Archive: Issue No. 80, April 2004

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Surprise Khosa

Surprise Khosa
Hamba Kahle, 2003
Mixed media, wooden coffin, condoms

Surprise Khosa

Photograph of Surprise Khosa, 2003

Fallen Through the Cracks: Disabled Art Student's Silent Plea for Help
by Kresta Tyler

Education is a privilege as well as a golden token that permits the holder to pursue a career and a future in a country where people need all possible opportunities. All too often those privileged enough to attend university fail to realise the doorways that are open. Surprise Khosa is not one of those who takes his educational opportunities for granted.

University is difficult enough with rigorous course work, steep fees and social demands, but try to imagine attending while severely disabled. Imagine not being able to freely write, move without an electric wheelchair, or have the use of any of your upper torso except your mouth. Now imagine wanting to be an artist.

That is exactly the position that Surprise Khosa has found himself confronting as part of a daily reality. Surprise failed to see his physical situation as an obstacle and instead let it become the mental strength he uses to pursue his dream of being an artist. After completing his matric in the rural area of Bushbuck Ridge, Mpumalanga, Surprise spent seven years applying for various bursaries in order to attend University of the Witwatersrand. He was finally granted his wish by Eskom, the large energy parastatal in 2003.

After a lifetime fraught with multiple physical disabilities, continual misdiagnoses and perpetual operations, Surprise was finally rewarded with a chance to attend university. Knowing the work would be slow, Surprise was advised by Wits to register for a five-year degree to allow himself the time necessary to achieve his goals and strengthen his areas of weakness. His first year consisted of three subjects including a bridging course to facilitate his use of English. This is particularly impressive considering his own physical tools were limited to his mind and mouth.

However, this achievement was not sufficient for Eskom and they failed to recognise the severe disadvantages Surprise had to overcome just to complete these initial three courses. Instead of continuing their support, Eskom has taken the position that since Surprise did not have a full schedule of classes during his first year, he did not meet the stipulations for their bursary policy. Thus they have revoked his bursary for 2004. Eskom failed to notify Surprise prior to the beginning of the semester, and while registering he found himself without funds. With the assistance of concerned friends Surprise uncovered the details of his frozen bursary, but he remains without adequate resources to pay his fees.

Eskom has said they will reinstate Surprise's bursary only after he has completed his two outstanding requirements, which he is in the process of doing. However, without immediate funding it makes achieving that goal all but impossible.

The attached image shows Surprise is not just a unique student in terms of the challenges he faces, but he is also at root a very talented artist. He preoccupies himself with complex issues such as friends dying of HIV/ AIDS and the antagonistic forces that exist today in South Africa between the painful memory of the past and a hopeful future.

Having endured so much, it seems unfair that Surprise should have to give up his goals and dreams of becoming an artist. It comes down to people who care about art to help this young man succeed.

If you are able to contribute to Surprise's dream and help to fund his studies, please contact Meryl Scott on 073 173-4567 or Joanne Delaurentis on 072 427-9105.