Prince Gulukhulu Mathebula, from Jilongo Village in Malamulele, Limpopo Province, attained a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at the age of 73.
Mathebula is the chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa in the Vhembe region in Limpopo.
He is also the chairperson of the Malamulele Hospital Board as well as the chairperson of the Huvo ya ka Valoyi, an association of his Vakhalanga clan.
However, even with these prestigious positions, Mathebula said attaining his PhD degree was the most important.
Mathebula acquired his PhD degree from Lighthouse Christian College and Academy which is based in Beebe, Arkansas in the United States.
There was no fanfare when he graduated at the college’s branch in Lenasia, Johannesburg because of the Convid -19 imposed restrictions. But this did not diminish his excitement at acquiring the degree.
“It has been a long road for me to get where I have arrived, “he said.
He added: “The only class I attended full year was standard one. Otherwise I have been promoted with Sub A and B having been done in one year and Standard 2 and three being done in one year although I did not complete Standard 3 and I went to work at JCI Mine in Phalaborwa to drive the wolf away from the door.”
Years later, he would begin a correspondence course and complete his Junior Certificate and later matric.
“I did correspondence because I realised that I was lacking in education although people were taking me seriously,” he said.
Mathebula worked in the mines and would later leave to teach at Tinyiko Primary school at Lombard Village in Malamulele.
He taught for a very short time and would latter apply to be a policeman in Sibasa and was turned down.
After this, he enrolled to train as a priest and became a reverend of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Years later Mathebula would be recruited into homeland politics where he became a minister of parliament (MP).
It was at this time that he enrolled for a bachelor of art degree with the Giyani campus of the University of the North, called Unigaz.
“But after the death of Professor Hudson Ntsanwisi, his successor Hosi SDW Nxumalo appointed me a deputy minister. This is when I stopped studying.
“I had body guards who were going with me everywhere and it would not be fair to expect them to accompany me to the classroom to read books,” he said.
Now, more than twenty years later, Mathebula would enrol for a junior degree with the American institution in the year 2016 and passed.
The following year he did the Masters’ degree and succeeded.
He enrolled for the doctorate degree in 2018.
His thesis was titled, “The disruption of African royal leadership in Public administration and the provision of municipal services in South Africa.”
“I was looking at the way the colonialists and their fellow travellers, the missionaries, handled the institution of royal leadership and the way royal leaders were treated in South Africa,” he said.
Mathebula’s research looked at life from 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived in South Africa and how it affected the institution of traditional leadership.
He said his research showed that the arrival of van Riebeeck and the Dutch missionaries had an adverse effect on the institution of traditional leadership.
“Coming to colonialists like van Riebeeck, royal leaders were degraded and dehumanized.
Mathebula said after the arrival of the colonialists, royal leaders were targeted.
He said the Bantu Administration Act 38 of 1927 and the Bantu Administration Act number 38 of 1957 all combined destroyed the institution.
He said the colonialists started their mayhem by destroying the manner in which African kings were referred.
“The Dutch word koning means “king” but Africans are not referred to as kings but as chiefs or headmen,” said Mathebula.
Adding that instead of Africans being referred to as royal leaders, they were called traditional leaders.
“Missionaries played a part in dehumanizing Africans because when they ask for your name and you tell them an African name, the would demand Christian names. This means the missionaries regarded African names as heathen,” said Mathebula.
Mathebula said although traditional leaders were party to the destruction of the apartheid rule, their lot is not any better in a democratic South Africa.
“Royal leaders do not have powers. They are allowed to attend municipal council meetings or meetings of the provincial or national government but only as ex officio members. They are supposed to be just that, observers. They are only allowed to give credence to events by standing with politicians when ribbons are cut to signal the official handover of the project,” he said.
Mathebula said his research has opened his eyes and has better understanding of the way traditional leaders should be treated under normal circumstances.
Many people exp5essed admiration at the way Mathebula improved his education at an advanced age.
Hosi Bohani Shigamani of the Khatisa Chavalala Cultural Heritage Foundation said, “Looking at his advanced age he does not stop working for the community and he can also get into the cleanroom and study and this should be an inspiration to young people,’ said Shigamani.
He said Mathebula is also a priest but he does not shun things that are traditional and cultural.
“He has taught us that you must not stop working and learning as long as you can still breathe,” said Shigamani.
Mathebula said: “I know that I am not going to use my certificate to look for work but wanted better knowledge and understanding of the world I live in. My burning of the midnight oil was not in vain.”