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PhD student Lloyd Melusi Maphosa: 'I just followed my heart'

Julia Jaki
July 20, 2018

Had he listened to his grandfather, Lloyd Melusi Maphosa would probably be a lawyer now. But the 29-year-old PhD student knows that he made the right choice in studying history.

PhD student Lloyd Maphosa sits in front of his computer
Image: DW/J. Jaki

It all started with a school award for the best performance in his history class. The then-17-year-old Lloyd Melusi Maphosa won stationery and a gift voucher at his school in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. His career path seemed set. But not all of his family members were pleased.

"My grandfather and I have a very close relationship, so he asked me: 'What is it that you think you are going to do with history? Why don't you do law or something? But then I just followed my heart. You know, this is why I am here," says Maphosa.

By 'here,' Lloyd means his residency in Stellenbosch, South Africa. This is where a PhD scholarship granted by the Gerda-Henkel Foundation has taken him. Here, he spends his time analyzing joint-stock companies that did business as far back as the 1800s in the former Cape Colony, an area that is now part of the Republic of South Africa. At the moment, Maphosa is busy comparing data of 300 companies — a tedious but important task, he says.

"What I'm doing is especially important for Africa or the developing world generally, where politics has failed to initiate growth and business. Entrepreneurship is the next driver of the economy," says Maphosa.

Helping African companies

Lloyd hopes that his research on the successes and failures of past companies can produce useful data for modern African economies. He is proud to be the first historian and the first African to ever dig into these specific archives. He says coming from Africa gives him an advantage over Europe-based economists.

"I am the man on the ground and you know when you are a historian and you are working on a project that is outside your environment, there are certain things that you may overlook, because you are not familiar with the environment. But then I am African, so I am going to touch all those aspects, big and small, and magnify them in my work."

Making discoveries and drawing new connections captivates Maphosa. As well as the inspiration his research brings him, Lloyd also enjoys spending time with other academics. One of his highlights was participating in a business summer school at the University of Tübingen in Germany:

"Yeah, I met great minds there," he says. "Intelligent people, smart academics. It's always nice to be in an environment with such vibrant people, and creative as well."

No regrets

These personal encounters once again rewarded him for following his heart and pursuing the path he started back at his school in Bulawayo.

"I feel I wouldn't have had those opportunities if I had pursued what my grandfather would have said, so I really don’t regret it and I look forward to what my study has in store for me in the future."

His decision may not have been an easy one. But sometimes, so it seems, it's good not to always heed your grandfather’s advice.

This report is part of the African Roots series, a project realized in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel foundation.