Future bleak for UCT’s deaf law graduate

UCTs Qobo Ningiza.

Qobo Ningiza defied the odds and became UCT’s first deaf Bachelor of Laws degree graduate last week but the future remains bleak for him, as he has had no luck in securing a firm to complete his articles.

Mr Ningiza was born and raised in Ntseshe in the Eastern Cape, where he attended St Thomas School for the Deaf until Grade 10, which was a struggle in itself as the school was under-resourced and only offered a limited number of subject choices, he said.

Realising that his chances of getting into university with his subjects were slim, his mother enrolled him at Filadelfia Secondary School for the deaf in Gauteng, where he completed his schooling.

After school he attended North West University where he completed his BA Law and later moved to Cape Town for his LLB. Mr Ningiza, who currently lives in Rondebosch, said his schooling experience instilled in him a desire to seek equality and motivated him to pursue tertiary studies in law.

“At school I cultivated a love for reading and would read through work even if it was not covered in class or prescribed – this was something I took with me to university. When I look back, I realise that my main focus was improving my language skills and comprehension rather than engaging with the content. I have no doubt that acquiring good language helped me with my subsequent studies. I also read a lot of newspapers and magazines, I read anything that had words and created a personal dictionary with a list of words I had seen in all the material I picked up. I do not think I would have succeeded academically had I not done this,” he said.

And despite overcoming all his schooling challenges, his future in law remains unsure, as his applications to numerous companies have been unsuccessful with the companies saying they did not have facilities for deaf candidates. However, he remains hopeful that an opportunity will soon emerge and that he can begin his career.

“I have unsuccessfully applied for articles with a number of firms but I have not given up, I still believe that something will come up.”

Mr Ningiza said he was invited to an interview with one of the firms he applied for in Cape Town but could not attend on the given date, as he was back home in the Eastern Cape at the time.

“I emailed the firm and asked that the interview be extended a bit so I could return to Cape Town and there seemed to be no problem. I had to arrange a sign language interpreter to help with the interview and I communicated this to the human resources. After attaining the services of a sign language interpreter, I emailed HR again without success. That is the closest I have come to securing an interview,” he said.

Mr Ningiza said he is able to work independently and with a team and would only require a sign language interpreter for court appearances and important meetings.

“Other than this, I do not require any extra assistance. Basically, I can work within a firm comfortably without assistance if an arrangement is made for me to receive the minutes of meetings where necessary,” he said.

Mr Ningiza hopes to secure a candidate attorney position by 2020 but needs to complete his articles first.

He is not new to challenges as Mr Ningiza experienced the same obstacle when trying to gain entry to a university that would accommodate a deaf law student. He said his transition to university, was the hardest.

“Mr Ningiza said: “I look back and smile when I think about it. I even failed my first seven tests at university and obtained my first pass, which was not great, at the eighth attempt. It was extremely difficult, so difficult that I considered studying through the University of South Africa (a distance learning institution).”

He said this was mainly due to the fast pace of the lectures and the loneliness he experienced. “Sign language is totally different from spoken languages and is not sufficiently developed for the academic environment (this is something I wish could change soon and have every intention of making my next project). The loneliness, I believe, did the most damage as I lived with people I couldn’t understand and thus struggled to forge meaningful relations with. It was extremely difficult and the only time I ever had any interaction with my peers was in class,” he said.

UCT’s Disability Service facilitated Mr Ningiza’s registration for tuition and residence, helped him to access comprehensive bursaries to address his financial situation and assisted with sign language interpretation. His fellow students also assisted with taking notes in class as it was impossible to take notes while concentrating simultaneously on an interpreter.

“There is nothing I want more than to make a difference in other people’s lives. I believe that we are a country with a lot of potential and that many of our problems would disappear if we focused our energy on assisting those in need,” Mr Ningiza shared about his aspiration to pursue a career in human rights law.