By Omphulusa Nengwekhulu
At the age of 61, people are generally considering retiring and spending quiet time with their families. However, this is not the case for the newly-elected Student Representative Council (SRC) Oppidan Councillor, Adrian February. He is the oldest student in the history of Rhodes university to be elected to serve as an SRC Councillor.
February was born in a small rural town called Vlottenburg outside of Stellenbosch in 1962. His mother was a domestic worker and his father a truck driver. He attended a Methodist primary school. While at Luckhoff High School, at the age of 14, February became involved in the 1976 uprising and riots against the government and, consequently, was barred from studying at any tertiary institution.
In 1980, February was arrested for his involvement as a student leader in the 1980 class boycotts. During this period and up until the first democratic elections, February was arrested on several occasions for his political activism.
In 2019, he upgraded his Grade 12 marks as part of a challenge between himself and his youngest daughter, who also wrote her Grade 12 at the time. “What made this a remarkable achievement was the fact that I was 56 years old and I grew up in a purely Afrikaans-speaking family. However, I wrote my Grade 12 entirely in English and selected English as my home language and Afrikaans as my first additional language,” he explained.
After obtaining his Grade 12, he applied for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) bursary, which was awarded to him in 2020. He said he has always had a dream of obtaining a degree as a retired business owner. He registered for Bachelor of Social Science at Rhodes University in 2020 and has praised the former Dean of Humanities, Professor Tom Martin, for having played a pivotal role in motivating him. He said it was easy for him to adapt to campus life and to be accepted as an older person because of his community engagement activities and the fact that he sees other students as his peers. “Being one of the oldest students makes me stand out like a sore finger and it is not always easy. However, I never experienced any disrespect from my fellow students and am generally well-received overall on campus,” he said.
At the start of the 2021 academic year, February became a prominent student activist and a student leader and became known for voicing the plight of Oppidan (residing off-campus) students. Through a student movement called United Student Movement, February played a central role in assisting Oppidan students with funding for registration, bus tickets to get to campus, prepaid electricity, and food.
However, he said, serving on the student council also comes with challenges because, as a councillor, he is limited to what he can post on social media. “I had to make an adjustment from student body activism to student body governance – and it has been a process, he said.
SRC President Avuxeni Tyala said February gives an in-depth analysis of issues and they appreciate that about him. “I think Mr Feb is a young soul, despite his age. He is very much active and always ready to tackle issues. He offers insight, he is positive and always gives us an attitude that says ‘don’t look at my age but look at how I can contribute to the needs of the SRC’,” said Tyala.
February is the father of three daughters and a grandfather of two. He is confident that he will graduate and achieve his Bachelor of Social Science in 2023. February believes in the process of lifelong learning and intends to do his Postgraduate degree in 2024 and his Masters degree in Sociology in 2025. Furthermore, February intends to relocate to Makhanda and to stand as a Ward Councillor in the 2025 local Municipal Elections.
(This article was first published by RU Communications).