farm-boy-mentors-matrics
MEET The 'Farm Boy' Who Mentors New Matriculants Near East London. Photos supplied.

A couple of weeks ago, Professor Jean Greyling from the computing department at Nelson Mandela University bumped into a former student. His name is Onke Dume and he was in Prof Greyling’s class around 2013. Onke grew up on a farm, where his mother tragically died when he was young, but even though he had all the odds stacked against him… today’s he’s a successful software developer in East London, and is busy with his Masters. But what really blew the professor away was finding out how Onke is giving back and helping other learners up the ladder.

The Farm Boy Who Mentors New Matriculants
Onke and his Mom

“What impresses me about Onke is that he identifies matrics every year from his village area where he grew up – 30 km from East London – and he then mentors them through matric; and does his best to get them enrolled at a university,” says Prof Greyling.

The Farm Boy Who Mentors New Matriculants
Onke with two of his students Lisa Swanana (left) and Beni Siyamthanda (right) receiving their matric results a few days ago.

The following year, he finds new matrics to help. This year he mentored Lisa Swanana, Beni Siyamthanda and Siphosethu Foloti from Umzuvukile Secondary School.

Onke was their Educator Assistant, but left their school in March for an internship… but that didn’t stop him helping them.


“It meant I could only mentor from a distance (but) as difficult as it was to get hold of them, I continued doing so,” says Onke. “Most of the time I had to video chat using Mrs Bityo’s phone – she is a clerk at their school.”

“Towards the end of the year, I took their documents to assist with university applications.
On Friday I went to be with them (Lisa and Beni) to collect their statements. Siphosethu  couldn’t make it because she was away. When I called her to tell her how great she did, she cried. She did really great. They all did great. They all came with Bachelors, some with distinctions too. Now we’re waiting to be on our way to Nelson Mandela University…”

Beni would like to do a BEd at NMU, while Lisa has already been provisionally accepted for her BSc at Fort Hare.

Prof Greyling has encouraged Onke to tell his inspiring story through weekly episodes called ‘The Farm Boy’ on LinkedIn and Facebook.

In Episode 1, Onke tells of how he was born at Hillandale Farm in Haga-Haga where he spent his early years before his mother passed. He admits he was a “naughty boy” at one of the farm schools he attended, always late for class after break. “Serving punishment with my friend Lwando Xolo, Ms Peter would make us stand by the door with one foot and we had to answer a question for EMS. After a few days of realizing I was always leaving my friend by that door, I decided to cheat, I would whisper the answer to him, then I would catch the next question,” he says.

The Farm Boy Who Mentors New Matriculants
Onke and his cousin, Sivuyile.

In Episode 2, Onke recalls how he and a friend began working together and earned a spot representing their school for Maths and Science competitions, leading ultimately to him earning a Bursary from the Ministry of High Education and Training.

His hashtags are: #StoryOfAFarmBoy #TheFarmBoy I want to #InspireSuccessThroughEducation #School

Follow the ‘episodes’ in Onke’s life: