Let me begin with the very first USSAS bursary holder: a young man [as he was then] named Lamla Maholwana. I met Lamla in the South African city of East London in 1990 during a trip I was taking around the country to set up USSAS. I took him to lunch --- the first time he had ever been in a restaurant! -- and after some discussion, I agreed to fund his first year of study in Biochemistry at Fort Hare University, the all-Black university famous as the alma mater of Nelson Mandela and many other Black southern African political leaders. I completely lost touch with Lamla until suddenly, on May 15th of this year, I received a heartwarming email message from him. It seems that he has earned a doctorate in health promotion at the University of Maastricht and is back in South Africa, as he says in his letter to me, "running a small social enterprise focusing on health promotion."
The second USSAS bursary recipient is Thamsanqa Zungu. In 1993 or '94, during my visit to the University of Durban-Westville, my old friend and colleague, the late Prem Singh, who had taken on the task of looking after the USSAS students on that campus, arranged for me to listen to a young man from a Black township outside Durban whose extraordinary bass-baritone voice had brought him to the attention of members of the Music faculty at UDW. I sat down in the front row of a little recital hall as a tall, slender, handsome young Black man took the stage and launched into the great aria from the Messiah, "The trumpet shall sound." I very nearly fell off my chair. He had an enormous, rich, thrilling voice, quite unlike any I had ever heard. On the spot, I agreed to fund him, despite the fact that he had not, as they say in South Africa, "earned a matric" and therefore was not eligible to enroll as an ordinary degree student. Over the next few years I did everything I could to help Thami's career along until he won admission to Juilliard in New York. Eventually, I lost touch with him, and only recently discovered that he is now the Vocal Arts Programme Coordinator at the Tshwane University of Technology in Gauteng Province near Pretoria. In 2008, Thami conducted a performance of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, the first Black conductor of a full opera in South Africa.
The third USSAS graduate is Bekisizwe Ndimande, who started life in a squatter camp in the Northern Transvaal, somehow earned admission to UDW as an education major, received a series of USSAS bursaries that saw him through his undergraduate days, and then, with the help of U.S.A.I.D., earned a full Ph. D. in education at the prestigious University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bekisizwe is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research has focused on the attitudes of poor South African township residents toward education for their children.
Each of these men came from the poorest segment of the South African Black population, and none of them could have dreamed of such careers without the support made possible hundreds of USSAS donors. I am sure that not all of our USSAS students have been quite this successful, but hundreds of them, if not more, are now working productively and making valuable contributions to South Africa. I believe we all have a great deal to be proud of.