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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) continues to commend all its essential workers for their dedication and commitment to providing services to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. DUT’s Communications team’s Waheeda Peters spoke to Prof Gift Mheta, Manager: Writing Centre, DVC-Teaching and Learning.   

Q: Kindly tell me about your role at DUT?  

A: “My role is to manage DUT Writing Centres. As I speak, we have six Writing Centres which are spread across six campuses, namely Steve Biko, ML Sultan, City (Brickfield is serviced by City) and Ritson in Durban, Indumiso and Riverside in Pietermaritzburg. Our reason for existence is to provide writing companionship to students, staff and alumni. We believe that every writer needs a reader. Our focus is on meeting every writer at their point of need and developing their confidence in writing. With the assistance of the Writing Centre Secretary Miss Shahieda Kraft, I oversee the Steve Biko Writing Centre and work with five vibrant Writing Centre Practitioners, namely Mrs Andrea Alcock (City), Dr Nereshnee Govender (ML Sultan), Dr Jeffrey Mkhize (Ritson) and Dr Nonhlanhla Khumalo (Indumiso and Riverside). At each centre, we have tutors who work hand in glove with the Writing Centre practitioners. Our Tutors guide, advise and support writers (students, staff and alumni) with the aim of developing their writing skills and confidence. They offer support and writing companionship but do not edit or write for anyone. Tutors listen and help writers to put together their ideas and thoughts. In all instances, the writer makes the decisions and directs their writing. My role is therefore to provide leadership in the recruitment of the best tutors. Our tutors are mostly postgraduate students from different disciplines. These tutors are trained to assist writers with strategies for writing in different disciplines; assignments for humanities and science-related academic courses; reading, researching and referencing; proposals (academic and business); dissertations; articles, book chapters and books for publication; business and professional writing (curriculum vitaes; e-mails, motivational letters, memos, etc); creative writing; and course syllabi.”

Q: How long have you been in that role?  

A: “I have been in this role since the 3rd of December 2012.”  

Q: Please describe yourself in a few words?  

A: “I am hardworking, self-motivated and believe in the power of working together.”  

Q: What has it been like working during COVID-19?  

A: “Working during COVID-19 has been difficult but also has presented numerous opportunities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I experienced challenges around conducting composite training for all six writing centres; inadequate financial resources for transporting tutors to training venues; and insufficient funds for ideal tutor training venues, which often inhibits interaction during training sessions. However, COVID-19 presented opportunities for solving such challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic galvanised the DUT Writing Centres into using digital platforms, mostly MS Teams, for the training of tutors. The use of digital platforms has rendered the concepts of time and distance obsolete as tutors from different centres no longer have to travel long distances to training venues in Durban. For instance, the distance between the Indumiso Writing Centre and Durban where most tutor trainings have been conducted before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is about 202 kilometres (to and from). The use of digital platforms instead of face-to-face for tutor training workshops, seminars and meetings means that no time is wasted travelling long distances and no transport and food costs are incurred. Notwithstanding data and connectivity challenges, the time saved from not having to travel can be used for longer training sessions or other productive activities such as responding timeously to requests from students, staff and alumni. Going forward, I foresee a post-COVID-19 era where both in-person and digital platforms are used for writing centre consultations, workshops, seminars and meetings.”

Q: How do you deal with the fear of contracting COVID-19 and losing loved ones due to this virus?  

A: “I try by all means to observe COVID-19 protocols such as wearing a mask whenever I am in public spaces, maintaining physical distancing, washing hands regularly with soap and water and using a sanitiser where necessary. I have also received my Pfizer vaccines so that I protect myself from contracting the virus and help stop its spreading. Surprisingly, some people still think that COVID-19 is a myth. Whenever I meet such people, I share the little knowledge I have about the virus. I have lost many friends and family members to the virus. The least I can do is to enlighten people on the dangers of the virus.”

Q: What is your daily motivation?  

A: “Prayer in the morning and reading a Psalm a day will keep me motivated.”

Q: Please take me through a normal day in your life?   

A: “My normal day usually starts at 3:00 am. It starts with prayer and reading of the Bible. This is then followed by a task that needs maximum concentration. If I have a workshop, this is the time I prepare my workshop slides. I bathe at 5:30 am and have my breakfast at around 6:15 am and leave home at around 6:30 am to drop my children at school before 7:20 am. I am usually in my office by 7:30 am. The first thing I do at work is to check my diary and urgent emails. This is usually followed by many meetings and workshops. I usually leave my office around 4:30 pm to fetch my children from school. Occasionally, when I get home at around 5:30 pm I take a walk before supper and retire to bed early. I sleep at around 9:00 pm.”

Q: What are your thoughts about the vaccine and its importance to students and staff?  

A: “Research is showing that most COVID-19 deaths are among people who have not been vaccinated. I believe in the efficacy of vaccines and encourage all staff and students to be vaccinated.”

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?   

A: “I love walking but sometimes struggle to do this consistently. I also enjoy reading, especially books on African history and culture. Soccer is my favourite sport but sadly my team Manchester United has been performing badly this year.”

Q: If you had one wish what would it be?  

A: “Meeting my mother in heaven when my time is ripe to leave this world. My mother went to be with the Lord on the 5th of August 2021 and I am still grappling to cope with the reality that she has slept.”

Pictured: Prof Gift Mheta, Manager: Writing Centre, DVC-Teaching and Learning.

Waheeda Peters

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