Matandela, 23, and fellow #RhodesMustFall activist Joshua Nott are among nine South Africans awarded scholarships of R670,000 each by the Rhodes Trust, to join Oxford University later this year.
Both were involved in the 2015 protests at the University of Cape Town, calling for a statue of Cecil John Rhodes to be removed from its prominent place on campus.
Matandela, who knows Nott from their time as students at UCT, said she regarded the scholarship as an opportunity to learn more about the African diaspora and further her other intellectual interests.
Matandela will register for an M Phil in development studies when the academic year begins at the end of September, hoping to engage in a gender-based analysis of development on the African continent.
She currently works for the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies’ Right2Protest project. Her honours thesis focused on experiences of black women in the #RhodesMustFall movement.
This week Nott was plunged into a social media storm in South Africa and the UK, being labelled as a hypocrite for accepting the scholarship in light of his #RhodesMustFall activism.
UCT’s #RhodesMustFall Facebook page rejected Nott as a key member of the movement, following the publication of an article by British newspapers.
“Joshua Nott and I have political differences, so I would prefer not to comment on this backlash,” Matandela said.
Matandela said she saw the Rhodes Trust’s scholarship as reparation for past injustices.
“To me, it’s about redress. I’m a person of conviction and so being a #RhodesMustFall activist was about linking up different struggles that highlight the expectations of Rhodes as a colonialist. I’ve come to think of my being at Oxford and having this specific scholarship, as reparation.”
She said the Rhodes Trust did not consider historical disadvantage in its selection criteria and that she now hoped to change this from within, particularly for the Southern African region.
Matandela, who attended Pietermaritzburg private school Epworth on a scholarship, comes from a working-class family.
Her mother was a live-in domestic worker in the Durban suburb of Westville.
She said that her family initially had limited understanding of what a Rhodes scholar was but were excited for her. In her application to the Rhodes Trust, she wrote extensively of her activism.
The Times has not yet been able to reach Nott.
Other South African Rhodes scholars-elect are Fuaad Coovadia, Emily van Heerden, Christiaan van der Walt, Keitumetse-Kabelo Murray, Saul Musker, Abigail Branford and Sizwe Mkwanazi.
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