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 Alumni stories

Unati Spiers (University of Fort Hare)

The Abe Bailey Travel Bursary, has been an icon opportunity for all aspirant leaders in South Africa. The list of past Abe Bailey bursars is impressive and yearly when I saw it, it gave me a feeling of aspiration. I come from a rural Eastern Cape background where our pride lies in the making of the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who also was an Alumnus of the University of Fort Hare. Coming from his tribe made me feel that I have a lot to prove. I was 20 years old when I became an Abe, and the first female from my institution.

During the tour, we met our leader Dr John Gibbon, who intertwined his skills of education into leadership lessons about ourselves. We came from various institutions and were recognised leaders but in each others' company imitially we felt like strangers from competing worlds. Through a simple exercise of 'winter partners' during our orientation, we were taught about loyalty to and caring for each other, and we left our land as a group of South Africans.

Somehow our tour leader had a way of peeling away the future and seeing the adult in us. Before the tour I never knew that white people came from Europe, and only arrived in South Africa later so it was eye opening to learn this before we were exposed to British history. During the tour the lessons were many; we began to weave a very strong bond that emphasised that we all are South Africans.

This is what has built our patriotic family of Abe's over generations. My career took a great turn, starting with taking the option to stay in Europe at the end of the tour. I lived in the Netherlands, and on my return I had a very loud and vocal way of expressing how things should go in my country. This led me to two job offers and an opportunity that came from my stay in the Netherlands and my host family in Scotland. I joined our National Government to be an Agri-Food expert, which led to working around the globe for UN organisations in various capacities, firstly UNIDO based in Japan, then with UNEP which is based in France, and then FAO which is based in Rome.

Through the Abe network the first black female SRC President who was an Abe from a previous year, had finished her masters and wanted to work in finance. It was our London visit to the banking sector that assisted her to have her first financial sector job in South Africa.

My career now includes media and being an importer and exporter. I look back and remember the speech I made at our farewell dinner before the tour when I said I aspire to be the president of our country! I am doing exactly what my fellow bursars thought I would do. Dr John Gibbon used to tell us that we have a brighter future in store and a better life ahead because we are Abes. As an aspirant or current Abe Bursar, just keep watching the Abe Alumni list - it reflects a wide range of success in so many areas.

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Posted: 2004/12/01 (12:00:00)

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