Prof Rachel Jafta experiences a great sense of satisfaction when she sees someone’s potential being unlocked.
“That moment when they realise what they are capable of is the best gift,” says Rachel, whose association with the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University (SU) goes back 25 years. She also obtained her master’s and doctoral degrees at SU.
In addition to her academic responsibilities, she serves as a director of Naspers, chairperson of the Media24 board and co-founder and director of the consulting firm Econex. She is the chairperson of the Cape Town Carnival Trust, a founding member of the mentorship programme Rachel’s Angels and the driving force behind WeCode24, a new project through which learners from four local schools are exposed to computer programming.
The combination of community involvement, business involvement, teaching and research is very important to Rachel.
“What you learn outside (the university) keeps you up to date with what is happening in the world and you can incorporate that into your lectures. My community involvement informs me what people worry about. This is important to know, because we as University must create value for the community within which we operate and if we understand what the problem areas are we can create more value.
“The students sitting in front of me come from different backgrounds and for me to be able to understand how I can help them unlock their potential, I need to understand their challenges.”
This is also how the Rachel’s Angels Trust came about in 2006. The mentorship programme was aimed at schools with many first-generation students – learners who do not know anybody who studies at a university and are not aware of the opportunities available to them. SU students were selected to act as mentors to these learners and the learners were also assisted with aspects such as career planning and aptitude tests. The project was concluded at the end of 2016 when the relevant schools took ownership thereof.
The new project – WeCode24 – is aimed at learners who won’t qualify to study for a computer science degree, but has a talent for programming. They are trained to eventually be able to find employment in the industry or maybe even start their own business.
The underlying motivation for her community involvement is the example her parents – a farm worker and homemaker – set. They themselves never completed school, but were determined that their children should utilise any opportunity to further their education.
“I don’t know how they managed to do it, but they were always able to help somebody who had even less than we had,” she remembers.
Rachel moved out of her comfort zone with the Cape Town Carnival that took place for the first time in 2010. The dream of the Cape Town Carnival is to bring people from different communities together to work towards one communal purpose and in doing so, to realise that it is possible to build a peaceful, united South Africa, an ideal that Rachel believes in unequivocally.
- By Pia Nänny -