Cape Town – Born and raised in Bonteheuwel, Mervyn Coetzee is a great example of persevering through adversity.
Raised by a single mother of five, Coetzee didn’t come from a privileged background.
“I started to work at the age of 16, as a pool cleaner at the Sea Point pavilion, where my mother was also a cleaner. I did this for three summers because I needed to make extra income to support my family during that time, however I always dreamed big,” Coetzee said.
From being a casual pool cleaner, to receiving a PhD in Education at UWC, Coetzee based his thesis on what he experienced growing up.
“The root of my thesis stems from my childhood experience. Born with four thumbs, I was embarrassed, mocked and called all sorts of derogatory names, but this inspired me to transcend the feelings of inadequacy and humiliation to my study which involves the affective trauma student experience in academic literacy and English Language Learning (ESL) environments,” Coetzee said.
“I call it affective trauma because I look at the problem from two different angles. The first angle discusses the personal language narratives of the students whilst embedding my own narrative in the study, since I grew up as an ESL learner.”
“The second perspective helped me understand why students felt or are made to feel inferior or less of an individual due to a lack of fluency in English.
“According to my research, these discourses are interconnected with questions of students' identity and their experiences as victims of social injustices prior to their entrance into university. These topics, in my opinion, are largely neglected in learning and teaching environments,” Coetzee said.
Professor Sivakumar Sivasubramaniam said that Coetzee’s thesis is profoundly important to the current society in South Africa, because students bring their fears, discouragement and the disadvantages to the classroom, and this issue needs to be reckoned with.
“For a person like Coetzee, who actually advocates for the encouragement and the kind of equality one actually deserved, he started with such a traumatic beginning. From that point, look at the vibrational, development complexity he has gone through to get to where he is today. Hence, Coetzee’s achievement is something that ennobles me and my values even further.”
“Coetzee’s qualification actually echoes biblical values, which reads the ‘realisation of sorrow is the beginning of compassion’. Therefore, when you use your life's history as bases for your epistemic approach to propose knowledge construction, That is going to be tremendously valuable to the South African society,” Sivasubramaniam said.
Besides being in a classroom set-up, Coetzee spends his time back in the pool, helping children learn how to swim.
“Keith Abrahams, a retired law enforcement officer and professional life-saving coach, approached me in 2016 and invited me to assist him with his non-profit organisation, Warobile Lifesaving Academy, which teaches how to swim and lifesaving strategies.”
“Both Keith and I have extensive experience as ocean lifeguards, and I was immediately drawn to his plea to stop the scourge of drowning locally through learn-to-swim and life-saving programmes” Coetzee said.
The organisation is located at Holy Cross High School Aquatic Centre in Maitland.
Coetzee said while there is much work to be done to upgrade the building, they have made huge strides since their first Open Day two weeks ago.