Mom collects degree earned by son who died of cancer

11 December 2018 - 10:59 By Philani Nombembe
Stellenbosch University student Gerbrandt Kotze, who earned his MSc posthumously after dying of colon cancer.
Stellenbosch University student Gerbrandt Kotze, who earned his MSc posthumously after dying of colon cancer.
Image: Amanda Kotze

It will be a bittersweet moment when Amanda Kotze steps up to the stage at Stellenbosch University on Tuesday evening to receive an MSc degree on behalf of her son.

Gerbrandt Kotze, 26, died in June. He was diagnosed with colon cancer, which spread to his liver last year. He died in hospital in Paarl, in the Western Cape, two weeks before his parents were informed his master’s thesis had passed muster. The university is set to confer the qualification posthumously.

"It is really emotional but it is also a feeling of fulfilment because my son worked very hard on his master’s degree and, while he was busy with it, he fell ill," said Kotze.

"He didn’t immediately realise it was such a serious illness like cancer. Even when he was on chemotherapy, he just continued with his studies and attended some of the seminars.

"He went through a tough time. It was only two weeks after he passed on that we heard that he was going to receive the degree – so this means a lot to us."

Kotze said her son was passionate about helping the underprivileged and wanted to teach children mathematics and science. She said the scientist was missed by his whole family, especially his 10-year-old adopted sister.

"She loved him very much," said Kotze. "He was so caring towards her and helped her with her school work. She is already dressed up to attend the graduation tonight."

Gerbrandt’s friend, Julia Kristina Wagner, described him in a letter to his parents as "a person of immeasurably kind heart with whom we laughed until we had to hold our bellies, a great dancer and teacher of sokkie, a smart scientist and hard worker, someone who is full of curiosity and joy, a talented musician, and in every sense a person who you could rely on".

Gerbrandt Kotze gives his Christian testimony at a service in Paarl on October 15, 2017.

Other tear-jerking graduation stories include that of Xolani Hadebe, who will graduate with a medical degree on Tuesday. Despite being rejected by a number of medical schools, the 27-year-old from rural Piet Retief in Mpumalanga did not abandon his dream of becoming a doctor.

"After being rejected so many times, I knew there was no way my mom, who has been a domestic worker all her life, would be able to afford my university applications, so I secured a job as a till packer at our local supermarket," he said.

He said working in a supermarket was one of the hardest things he has ever done. He had to pack groceries for his former classmates and at times he would hide so they would not see him working at the grocery store while they continued with their studies.