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Change the world


As Nelson Mandela University opened for the new academic year on February 3, first-year student Lonwabo Jacobs, 17, took his first steps towards a dream career in the sciences.

The Somerset East matriculant is the first recipient of the Flip Potgieter Scholarship, a legacy bursary honouring Potgieter, who was passionate about promoting the study of maths and science throughout his life. He died in 2018.

The scholarship will provide R100 000 a year for the three years of Lonwabo’s Bachelor of Science degree at Mandela University.

“I feel very excited to be awarded the bursary,” said Lonwabo, who was raised by his mother Portia, a police officer. “I would like to become a well-known forensic analyst.”

Potgieter, who fought apartheid and was well known in the Bay’s political and cricket administration circles, lectured maths at Nelson Mandela University from 1978 to 2006. He was also responsible for co-founding the university’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC) in 2002, which aims to boost the maths and science marks of promising learners from under-privileged schools, to help them gain access to tertiary studies. GMMDC also promotes STEAM education in South African schools, the acronym standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, as well as creativity in problem-solving, to empower learners with the skills they will need to find work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  

After retiring, Potgieter continued to be involved with mathematics education, helping in-service teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

Following his death, Stellenbosch businessman and former Cadbury’s director Piet Beyers, who became a close friend of Potgieter’s while living in Port Elizabeth from 1987 to 1994, decided to set up the legacy bursary in his honour.

As Potgieter loved the Karoo – frequently visiting a family farm near Jansenville – and was passionate about creating equal opportunities for all South Africans, the scholarship aims to create opportunities for Karoo-based candidates from financially-challenged backgrounds to study towards any degree in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields at Nelson Mandela University. The Scholarship will be awarded to a new recipient every three years, and preference will be given to those who plan to enter the teaching profession.

Said Beyers: “Pottie and I often spoke about the challenges facing South Africa, and what the country’s priorities should be. He always said: ‘What is key is education, education, education.’ He was passionate about maths and science.”

“My hope is that the Scholarship will help to preserve the legacy of a special man, who had a big impact on a lot of people. It’s a way to say: ‘Thank you, Pottie.’”

Lonwabo said he chose to pursue forensic science studies because he had a “keen eye for detail and an unquenchable thirst for research and investigation”. He was also keen to help others through a field that “increases public safety by contributing to the capture of criminals. It also helps the victims and their families to achieve justice and closure.”

Lonwabo moved to Johnson Ngonqoza Senior Secondary School in Grade 10, as his previous high school did not offer science as a matric subject. While at Johnson Ngonqoza, he was part of a group of pupils who initiated maths study sessions. He also attended GMMDC’s incubator school programme (ISP), which played a key role in helping him to achieve his bachelor’s pass.

“Every year, my marks improved,” he said.  

“I’m so excited about a gifted learner like Lonwabo having the opportunity to study further,” said Potgieter’s widow, Sally, who was on the Scholarship selection panel.

“Our country needs more scientists and engineers. These are fields that need to be developed.” 

GMMDC Director and Co-Founder Prof Werner Olivier said the Centre would provide a mentor for Lonwabo for the duration of his studies.

“Flip, Dr Hennie Boshoff and I founded the Centre. Flip suggested we ask Oom Gov (Govan Mbeki) if we could use his name, and was always a friend of the Centre, supporting us and opening doors for us.

“It’s a tribute to Flip to see someone from the heart of the Karoo coming through and benefiting in this way.”

Beyers is also awarding R5000 to the top mathematics students in first, second and third-year mathematics at Nelson Mandela University. Based on their 2019 results, the first recipients are Erich du Plessis, who attained 93% for Maths 1, Jason Leonard, who achieved 87% for Maths 2, and Luan Naude, who ended Maths 3 with a 95% average.

LEGACY BURSARY: Congratulating Lonwabo Jacobs, 17 (third from left), on being the first recipient of the Flip Potgieter Scholarship are (from left) Prof Werner Olivier, director of the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre at Nelson Mandela University, Lonwabo’s stepfather Mziwoxolo Mbutho, his mother Portia, Potgieter’s widow Sally and Piet Beyers, who set up the Scholarship.

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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