Change the world


Reason to be Proud - #R2bP: Nelson Mandela University student, Gabangaye Shongwe, got international recognition as a Highly Commended entrant in the Music, Film and Theatre category of the Undergraduate Awards at its Global Summit held in the Irish capital, Dublin, recently.

The BA Media, Communication and Culture (MCC) student was also announced as the regional winner of the Undergraduate Awards from Africa and Middle East in the same category earlier this year.

The Undergraduate Awards (UA) is the world’s leading awards programme for students still pursuing their first degrees.  It recognises top undergraduate work, shares this work with a global audience and connects students across cultures and disciplines.

Shongwe submitted a paper titled “Social Renewal and Representations of African Womanhood in The Blue Eyes of Yonta (Gomes, 1991), Karmen Gei (Ramaka, 2001), Elelwani (wa Luruli, 2012) and Moolaade (Sembene, 2004)”.

Highly Commended entrants (HRE) are those whose submissions ranked in the top 10% in their respective categories, with the highest performing commendation in each region named the regional winner in the category.

A group of the world’s top performing students gathered in Dublin from 11–13 November 2019 to take part in the Global Undergraduate Summit – a three-day conference where students from 38 universities, 12 countries and 25 different categories gathered to collaborate and share research. 

On the significance of the Global Undergraduate Summit, UA executive director Dr Garret Maher said the awards offer the world’s most inspiring students a unique platform to benchmark their work on a global scale and, ultimately, have this work recognised by an independent panel of judges as being of the highest standard within their discipline.

“At a time when there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, the Global Undergraduate Summit embraces these students, enabling them to showcase their outstanding research to an audience of peers, academics and future employers, as they transition to become the next generation of change makers,” he said.

Shongwe’s paper was among the total 3 437 Undergraduate Awards submissions from students in 338 universities across 50 countries this year. There is no other event of this scale or academic breadth and quality that is focused exclusively on the work of undergraduates. 

In his paper, he references these four African films, touching on various issues affecting African womanhood and the changing identities of women in Africa; representations of women in Africa; and social renewal, particularly in the face of modernization.  It has brought forth a sort of ‘traditional vs modern’ narrative within identities of not only the African woman, but that of African societies as whole.

“I believe the research is of particular importance now, considering the sad realities embodied within contemporary movements such as #Femicidenation or #AmINext,” said Shongwe.

“Understanding the representations of African womanhood and African women within such testing times may assist in extinguishing toxic and outdated ideas and, furthermore, may aid in guiding us all into possible solutions.”

Shongwe said he was encouraged by one of his lecturers, Prof Janina Wozniak, to make a submission.

“The gist of the conversation was I should put myself out there a bit more and not pass up on opportunities.  And so, after that simmered in, I came across the Undergraduate Awards' 2019 entry ad in my school emails and figured, why not?  So, I submitted one of my 'good' papers and to my surprise the feedback was positive,” he said.

Shongwe began his studies at the University as a BComm Law student, but a year into the course, he realised that it was not where his heart was.

“After a full first year of feeling quite out of place, I dropped out and took a temporary break from school,” he said.

“After a hard and lengthy road, now certain of what I wanted to do with my life, I registered for the BA MCC program in pursuit of a future career in media and film.”

Mandela University was also a formal affiliate of the Undergraduate Awards, with the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof Azwinndini Muronga, among the judges in the Mathematics and Physics category.

This affiliation effectively opens doors to the University’s undergraduate students and their supervisors and is not limited to just science students but extends to other faculties and disciplines through the UA programme’s 25 categories.  These include Architecture and Design, Social Sciences, Visual Arts, Medical Sciences, Engineering, Politics, Education and Law.

Prof Muronga, who has been instrumental in marketing the awards at the institution, encourages all Mandela University students to participate in this global award as it comes with a lot of opportunities for both the students’ academic careers and the institution’s brand and positioning.

“The efforts of bringing this global prestigious and competitive award to the attention of Nelson Mandela University students and staff is starting to pay off and I believe more recipients of this award will emerge from our institution,” he said.

“The highly recommended entry of Gabangaye Shongwe and the announcement of him being declared the regional winner will encourage other students to take part from next year onwards. I also want to encourage academics to participate in the judging process.”

The Global Undergraduate Awards will be accepting submissions for the 2020 programme soon and those interested are urged to keep an eye on


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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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