. On a good day it was at least a two-hour journey each way. Ever the resourceful student, Olwethu could often be seen on crowded trains solving maths problems with his textbooks on his lap.
In 2006, Olwethu began a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). He balanced his studies with part-time work for the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) and the Table Mountain Cable Car, but still managed successfully to work his way through the course. Some aspects of the course were difficult, with subjects such as electrical engineering being completely new to him and very difficult for all students.
In 2010, Olwethu passed his final six modules (some with distinction) and graduated with a B. Tech. Mechanical Engineering. He found work very quickly, and now works with a specialist engineering company in the fishing industry in Hout Bay. He remains employed, despite the recent economic downturn, and is now married with young children and living in the Pinelands suburb of the city. Olwethu encouraged his younger brother Mihlali to continue his studies by applying to Masicorp. Mihlali obtained a diploma at CPUT last year and is now close to completing a Bsc honours course in Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Olwethu remains an inspiration to his family and all of us at Masicorp. He encouraged us to set up this valuable programme and demonstrated how it can lead to dramatic improvements in the lives of its participants.