Thaba Nchu man amazes with Cum Laude Maths PhD

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Dr. Gaongalelwe Maribe 29 from Thaba Nchu (PhD Mathematical Statistics) Photo: Facebook
A congratulatory Facebook post for 29-year-old Gaongalelwe Maribe, who recently obtained his doctorate in mathematical statistics from the University of the Free State (UFS) donning red All Star sneakers is doing the rounds on social media.

Many social media users have expressed their amazement at this achievement, considering the perceived hardness of the field he is in as well as how young he is. Speaking to OFM News on Thursday morning, Maribe said he was very surprised at his newfound fame on social media and attributes the viral post to many being able to relate with the proud feeling of overcoming a challenge. While he says he is proud of himself for finally achieving his lifelong dream, it has been a long journey of self-discovery, losses owing to death and making mistakes owing to a lack of focus.

As a young man from rural Thaba Nchu, Maribe says he found approaching white lecturers intimidating as he grew up in an area that lacked racial diversity. He believes part of why people on social media are so happy for him is owing to two factors: the first being that generally, there are only a few people completing their doctorates in Mathematical Statistics in South Africa. The second being that black students intending to study in this or a similar field will now have him and others like him to relate to as his completion of the degree demystifies the difficulty of it or the myth that “it can’t be done”.

He also says the years between 2012 and 2018 revealed to him a lot about himself as soon as he started focusing more on his studies. “This period of study taught me a lot and things I learnt about myself during this was that as much as I am a strong person, I am also prone to emotional breakdowns. There were times when I had anxiety when things weren’t working my way, to the point that at some stage, I even had to take anti-depressants. What that taught me is that I am human. I learnt not to be too hard on myself,” he says. A second lesson was that he found that he was prone to moodiness for bouts of about ten minutes, which he says he all took out on his girlfriend, Gabo Mphahlele. Finally, he says he learnt that when he puts his mind to it, he can push himself to reach new limits. I found that I had workaholic traits within me. That when I focus, I can reach whatever I want to,” he says.

As he concludes his interview, he offers four pieces of advice to those currently studying towards their doctorate degrees, one of which being to “take things easy”. “The first thing I need you to know is that it can’t be done alone. Some people can do it alone but for the most part, you’re going to need a strong support system, this includes your tutors and supervisors and using them a lot. Secondly, remember that no-one has it figured out. People are still finding solutions to some of the problems that have been there for decades, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you feel like you’re struggling,” Maribe says. His third piece of advice speaks to working hard as this always trumps talent. “It sounds a bit cliché but it’s true. Hard work always guarantees the outcome,” he says. Finally, he urges scholars to “take it easy” and not make their doctorate studies take up their social lives. “My friends can tell you that I was with them at braais over the weekends. I made time for them and I never lost myself in my work,” he says.

Maribe, who graduated Cum Laude in Mathematical Statistics last month, also holds a BCom Honours (Cum Laude) and a BCom degree in Investment Science (Cum Laude). He completed all these degrees at the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein campus. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Pretoria and he thanks everyone either sharing the posts or sending well wishes for all the support.

Pulane Choane / OFM News