Big day dawns for blind students

THREE months ago, their hopes of attending the university of their dreams were dashed when they were rejected for being completely blind.

But yesterday, an excited Lubabalo Sapepa and Yanelisa Gininda, both 21, arrived in Port Elizabeth from Mthatha to prepare for their studies at theNelson Mandela Metro- politan University.

A third blind student, Avukile Jeke, 21, is expected to arrive in the city today.

They all passed matric at the Efata School for the Blind in Mthatha last year.

The students, who were "gutted" when initially told they would not be considered for placement, arrived early to sort out their financial aid before first-year registration kicks off on Monday.

Although excited, they were nervous about studying at an institution that had, at first, turned them away, citing a lack of resources.

However the university said it had since obtained the necessary equipment to accommodate the blind students and would tap into the expertise of organisations working with the visually impaired.

NMMU deputy vice-chancellor for institutional support Dr Sibongile Muthwa said: "The necessary resources have been availed by the university and material provisions have been made to enable teaching and learning by the students, as well as to ensure that their living arrangements are appropriate for their type of disability."

Gininda said she was emotionally confused about this phase of her life.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy to be here and excited to get things sorted out, but I'm also nervous."

Sapepa, who will be studying public management, said he wanted to settle in and get started.

"I see the way we've been looked after following the [Herald] article, with the university phoning regularly to keep us updated.

"That's helped make things easier. Now I can't wait to see what's in store for me."

Jeke, who will be studying social work, said he was "beyond excited" that he was finally coming to Port Elizabeth. "At one stage, we thought it would never happen."

The students were rejected by NMMU in August when they turned up to write an aptitude test in Mthatha and it was realised they were completely blind. Their plight was highlighted by the SA National Council for the Blind and made national headlines after The Herald published a story in October. The university then backtracked on its decision.

Ncebakazi Siziba, who was accepted from the get-go last year, said: "I'm very excited and very happy to be here."

ýWhen a team from The Herald arrived at NMMU yesterday to meet and photograph the students, they were given uphill by members of its disabilities unit until NMMU spokeswoman Debbie Derry intervened. This was despite getting consent from the students, their parents and the university's marketing department.