Campus & Community

South African Harvard grads win Rhodes

3 min read

Two recent Harvard graduates, both from South Africa, will soon travel to Oxford University as 2007 Rhodes Scholarship recipients. These international Rhodes recipients will join the seven U.S. winners who were announced this past November. The two South African Rhodes winners are Itumelang (Tumi) Makgetla and Yusuf Randera-Rees, both of the Class of 2005.

Created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, the scholarships provide two or three years of study at Oxford University in England. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential, and an interest in extracurricular activities, among other attributes. Harvard students have been awarded more than 300 Rhodes Scholarships since the program was founded.

Makgetla was a social studies concentrator at Harvard and wrote her honors thesis on trade policy in the South African clothing sector. After graduation she returned to South Africa to work as a cub reporter for the Mail & Guardian, a weekly national newspaper. She describes her experience as a journalist as “exciting and challenging,” particularly because of the license it gave her to investigate a wide range of subjects, from arts festivals to Chinese textile imports to a high-profile rape case.

In addition to her work as a reporter, Makgetla has conducted research for a biography of South African President Thabo Mbeki and served as a field producer in Angola on a video documentary for Al Jazeera International. But it was the adrenaline rush of the newsroom that has proven the biggest thrill.

“I have really enjoyed chasing stories and that feeling that you’re on the hunt, when deadline is approaching and you’re calling around, sending off faxes and e-mails and searching the Internet to connect the dots before writing up your story.”

Makgetla will trade that excitement for the relative quiet of academia, when she leaves journalism to begin working toward an M.Phil. in politics at Oxford. She hopes that a deeper understanding of political theory will help her to address problems of inequality in South Africa and make a contribution to the process of economic development.

“My interest in development is a product of my personal background as well as short-term work and internships that I have done,” Makgetla said. “My parents are both deeply committed to improving people’s lives in South Africa and I grew up with a sense of responsibility towards my society and the belief that I would somehow contribute towards its development.”

Yusuf Randera-Rees was not available for this article.