For many students at Rhodes University, Orientation Week was their first time being on campus. For Zola Mbinda, a History lecturer and PhD candidate at Rhodes University, however, university campuses were always home. From growing up on campus, to doing homework in lecture rooms, and eventually following in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a lecturer, Mbinda has done more than teach history; she shaped it, by being a lead character in Rhodes University’s next-generation institutional RU120 commercial shoot, which used its own staff and students in celebration of the milestone of reaching 120 years of existence.

Mbinda ’s role as an ambassador for the University aligns perfectly with the life she has lived, which revolved around education and academia, as the daughter of a Statistician who planted the seeds of education and paved the way for Mbinda’s journey in academia. Mbinda reflects on her childhood within the walls of universities and the hands of academia.

As Zola’s path began taking shape, her life started coming full circle, as her memories of being in lecture rooms, studying and admiring her mother, became her reality as one of the staff members at Rhodes University. She joined the University under the prestigious New Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP). Under this programme, universities ensure that a future generation of academics is developed to serve higher education in the future.

As a lecturer at the University, her contributions have been immense, within her department and outside of it, as she has achieved many great things as a result of her hard work and determination. Mbinda speaks about her experience joining the Rhodes community, which welcomed her with open arms:

Mbinda speaks about her academic journey, explaining her dissertation and the process of creating it. Although the journey may seem lonely for many and isolating, Mbinda’s experience has been one for the books.

Many times, we limit ourselves to small dreams because we do not see the potential in our work and determination. Fortunately, there are people around us, who illuminate the areas that seem invisible, opening our eyes to our true capacity. As a young academic, the history department at Rhodes University opened the doors to a future in academia for Mbinda. From collecting papers and arranging them for her mother, Mbinda graduated to supervising an honours student within her department. Zola speaks of this experience and about how it impacted her.

When she is not supervising other student’s work, she continues to breathe life into the history department and the world at large through her contributions to society. As a PhD candidate, her thesis, titled “Umsebenzi Wabafazi” – the work of women. Drawing from people within her own life, she used this experience to ignite her academic fire and contribute to women’s health. She further discusses her academic work:

Although historians focus more on the past and how we got to where we are, Mbinda took the opportunity to also contribute to the future of Rhodes University, as a key character in the RU120 commercial. Mbinda’s experience in creating the RU120 commercial was a unique one. As a first-time commercial actor, she got to enjoy being a part of the creation of a new narrative of Rhodes University and being the face of an advert. As someone who grew up in the world of academia, she was the perfect candidate for it.

Zola Mbinda’s remarkable journey from a childhood surrounded by academia to becoming a history lecturer and PhD candidate at Rhodes University encapsulates the transformative power of education. As a dynamic force in the history department and a trailblazer in the RU120 commercial, Mbinda bridges the gap between the past and the future, leaving an indelible mark on Rhodes University’s legacy. As a permanent stamp in the history of Rhodes University, she followed in the steps of those she studied, making her mark in the story of Rhodes University.


Watch Zola’s appearance in the RU120 commercial video here:

By Nwabisa Moyo