Zimbili Sibiya is a first year PhD candidate in Forest Operations at Stellenbosch University (SU), and is currently sponsored by NCT Forestry Cooperative Ltd. Zimbili grew up in Amsterdam, Mpumalanga, and was exposed to forestry from a young age. She obtained a BSc and MSc Forestry at SU before embarking on her PhD.

There is no doubt that this pandemic stretched our limits in many ways. Even though forestry is considered essential services, forestry students did not fit the category. As the forestry industry continues to play a significant role during this pandemic, the aspiring future leaders of the industry should not be forgotten.

By Zimbili Sibiya

Undergraduate students from the University of Venda (UV), Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute and Stellenbosch University (SU) share how the pandemic has impacted their academic journey, but also, what was the unexpected outcomes for their personal journeys.

Online learning was the first challenge, fuelling anxiety and fear of failure and the unknown of venturing into unexplored territory. As exciting as it may have been to end the first term earlier than planned, students could not have predicted what was to come in the second term. While students were adjusting to the ‘early’ recess back home, academics in the various institutions worked tirelessly to amend their academic programs and modes of teaching, to ensure the success of the academic year.

Adjusting to online learning took a toll on the mental health of many students. Where home has been a place of resting, it became a place of learning. Network instability, distractions, difficulty to focus, accessing data, spending on internet cafés, load shedding, lack of resources as libraries are closed and even thoughts of deregistering, are among many of the challenges students faced.

However, these challenges only strengthened their will power to pursue their academic studies. Even though the early stage of online learning was a steep slope, Nomvume Sandi of SU and Thambisa Mhlawuli of Fort Cox realised that they learned a lot more through the videos presented by their lecturers than they usually did being in lecture halls. Time management is the key skill that helped Nomvume to triumph through this pandemic and secure a BSc degree.

The lockdown period also allowed students to slow down, reflect and think about their personal journeys and their role in the industry. As Modikoa Kekana (UV) reflected on his journey, he realised that he is truly passionate about contributing to African knowledge, and his ability to teach and empower young people in his village inspired him to write a book. Mpabatseng Taela (SU) on the other hand found a new favourite hobby, creating maps on GIS software as her skills improved.

When asked how they see the future of forestry for students, Modikoa proposed that “students should take the responsibility to contribute and to be the solution-makers in the industry. Even though the sector is shrinking with less employment opportunities, we have to be innovative and create spaces of ownership”.

Siyabonga Mkhonto (UV) is optimistic about the future of students in forestry and encourages other students to acquire more knowledge so they can contribute to the industry’s success.

This pandemic proved how adaptable humans are and especially how the future leaders of the industry are optimistic for the future. I am positive that no matter what lies ahead of this pandemic, the industry has willing young leaders to continue to add value to it.

Related article: Forest Sector holding up in Covid-19 lockdown

 



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