Matie Voices

Ziyanda Stuurman

Alumna of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t shown faith and confidence in my abilities and harnessed a little chutzpah along the way.”

Ziyanda Stuurman, a visiting Fulbright scholar at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, USA, confesses that she thought long and hard before applying for such a prestigious scholarship. “Even though I really wanted to gain international experience in my political studies, I felt hesitant and lacked the confidence.”

She, however, mustered the courage and applied for not one but two highly competitive scholarships at the same time: the Fulbright scholarship (for study in the US) and the Chevening scholarship (for study in the UK). “I decided to apply for both opportunities at the same time and, by some incredible stroke of luck, I was selected for both!”

After spending a year at Sussex University in the UK earning a Master of Arts in conflict, security and development, courtesy of the Chevening scholarship, Ziyanda moved to the US in 2018 to start another master’s degree, this time in sustainable international development, as a visiting Fulbright scholar.

“I decided not to do a PhD at this point, because I have such a broad set of interests – from political science, public policy and development studies to gender studies, migration and immigrant rights. Taking on a second master’s degree at Brandeis University, which is highly ranked and very well-known for its social policy research and work, felt like a continuation and expansion of my knowledge. The degree I’m pursuing also has a six-month internship built into the course. So, not only am I growing even more academically, I will be moving to New York City to fulfil a life-long dream of working at the United Nations Development Programme.”

She will also complete another thesis, this time focusing on the expansion of labour rights and protections for immigrant women working as domestic workers in South Africa. Ziyanda’s previous master’s thesis, at the University of Sussex, was a critical analysis of the global processes driving the militarisation of policing and the pacification of communities in Brazil and South Africa – a topic that is currently highly relevant in South Africa with the deployment of the South African National Defence Force to the Cape Flats.

Ziyanda, who developed her passion for politics and public policy while studying for a bachelor’s and honours degree in political science at Stellenbosch University (SU), says the University played an important role in laying a solid foundation for her career: “My studies at Stellenbosch have completely shaped and formed my career and professional journey. Attending talks outside of class, becoming involved in student leadership and being inspired by the professional journeys of some of my lecturers is how I decided that I want to be in the politics and public policy space.”

She was honoured for her strong leadership role at SU when she received the Rector’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Leadership in 2013. “I was primaria of my residence (Huis Erica), then served two terms on the SRC (Student Representative Council) and a year on the University’s Council body as a student representative. I am still lucky enough to serve as a member of Council today – having been appointed by the minister of Higher Education and Training in 2017 – and I see it as an extension of my early desire to serve my peers and help guide others, just at a higher level and in a different way now.”

Asked what motivates her every day, Ziyanda says: “It’s the fact that at this point in my life, the only thing standing between me and what I want to achieve is how much effort I am willing to put in to make it happen. Although there are serious challenges that many young men and women like myself face in accessing education and opportunities, knowing what to apply for and at what stage in your life, and who to speak to in order to make things happen, are crucial. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t shown faith and confidence in my abilities and harnessed a little chutzpah along the way and I encourage others to do the same. You literally have nothing to lose and so much to gain.”

Looking into the future, Ziyanda hopes to be in a place to either write and create public policy in government or in the position to influence public policy making through advocacy. “I feel that so many of South Africa’s challenges could be tackled by competent, coherent and cogent public policy making that is evidence-based but also public policy that is created and implemented in a way that makes sense for our own unique circumstances.”

Photo by Jonathan Ferreira

- By Birgit Ottermann -