Chevening scholarship takes UJ alumnus to new heights

MBA candidate at Warwick Business School, United Kingdom, and Chevening Scholar Robert Ndebele has plans for his career, future, and other young South Africans.

Robert Ndebele

Robert was recently selected for the British Chevening Full Scholarship Funding of around GBP 67,000 GBP (around R1,6 million) to pursue an MBA at Warwick University – the crown on a successful academic journey – and has taken sabbatical leave from his position at Asika Consulting to fully dedicate himself to the MBA programme and get the most out of it.

“The scholarship symbolises global recognition and the opportunity to learn from the best. It also represents an opportunity for me to grow personally, travel, and immerse myself in a culturally diverse and international environment,” he says.

With nine years of experience in public sector consulting, Robert worked across various projects, including spatial planning, statutory land use planning, planning law, policy development, and rural development. He has led and coordinated interdisciplinary teams on consulting projects, liaising with stakeholders and clients to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget.

The UJ alumnus, who studied town planning and construction management, grew up in a township where poverty and inequality are rampant and has a deep understanding of the challenges many young South Africans face.

“I dream of establishing an NGO focused on tutoring, career counselling support, and tertiary education funding opportunities, especially for Grade 12 learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition to working relentlessly towards their goals, I want to teach them never to overlook the importance of mentorship and building meaningful connections. These connections and guidance often open doors to unforeseen opportunities and collaborations.”

His desire to assist and support others has its roots in lessons learned from the past.

The most important lesson he learned at UJ had less to do with his studies per se than with the sheer determination and perseverance it took to get to campus on time every day.

“The challenges I faced, especially in my first year travelling daily in overcrowded and constantly late trains from Tembisa to the Doornfontein Campus, taught me the importance of resilience and a sense of purpose towards one’s goals,” he says.

Robert’s father, Zimiseleni Mncube, played a decisive role in his success.

“He believed in my potential, and had it not been for him, I doubt l would be where l am today. I certainly would have given up on going to university had he not proactively looked for funding opportunities and motivated me to never give up on my dream.

“I vividly remember him returning from work one day holding the Sowetan Newspaper and pointing out bursary applications by the Gauteng Provincial Government through its Gauteng City Region Academy bursary scheme. When l went to submit my application, I was highly discouraged when l saw heaps upon heaps of applications. Two months later, I was selected and awarded the bursary to begin my National Diploma in Town and Regional Planning at UJ in 2010. I would have missed this funding opportunity had it not been for my father, who has always been my biggest inspiration.”

When he applied to study town planning, he was fascinated by drawing and creating towns but had little understanding of what it was about. He says his aptitude for technical drawing naturally drew him to the field.

In his final-year dissertation, he researched transit-oriented development, which received high regard from practitioners in the field and continues to receive good citations to this day. A conference paper from this research track with his then supervisor, Aurobindo Ogra, as co-author, followed and was presented at the Planning Africa Conference of 2014. Robert registered for a master’s in construction management by research to take the findings of his undergraduate dissertation and explore how South Africa approached the transit-oriented development concept. Two conference papers from this research track were presented at international conferences.

“I enjoy the inherently dynamic nature of the field. Town planning is extensive and multidisciplinary, and every day brings new challenges. Collaborating with diverse professionals enriches my understanding of the broader built environment domain and expands my professional network.”

Professionally, Robert plans to progress significantly over the next ten years to a level where he would lead organisations on development-oriented issues as an executive. He says the Warwick MBA will also be essential to achieving these goals.

Robert Ndebele obtained the following qualifications at UJ: National Diploma in Town and Regional Planning (2014), BTech Town and Regional Planning (2015), and MTech Construction Management (Distinction) (2019).

Three questions with Robert

What should change in the field of town planning?

Town planning in South Africa is not well regulated like other built environment professions are. This lack of stringent regulation continues to devalue the profession, putting it at risk of being undermined by unqualified people. Like many other town planners, I feel that SACPLAN, our representative statutory body, could do better in ensuring work designated for town planners under the Planning Profession Act, 2002 (PPA) is more exclusively reserved.

What awards have you received?

Beyond the Chevening Scholarship, I’ve been awarded the Professional Provident Society (PPS) Dean’s Award (2015), the SAPI Best Student Award (2016), and the DST-NRF Postgraduate Innovation and Priority Research Scholarship (2018).

What do very few people know about you?

As a child, I dreamed of becoming a pilot. Even today, though l enjoy my work as a town planner, that yearning to soar the skies still lingers within me.

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