On 30 August, the international students division at the University of Pretoria hosted its International Student’s Day at the amphitheatre, between 09:00 and 15:00. Students flocked the amphitheatre to witness the array of dynamic acts that were set up for the day. Ambassadors, hosted by the Vice-Principal: Student Affairs, Prof Themba Mosia, from various embassies also attended. International Student’s Day was an annual event at the University of Pretoria, however due to the disturbances created by fees must fall protests, all gatherings had been suspended until further notice. Tinashe Dutuma, SRC chair for the International and Post-graduate students, and his predecessor, Jodie Chikowi, were the major frontrunners in pushing for a place on the calendar for International Student’s Day. According to Itumeleng Njoro, senior international postgraduate consultant and one of the organizers of the day, it had been way too long and further notice had passed – hence the team decided to set in motion a plan of action to execute International Student’s Day for 2019. Njoro hopes that “the event will pick up momentum going forward”.
The day started off with the judges inspecting the different stands on display. The main trends the judges looked for in the exhibition were: content supporting an anti-xenophobic outlook, specific items pertaining to the culture, and a well-organised visual display. Japan won the exhibitions round through their extensive use of oriental interior design and classic Japanese food flavours.
In the Mr. and Miss International Pageant, an assortment of Oriental, Western and African attire graced the stage of the amphitheatre. Some of the criteria that the Judges used to critique the contestants were whether the music pertained to the country being represented, the cultural attire being identifiable to the country and the level of confidence that the contestants exuded. The results of the day were as follows: Kiara Hanmonth from India was the winner of Miss UP International first place, Mwewa Bwalya from Zambia took second place, and Mpolokeng Mokhoane from Lesotho was the third-place winner. Mr. UP International first-place winner was Keketso Mabuleka from Lesotho, the second-place winner was Rostrum Ogbueni from Nigeria and third-place winner was Andile Dlamini from Swaziland. In the cultural performance category, Best South African winner for Cultural Song and Dance Group was Xitsonga and the Best Non-South African winner for Cultural Song and Dance Group was India.
Kiara Hanmonth, a 3rd-year consumer sciences student who won the title of Miss UP International, spoke to PDBY about her experiences on stage. She said that it was a nerve wracking experience but that walking out and hearing the wonderful response of the crowd made her feel at ease. When asked about why she entered the event, Hanmonth explains that the platform gave her a chance to celebrate “brave, ambitious and powerful women who many times don’t give themselves the credit.” Hanmonth hopes to utilize her title as a “platform to advocate for international students and to make the international students’ structure more vibrant and visible”. In speaking about how events like these could counteract the prevalence of xenophobic sentiments, Hanmonth believes that once a community can see and understand the ideology behind supporting one another, that it makes a community stronger, it gives meaning to the word Ubuntu.
In addition to promoting a sentimentality of internationalization, events like International Student’s Day provide a haven for international students to feel welcome. Professor Themba Mosia, Vice-Principal of Student Affairs and Residences at UP, mentioned that: “Leaving your country can be a huge transformation in terms of culture, environment and diversity.”
The main aim of the event was to showcase the cultural diversity amidst the international student community present on campus. Elma Akob, one of the emcees of the event, spoke about how the main aim of the initiative was to “revive the once very well-known International Student’s Day and get it back on the calendar.” International Student’s Day served as a platform to tell the stories of international students on campus. Being an international student herself, Akob said that it was very easy for international students to come to UP and feel alone. If one were to walk on campus and see their flag being waved, it would renew that sense of belonging which she wanted the students to have. In light of the recent xenophobic violence in Pretoria, and South Africa as a whole, , Akob mentions that “people are prone to hate what they do not know” and “when people become more knowledgeable, they become more accepting”.
Lubata Gracia Mbongo, a 1st year engineering student from DRC, mentioned that she entered the event to showcase the “good stories that people do not hear about Congo.” Mbongo found it shocking that stereotypes were associated with her country, but was proud to represent her country in order to bring to light the many great stories that people did not know. For Mbongo, the highlight of the event was “meeting different girls from different countries and how it was so overwhelming to see how diverse the University of Pretoria is.” According to Dutuma, “the main goal was to get local students at UP to learn more about other countries”. When asked about what stood out most at the event, Dutuma mentions “the modelling – having so many beautiful people with high confidence to walk on stage and show how proud they are”. In speaking about what to hope for next year, Dutuma assures that it will be on a much grander scale, with more countries and more international students feeling at home at UP.
In managing to conduct a flawless event, Njoro reminds PDBY of the challenges in organising the events and how his team was able to bypass them. One of the major challenges was communication. Njoro says that “[They] got the support as a result of the various innovations that we implemented.” Njoro said that the further digitalization of student communication will assist in broadening the attendance and encourage participation for future events. The University of Pretoria’s International Society (UPI) were one of the key players who marketed the event and encouraged participation. Njoro mentions that the UPI society is “a good platform for students to interact with our office directly”. It was through the UPI society’s WhatsApp groups that an ease of communication was maintained, especially during the period of xenophobic attacks over the past few weeks.
Speaking to Tanaka Matongera, chairperson of the UPI society, he mentions that UPI is a platform where one language is used to communicate and get people to discuss the difficulties they have faced. With regard to their role in the organization of the event, Matongera says that they “helped Tinashe Dutuma in the best way we could as he was the brain of the operation”. Next year, however, the International Students’ Day event is to be conducted under the watch of the UPI society. Speaking about his role as UPI chair, Matongera mentions that it has “given him power to include as much diversity as possible”. The UPI society aids in connecting the different cultural societies on campus in order to promote a sense of multiculturalism and unity between the International Students’ communities. According to Matongera, it was thanks to Tinashe Dutuma who fought tirelessly to return the event to the Tuks calendar and ensure it was a success.
With the huge success of International Students’ Day, Njoro spoke to PDBY about the future initiatives that the ISD team hopes to set in motion, namely Africa Day. Africa Day, which is to be held in May 2020, is an upcoming event armed with the idea of blending international students into the local stream. Njoro says that cultural events like this can be used to encourage everybody on campus to co-exist as well as garner an understanding of the multiculturalism which exists on campus.
In line with the University of Pretoria’s strategic goal of achieving Internationalisation, the ISD hopes to set in motion winter and summer schools where a group of people from partner institutions from around the world can come to participate in a variety of cultural and academic activities. According to Njoro, “It is a good package to advertise the university overseas and correlate with the university’s strategic plan.” Although this initiative is still in negotiation stages, Njoro believes that the initiative will aid in mobilizing students from around the world to come through and assist with the goal of internationalisation at UP.
The team of hardworking students and staff hope to make next year an even greater success. The team of next year’s International Students’ Day hopes to reflect the mood of the time. The ISD team encourages students to not only participate in the event but to also be part of its planning and execution to gain valuable skills in how an event like this is organized.
The University of Pretoria’s International Student community totals 3699 people, spanning across a hundred different nations. With so much cultural diversity encapsulated at UP, the ISD and UPI team urges local and international students to utilize platforms like International Student’s Day to showcase their cultural stories.