Joburg’s rats are no match for city councillor Lucas Kunene, who was awarded an MTech in environmental health by the University of Johannesburg on Tuesday night at the age of 68.
This Master’s degree is his third degree and his fourth tertiary education qualification.
Kunene started his tertiary education at the age of 50, first getting a B Administration degree from Unisa, then an honours degree in urban studies from what was then Rand Afrikaans University (now UJ), then a postgraduate diploma in health professional education from UCT.
Kunene spent his childhood in Sophiatown until his family was forcibly removed to Meadowlands in Soweto in 1959. He lived in Soweto for many years and now lives in Bassonia.
He used his disadvantaged background as a motivation to develop himself.
“I knew what I wanted in life, I wanted something good for myself.”
He considered being a teacher but environmental management won, and he worked for the municipal authorities, first in Alexandra in the early 1970s and then in Soweto. “This is where I grew up,” he said.
Later, he moved into what eventually became Pikitup where he was a regional manager.
His focus was the rats which are a scourge of poverty-stricken areas, bringing disease. His work was about ensuring the environment was sanitary.
“My passion has been in pest control – the rodents in the City of Joburg,” said Kunene.
Studying further was crucial.
“As an environmental practitioner, I always wanted to find more in my career.”
He spent 35 years in this work in Joburg until he retired in 2010. But his work for the city hasn’t stopped, as he’s now a city councillor for the DA for wards 35,36 and 37 in Soweto East.
As a councillor, he makes use of his experience and qualifications, as he sits on the city’s environmental, infrastructure and services committee.
Higher education wasn’t easy. He had to take on extra work to fund his first qualifications, including working at The Star at night, packaging newspapers for distribution.
The MTech degree he received on Tuesday night was the first he got financial help with.
“It can be done,” he said, encouraging the youth to prioritise education.