By Tsikelelo Mbhejisana
Images by Katleho Sathekge
Ayabulela Dlakavu wears many hats as a researcher and analyst of public policy. He is also interested in foreign policy, international organisation, and political economy, among many other fields of interest. He is also a lecturer in the politics department at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
The 28-year-old is an academic with an extensive background in international development, sociology and history. During the build-up of his career, he interned at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Africa Relations Directorate).
On 21 October 2018, Dlakavu received the best MA submission award from the South African Association for Political Studies (SAAPS). He finished his Ph.D. in December 2021 and recently graduated in May 2022.
An Eastern Cape man
Dlakavu was born at Cacadu (formerly known as Lady Frere) in the Eastern Cape. He grew up in Queenstown also in the Eastern Cape. He was raised by maternal grandparents in an African Methodist family until he turned five. His grandfather was a subsistence farmer and his background is mostly tied to a family with subsistence farming.
At the time he was staying with his grandparents, his mother was completing her teaching qualification at Bensonvale College. Dlakavu’s mother worked as a teacher and was also his biggest influencer. She passed away in 2003.
Losing his mother, at the age of ten, was his toughest moment, but he later realised that the basic life lessons he received from his mother prepared him for the future. Dlakavu was then taken to attend boarding school, living with his maternal aunt where he completed his primary school at Royal Capital and Louis Rex.
From a young age, Dlakavu and his siblings had very limited time on the streets. “At the time, my sister and I wished to be like other kids in the township. We thought that we were being deprived of a nice life on the streets, but respecting time is what we got out of that,” says Dlakavu.
His family had a huge impact on what he is today: he believes they all moulded him and steeled him for the future.
Dlakavu acquired the importance of family values and the spirit of Ubuntu from his father who was based in Gauteng due to work. His aunt instilled strength in him and the ability to be disciplined.
“When your parents leave you with basic teachings, those remain with you forever. Loss is not the best thing to happen but loss teaches you something: as long as you are still alive, keep pushing. That is the most important thing. There is a reason why you are still alive; there are different seasons in everyone’s life and there won’t always be summer,” said Dlakavu.
In Grade 9, he found love for politics through the history subject at Queen’s College Boys High. However, in grade 10, he thought of studying journalism or media studies but history was always an interesting and outstanding subject for him.
He never knew that at some point in time he would be in the political space. He always anticipated himself as someone who will be covering historical events pertaining to the state.
His inquisitive mind in history led him to political science. He was always curious as to why certain political events occurred, such as mass killings of people in some states and political leaders invading other states. He believed that there was more to such events than what was described in textbooks.
Dlakavu found the adjustment from high school to varsity to be rather easy because boarding school had prepared him for several aspects of varsity life. However, at undergraduate level, the independence in varsity became a challenge for him.
“In varsity, there is little follow-up on most things, such as lecturer attendance. It is largely dependent on a student to attend lectures, unlike in high school, where one is frequently questioned for missing specific lessons,” says Dlakavu.
Another challenge that he faced is cultural adaptation – moving from Eastern Cape to Johannesburg was a cultural shock.
Dlakavu’s accomplishments from undergraduate to postgraduate stem mostly from what his mother instilled in him. The idea of always being among the top achievers, which he grew up with and adopted as a way of life.
Dlakavus completed his master’s degree in 2018. After that, he took the summer school route and travelled to Shanghai with another set of colleagues. It is where he observed a different style of life among Shanghai residents. The style was a very critical western modelling that sparked his interest in learning more about International Relations (IR), prompting him to pursue a Ph.D.
Dlakavu believes that education will always be important. “Education teaches people how to express and articulate themselves better. It allows critical thinking … and it positively affects the way of living.”
He adds: “It is through education in which people learn about historical events that affect their everyday lives. It is mostly through education that people get to understand what led us to where we are today. Education helps people to escalate in life and become what they wish for,” he explains.”
In his studies, he adopted the mind-set of constantly being dominant. He hopes that his lectures have a lasting impression on his students as a lecturer in the politics department. He believes that 20 years later, his students should be able to recognize him as their former lecturer. He aspires to have a significant impact on other people.
“Your name must remain in the hearts of others because of what you do, even if you are no longer alive,” says Dlakavu. He believes that the future of this country belongs to the youth and that the elders must give the youth a chance to lead.
“What happens now, in twenty years time will mostly affect the youth so the youth must take up the space and move these old people,” he adds. Aside from academics, Dlakavu is part of the crossworking continental group, which focuses on sustainable development goals.
He aspires to have a significant impact on the African continent and to be a “hotshot”.
CORRECTION: The story has been updated on 21 June 2022 as it had previously misspelt Cacadu.