College of Law and
Management Studies

Graduate Rises Above Challenges and Emerges Stronger with Second PhD

No two PhD journeys are the same.

This has been the experience of PhD in Leadership Studies graduate, Dr Thisha Peter Zakwe, who celebrated the culmination of his second doctoral journey at the recent UKZN Spring Graduation ceremonies.

Dr Zakwe, who already holds a PhD in Geography, retired last year from his position of School’s Inspector in the uMsinga and Nquthu areas after working for the Department of Education for 39 years. It is this wealth of professional and personal experience that Zakwe used to explore leadership in the education system through his study titled: From Looking-glass Self-metaphor to Self-Reflective Practice: Self-study as Professional Development, which was supervised by Professor Kriben Pillay.

‘This autobiographical self-study inquiry captures the tormenting agony and excruciating pain of my life. I was born in the rural area of uMsinga with my twin sister. I was named Thisha (teacher) and she was named Mistress. She passed away before school-going age, hence, I dedicate this thesis to her. It seems that our grandparents derived these names from their passion for education which fuelled my aspirations to become a teacher, principal and circuit manager,’ said Zakwe.

While the almost prophetic symbolism behind his name and passion for education led him to the education sector, the fulfilment of his vocation was not without its challenges. These hurdles included his line manager making death threats against him because he held a doctorate and having to go through many legal processes to challenge this form of unethical leadership as well as keep his job. In 2014, Zakwe also battled with health issues after being diagnosed with diabetes. Throughout this period however, he never wavered from setting a good example for his three children, one of whom is celebrated Durban hip-hop artist, Zakwe.

‘Great leaders go through turbulent times, and when I think of everything I went through and when it came to doing this PhD, I knew that I had to do and say something that has never been said before in our particular social contexts. My contribution to the body of knowledge is enhancing leadership in service delivery,’ said Zakwe.

Apart from celebrating his graduation, Zakwe has another reason to celebrate. Together with Pillay, he has embarked on the process of converting his thesis into a book that will be accessible to the general cohort of educators.

‘Dr Zakwe’s second doctoral journey was a long and arduous one; not because of any intellectual constraints on his part, but because of the professional leadership challenges that he encountered which motivated him to reconceptualise his study and to foray into a deep self-study that looked at his challenges as a way of providing a real-life model of service delivery in a turbulent educational environment. I am excited about this book as its focus is on the primary theme of self-actualisation as a leader amidst difficult professional circumstances,’ said Pillay.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo 

Photograph: Rogan Ward