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Dr Penelope Midzi, University of Namibia’s youngest PhD graduate, urges youths to stay focused

By Prof Jairos Kangira

Out of the 11 doctoral students who graduated at the University of Namibia’s ceremony recently, four graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in English Studies, a feat that attracted the attention of the public.  

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Besides scooping the top position as far as the greatest number of doctoral graduates was concerned, one of the four graduates stole the limelight because of her age – obtaining a PhD in English at the ‘tender’ age of 28. 

So, it was a double celebration for the English section of the School of Humanities, Society and Development, the students and their parents on Friday evening at an impressive PhD graduation ceremony that was reserved for the last day, and was held with some deserved pomp.

As the supervisors of the four English students read the citations of their students, there were intermittent murmurs and applauses from the awestruck audience.  

The four English doctoral graduates were Zaochina Gontes, Rauha Nekongo, Theresia Mushandja and Penelope Midzi (the youngest PhD graduate).

At 28 years of age, Penelope Midzi graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in English from the University of Namibia on 20 June 2022.

Dr Midzi is the youngest of the 11 doctoral graduates University of Namibia produced in the class of 2021. 

The four English doctoral graduates were Zaochina Gontes, Rauha Nekongo, Theresia Mushandja and Penelope Midzi (the youngest PhD graduate).

New Era senior correspondent Jairos Kangira (JK) interviewed Penelope Midzi (PM). Penelope advises youths, saying “Consistency, hard work, patience and self-discipline are the main ingredients to success.” 

JK: As a young girl, what were your ambitions? Your target?

PM: To go as far as possible. I have always been driven by the fear of being average. My parents also continued with their studies, and this challenged me more.

I am also the eldest child in my family, and I always look at my siblings and cousins and tell myself that I have to set the standards for them to follow or do better. For that reason, I will always pave the way for them. 

JK: Normally, we all have our role models. Who was your role model?

PM: I must say that my parents have always been my role models. This is because of their continuous drive to learn new things; they are also hardworking, humble and authentic.

I am privileged to be raised by parents who know the value of education and hard work. This is the main reason why I continued with my studies and never gave up, despite facing some challenges.

JK: Right, what was going on in your mind when your supervisor was reading the citation of your dissertation?

PM: From the moment my name was called and I walked onto the stage, I was nervous. Because of my stage fright, I kept on telling myself not to trip and not to look at the audience; it was just going to be for a few minutes.

Once my supervisor started reading the citation of my dissertation, which was followed by reactions from the audience, that’s when it sank in. That is when it hit me that I actually came this far, I had finished what I started, and that was my moment to shine. The whole experience was quite emotional; that was one of my proudest moments.

JK: The PhD is here finally, but how did the idea of studying for your PhD start? 

PM: When I completed my first degree, I realised that I wanted to do a master’s degree in English. Towards attaining my master’s degree, my supervisor advised me to pursue a PhD; I thought about it, and discussed it with my parents. 

The idea of it was somewhat addictive, and with my parents’ support, this motivated me even more. The thought of being the first female PhD degree holder in my family, with the possibility of being the youngest in the department, pushed me to pursue it. 

JK: Quite interesting. Of what significance is your study?

PM: The concerns and perspectives about gender prejudices in African societies will be made known to those who will access the study. 

The public from different cultures in our societies as well as women facing similar or the same injustices will be enlightened. 

This also includes academics studying African literature on gender prejudices. Gender- based violence has become a cancer in our societies. GBV affects women and girls mostly. Many lives of women have been and are being lost unnecessarily. 

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We need a paradigm shift that foregrounds women to take up their rightful places and fight this monster head-on.

JK: What are some of the challenges that you faced during your study, and how did you overcome them?

PM:I mainly struggled with time management. Luckily, before starting with my study, my main supervisor asked me to prepare a timeline-chapter submission dates, and they guided me and forced me to work on each chapter before the deadline. I also believe that once you start something, you must see it through. 

A doctoral study can be compared to a full-time job; it is a commitment that one has to take. I had to sacrifice my leisure time and sleep in order to finish my study. Late nights and early mornings became the new normal. 

The multiple drafts were also draining, but had to be done in order to have a perfect final product.

JK: What message do you have for the youths in terms of focusing on their education?

PM: To the youths, I say, education is the master key that opens many doors. The doors may open immediately or not, but they will open eventually. It may not be easy, but hard work pays off. Just remain focused on the end-goal. 

Consistency, hard work, patience and self-discipline are the main ingredients to success. Think of what you want to achieve in life, and where you want to be in the next 5-10 years.

Then, start tackling your school work. I guarantee you that you will have it all. Without an education, you will not be able to achieve all those things you need. Focus on your education; acquire that knowledge, skills and work hard. You will be unstoppable. Please avoid illicit substances by all means.

JK: As we conclude this interview, what message can you give to those who are planning to embark on doctoral studies? And to those struggling to complete their studies?

PM: If you want to embark on a doctoral study, go for it! It may be hard work, exhausting, emotionally draining, time-consuming, but nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that you will get after completing your study.

Make sure to pick an area of study or topic you will enjoy as you go, because the deeper you will get into the research, the more tiring it will become, and you will need new ideas to support it too. Let it be hard work you enjoy doing. 

Pick a supervisor you can work well with because a positive student-supervisor relationship is paramount to the success of your study. For those struggling to complete their studies, do not give up. Reward yourself every time you complete a chapter, take breaks to refresh your mind, create a timeline for yourself. 

Talk about your research with your friends, as it will also make them push you to go further. We may not finish the race at the same time, but you will reach the finish line, and your award will be waiting for you.

JK: Thank you Dr Penelope Midzi for your time.

PM: You are welcome, sir.

Further commentary:

Midzi did not take a break from her Bachelor of Arts in English  and Clinical Psychology (Honours), through her Master of Arts in English Studies to the Doctor of Arts in English Studies, and received the doctorate at the age of 28 years. What an inspiration this achievement is to the youth!

With literature as her field of specialisation, Midzi explored ‘The Feminisation of Poverty and Victimhood in Dangarembga’s Oeuvre: Cyclic Evocations of Nervous Conditions, Survival and Agency’. The word ‘ouevre’ here means the literary works of the author Tsitsi Dangarembga.

The works that Midzi analysed in her dissertation are Nervous Conditions (1988), The Book of Not (2006) and This Mournable Body (2018). Using Africana Womanism, STIWANISM and Nego-Feminism in the analysis of the books, Midzi revealed that “the women in the Shona society are presented diversely, depending on their specific socio-cultural background.

“The shared themes of womanhood that are depicted in all the texts are the need for a shift of women from the margins of the society to becoming priorities economically, socially and culturally.”

The essence of Midzi’s study is on the focus of the three theories or lenses she used to analyse women’s nervous conditions, survival and agency in the three books.  

“African feminism as a concept was used to accommodate the characteristics of the African societies which are uniquely different because of the exclusive cultural, political and social backgrounds, as the other feminisms are peculiar to their origins.

STIWANISM understands the female struggles from the perspective of African feminism, which is dependent on the commitment from both sexes and not simply ‘a woman’s affair’ as emphasised by other feminisms. Nego-feminism places both genders side by side as men and women to try and negotiate their places in life, and establishing harmonious co-existence, with negative patriarchal structures melting away,” writes Midzi.

This is a relevant study in our societies that are replete with disgusting cases of gender-based violence, with women mainly on the receiving end.

When everything is said and done about the graduation of the four English PhD graduates, it would be incomplete not to mention the men and women who supervised their studies. Midzi was supervised by Nelson Mlambo as main supervisor and Agnes Simataa as co-supervisor.