Polishing Diamonds: The UJ and De Beers story

Date: Aug 7, 2012 | News


What does an international mining conglomerate have in common with a progressive higher education institution? Simply put: a shared interest in mining the potential of young people, taking them through the process of education and polishing them into contributing members of society.
The University of Johannesburg (UJ), one of the largest, multi-campus, residential universities in South Africa, seeks to achieve the highest distinction in scholarship and research within the higher education context.
Born from the merger between the former Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), the Technikon Witwatersrand (TWR) and the Soweto and the East Rand campuses of Vista University in 2005, the University of Johannesburg’s unique academic architecture reflects a comprehensive range of learning programmes, leading to a variety of qualifications, from vocational and traditional academic to professional and postgraduate, across thefour campuses – Auckland Park Kingsway, Auckland Park Bunting Road, Doornfontein and Soweto. The campuses vary in size and each has its own character and culture, contributing to the institution’s rich diversity.
De Beers, established in 1888, is the world’s leading diamond company with unrivalled expertise in the exploration, mining and marketing of diamonds. Together with our joint venture partners, De Beers employs approximately 16 000 people in operations around the world.
De Beers Social Specialist, Mphoya Thobela, discusses the sparkling partnership struck with UJ over the years. “A staff intervention programme was launched in 1998, as we found that some of our employees were concerned about their children not doing well in Maths and Science. They wanted to see their children joining the company as engineers. We wanted to help make this possible.”
The programme began with the children of De Beers employees (and some of their neighbours) who attended Saturday School. Teachers comprised of staff volunteers (engineers, technicians and other staff members of De Beers), which ran concurrently with the model of a Corporate Social Investment/employee volunteer project.
Key elements of success
“One of the most crucial aspects of success is that we help the learners to ‘live mathematics’, by developing a love for learning,” says Tsepo Monaledi, De Beers Executive and Chairman of the programme. “We want to help them know that they can solve any problem and also build their confidence and help them believe in themselves.”
Another important factor in this programme is the involvement of parents. Two parent meetings are held each year and learners are told that they have to bring either their parents or legal guardians along. “In our meetings, we talk about issues of discipline, what we expect from learners, what we expect from parents and we also discuss financial contributions,” adds Monaledi.
“The programme used to be free while it was being run at the De Beers premises but once the venue moved to UJ, we thought that it would be a good idea to ask parents for a contribution. Firstly, it demonstrates commitment of the family to be involved in the process and it also enables us to conduct other activities that require financial resources, such as field trips, camps, open days, etc,” he says.
Study camps are also hosted, where learners go on a three-day weekend trip. There they receive intensive study preparation. Classes start as early as 7am and sometime pupils write a test as early as 5.30am in the morning.
“Our aim is to help them to be prepared for anything,” explains Thobela. “The camps are attended by Maths teachers and a number of tutors, and once the tests are marked and the results are given, the learners receive remedial work. It also helps us to identify students that are struggling. The process of teaching, testing and marking continues. Then there is remedial work and further tests. It is a highly effective teaching camp.”
The programme quickly grew from eight schools in Soweto and pupils were bussed into the De Beers office in Ormonde and classes were held in the canteen. Food and security was provided for them and De Beers also started paying for teachers and materials. The programme ran that way for ten years, then started looking for new ways
Based on the individual attention they were receiving and the direct results of the extra classes on their subject performance, demand for the programme increased and the organisers needed to source an alternate venue.
“They weren’t the best facilities and we realised the need to secure better facilities,” says Thobela. Also, the programme was becoming too expensive to ​run, costing about R1 million per year.” The reality of the global recession in 2008 necessitated a revision of programme costs.
“The first thing that came to mind was to close the programme. But we thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to do that, so we needed to find other cost-effective ways of running the programme, while still addressing the initial objectives,” adds Thobela.
Some cost reduction alternatives they considered was to either look for accommodation outside the De Beers office, or seek partnerships with other institutions. They then consulted with representatives of a few possible institutional partners, including UJ’s Soweto Campus.
“We received an enthusiastic response to our presentation, as they had also been trying to establish a Saturday School at the campus, but were battling. They said that they would partner with us if we would incorporate commerce classes into the programme,” says Thobela. “Our agreement was that we would be able to use the facilities at no charge and they would also provide us with lecturers in commerce at no cost. How could we refuse such a wonderful offer?”
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
Dr Joe Manyaka, UJ Soweto Campus Director, connected the De Beers representatives with Professor Kinta Burger, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, who shared the vision of establishing a Science Centre in Soweto. The two programmes (Science Centre and Saturday School) would work well together. De Beers donated equipment and furniture to the UJ Science Centre.
“We moved the De Beers Sunday School to the UJ Soweto Campus in 2009,” says Thobela, “which was around the time that work on the campus revamp was beginning. We were excited to have our new ‘home’ for the Saturday School programme at UJ, especially since most of the learners were from the area, meaning that transport costs could be averted and the supply of meals was also done away with. Our budget per annum for the project was reduced to R500 000.”
There are currently 230 Grade 10-12 learners on the Saturday programme. “There are a lot of synergies between UJ and De Beers. Our working relationship with UJ is super,” says Thobela. “One of the major benefits of the programme is that our learners are being exposed to university facilities at high school level, and this motivates them. The interaction with the lecturers on the commerce side also means that they get used to the style of teaching at university. We have found that none of our commerce students are struggling with their university programmes. As a result of the UJ/De Beers partnership, they are becoming ‘academically programmed’.”
“With regards to our objectives going forward, we are keen to grow our partnership with UJ, by expanding the current programme to include life sciences. We are passionate about the programme and we are determined to see it grow,” says Thobela.​
Debeers And Uj

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