Thamsanqa Rooi Ngubeni aka “Tim” from Kwa-Thema Township, South Africa
Thamsanqa Rooi Ngubeni, affectionately known as “Tim”, was born in the Kwa-Thema Township of South Africa, on January 2 , 1949, one of twin sons born to Diane and Daniel Ngubeni. Tim grow up in Springs, becoming a national soccer and track star oblivious to apartheid, similar to the way outstanding young athletes in the United States tend to grow up rather nonchalant about the social struggles within society. That all changed however, when Tim’s mother died because she could not get the proper emergency medical care she needed, to save her life. His mother’s death made Tim very angry. He blamed his mother’s death on Apartheid. To the Apartheid Regime that ruled South Africa during this time, black lives did not matter. Thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi said that “the wound is where the light enters you.” Tim’s wound was the death of his mother. The light that entered him was Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement.
UCLA : A New Beginning
From the beginning of his years as a UCLA student. Tim became an active member of the Black Student Union at UCLA (now known as the Afrikan Student Union). He worked closely with student leaders of that organization and was a member of the African Activist Association at UCLA, serving as a Chairperson and on the editorial board of their journal, Ufuhamu. During his academic career at UCLA, Tim earned a BA in Political Science (’79), a Masters in Afro American studies (’80), as well as a Master in Public Health (’82). Also, during the early 1980’s, Tim gave classroom presentations, delivered speeches at other college campuses and coordinated protest demonstrations in front of the Bank of America branch in Westwood and the South African Consulate office, located in Beverly Hills, the formation of student-initiated, student-run efforts like the South African Task Force (SATF), were some of the early outcomes of Tim’s political education and community organizing efforts.
The South African Task Force
The SATF helped coordinate an advocacy campaign which resulted in ASUCLA divesting from Bank of America, an organization that held investments in the Apartheid Regime of South Africa. Another development from Tim’s work was the Africa Education Project (AEP), which he helped formally establish in 1983. AEP and other campus organizations sponsored the semi-annual South African Solidarity Day events and other activities which helped spark “Mandela City” (a tent encampment of anti-apartheid protestors on at UCLA) which played a role in the University of California Regents’ decision to divest $1.6 billion from corporations doing business with the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. Eventually, Tim was also named Director of the CPO in 1987.
Director of the CPO
In this capacity as CPO Director, Tim challenged students to make a conscious effort to the community in response to the ongoing economic and social disadvantages so like Southern Africa. Significantly, Tim also practiced the type of community organizing and advocacy work he was advising. In fact, Tim hosted a radio talk show called “ALuta Continua” as a part of the Family Tree network of radio programs which aired on Pacifica Radio’s KPFK station (90.7FM) during the early 80s. Through this monthly radio program, Tim was instrumental in keeping the Los Angeles community informed about developments unfolding within anti-colonial and anti-Apartheid struggles waged throughout Southern Africa.
Steve Biko Fellowship Fund
Tim also deepened institutional commitment to the Steve Biko Fellowship Fund he had established with assistance from the Office of international Students and Scholars (today known as the Dashew for International Students and Scholars). Through strategic advocacy and relationship building, together with his uncle, the late and greatly admired Professor Mazisi Kunene, Tim became one of the most influential figures from Southern Africa on campus. Thus, the CPO came to be situated at the intersection of the Anti-Apartheid/Divestment Campaign and the movement to strengthen Affirmative Action.
The Thrust of Student Empowerment in the 1980’s
What emerged during the 1980’s, was a thrust of student empowerment that led to some historical achievements at UCLA. Throughout his 20-year administrative career, Tim and the CPO were right at the heart of the action. From the signing of the historic Statement of Understanding (SOU) that created the Campus Retention Committee (CRC), during the Summer of 1988, to the creation of the Student-Initiated Outreach Committee (SIOC) in 1998, in response to the passage of Proposition 209, which ended Affirmative Action, and many student organizing and advocacy campaigns in between, Tim and the CPO, proved to be an indispensable ally for student-initiated, student-run efforts.
An Atmosphere of Diversity Brings other Groups to the Table
Tim and other CPO staff members had created an atmosphere within CPO encouraging a diverse group of student leaders and organizations over the years. For example, the American Indian Student Association (AISA), MEChA de UCLA, the Afrikan Student Union (ASU), Samhang Pilipino, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSU), the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and the Pacifica Islander Student Association (PISA) and the CPO, were created to name a few. Because of its’ strategic partnership with the aforementioned student organizations, as well as the CRC and the SIOC, the CPO was departmentalized in 2003.
The Departmentalization of the CPO
The departmentalization of the CPO is considered one of the more significant developments within higher education since the establishment of the School of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State in 1968. Under Tim’s guidance, from 1987-2007, the CPO evolved from “basement dwelling, below-the-radar, hole-in-the-wall, administrative outpost, housing a handful of community service organizations, with two full-time staff members and a couple work-study students, located at Dodd 51, instead was transformed into a department that houses nearly 40 student-initiated, student-run outreach/access, retention and community service learning programs located in the Student Activities Center (SAC) which now employs 27 full-time staff and a few hundred students. The CPO’s approach to advising as well as the student leaders who coalesced around university access, campus retention, and community service issues, helped to grow the CPO into a national model. Its innovative approaches to student development and the role that students can play within the University mission and campus governance processes are part and parcel a result of CPO’s success
Retirement from the Front Lines
Upon his retirement in 2007, Tim relocated back home to South Africa. Tim is enjoying his life in retirement, staying busying engaged with many of the alumni and community members he worked with during his long and effective career at UCLA. One of the more significant of his current efforts is investing his time and energy into the development of the Bringer of Hope Foundation (BHF).