Youth Month 2021: Sam Mokgothu Mokhaloane

Youth Month 2021: Sam Mokgothu Mokhaloane

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young dreamers and achievers who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Mr Sam Mokgothu Mokhaloane is a PhD student in International Relations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is currently funded by the NRF for his studies.

This is his story…

I was born in a small township called Rammolutsi, Viljoenskroon. I went to school at Ntsoanatsatsi Primary School then attended high school at Kgolagano. In an area being overrun by nyaope and all types of drugs because of lack of opportunities, I decided I need to make my family proud and later contribute to the community.

My journey began in Grade 10 when I chose History as my favourite subject. This is where I fell in love with Political Science, and I decided that this is the path I will follow. The historical background of South African politics made me want to know more and understand the relations of South Africa with other states, the role played by non-state actors, political party interest, public administration, arms of government and distribution of services.

I passed my matric in 2013 with excellent scores and went on to study at the North-West University. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations (2014-2016) and my Honour’s degree in International Relations (2017).

I led Golden Key as Public Relations Officer in 2017. In February 2018, I joined the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform as an intern administrator until May 2018 when I signed a contract with North-West University to work as an Academic Facilitator until December 2018.

I received an offer from the Corvinus University in Budapest to study for a Master’s degree in International Relations, specialising in Diplomacy. This would not have been possible without the assistance of the Department of Education and Higher Degrees, and the Hungary Educational programmes. I then led as an Entertainment Officer under the South African student’s committee in Hungary from June 2019 until June 2020.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

I was rejected by my father from the time I was born, and my mother left me under the care of a legal guardian, Gabobele Mokhaloane (non-biological mother). She gave meaning to my life – without her everyday prayers, love, and comfort I doubt I would have been where I am today. She did not only take me in but later went to take care of my little brother. My mother passed on while I was in Grade 8. However, it is obstacles such as these that tend to shape us. I learned that I need to focus because I still have people that believe in me, from my little brother to my non-biological mother and extended family.

What is your area of expertise?

My area of expertise is Human Security and Diplomacy. My Master’s research focused on “The Pursuit of Ubuntu? Exploring South African role in DR Congo. The case of Force Intervention Brigade, 2013”. For my PhD, I am focusing on the challenges emanating from conflict and pandemics. I am identifying ways that pandemics can start conflict in Africa, especially with deteriorating economies.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

The study will expand the literature of International Relations, Development Studies, Political Science and African politics. There are ongoing studies on the socioeconomic impact brought by COVID-19 in the African context, this means that there is a lack of literature in terms of the effect felt from the coronavirus since most countries are experiencing the third wave. The study looks at the role being played by South Africa internally and externally concerning conflicts and pandemic.

South Africa is seen as a xenophobic state, and with the declining economy, the country is faced with high possibilities of violent protests. In the past, African nationals were attacked because citizens believed that they were taking their jobs. My PhD study will gather data on the link between pandemic and conflict to measure the possibilities of violent protest breakouts. Recommendations to South African foreign and public policies will be made at the end of the study.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Obtaining my Master’s degree in International Relations from the Corvinus University of Budapest. This meant that I was able to pursue my dreams of getting a PhD.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic (and national lockdown) change the way you work/study? How did you adapt to the “new normal”?

I had to change my Master’s research from field study to desktop research. The people I aimed to interview were no longer available due to the lockdown measures. However, I managed to obtain a distinction, regardless of the circumstances we faced.

What is the best advice you have ever received (and from whom)?

The best advice I received was from Dr Sempijja Norman. He told me to stop undermining myself and aim to be the best. It is during this moment that I deserted my fears of going abroad.

What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways to get youngsters interested in science-related careers?

Parents, teachers and the community as a whole need to rally behind pushing the government to open Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics centres around the community. The young are losing interest in STEM sectors because of the lack of youth centres, especially in rural areas. Where I am from, youngsters mostly learn about science in schools only and this creates a paradigm problem. Hence, many are being absorbed by drugs.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspirations include joining academia, where I will be able to research and share my knowledge through research, lecturing and conference presentations. I aim to be an NRF-rated researcher and open my own consultant company.

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