Being the firstborn in a family of seven children comes with great responsibility, says Unisa professor, Mpho Ngoepe. “The greatest is to always set a good example to the siblings in every sphere of life, as the Northern Sotho adage says, moo go gatilego hlako ya pele le ya morago e tla gata gona.
And a good example he has been as his list of accomplishments by age 41 bears testament to. Growing up in the rural village of Makgabeng, north-west of Polokwane, Ngoepe says since childhood, he knew the importance of defining his tomorrow, which he set out to do.
He completed his doctoral study in 2013, achieved a Y NRF rating in 2015, was appointed associate professor in 2015 and full professor in 2017, graduated three doctoral and six master’s candidates, published more than 40 articles in accredited journals, is an editor of two journals, and is currently supervising 12 master’s and doctoral students.
“I have also to date completed five Comrades Marathons and 10 Two Oceans Marathons. I have won a few races in my part-time running career. I have lost count of the number of organisations I worked for before I joined Unisa in 2012. However, those which deserve a special mention include the United Nations Children’s Fund, Kaapstad Argief Bewaarplek, Bloemfontein Legal Deposit, Technikon Northern Gauteng, National Archives of South Africa, Auditor-General of South Africa and Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority.”
He has also authored two award winning anthologies of Northern Sotho short stories Ntshwe (Be out of the game) and morole o mosesane (youth of yesterday, today and tomorrow), both of which were prescribed for Grade 8 in Limpopo from 2007 to 2011. “The stories cover a range of issues such as xenophobia, HIV, fronting, drug abuse, women abuse, and so on. I have also co-authored a Northern Sotho historical book about the origin of my clan, as well as folklore. I prefer writing in Northern Sotho as it is easier for me to express myself in my mother tongue. In the process I also contribute to the development and preservation of the language.”
Speaking on his research, which mainly focuses upon archives and records management in relation to accountability, justice, and auditing, Ngoepe says he is passionate about it, because this field of study is often marginalised, especially in South Africa where it is less researched.
“The area is fertile for multi- and interdisciplinary research as most of the so-called allied professions rely on the strength of records management to perform their duties. There is therefore plenty of scope for research in a range of areas: accounting, auditing, health, finance, human resources, and law. In the area of archives and records management I am particularly interested in modern archival diplomatics and digital records forensics.”
As a result, since 2013, Ngoepe has been involved in the InterPARES Trust project as the director of the African Team. InterPARES is an international project consisting of six teams (North America, Latin America, Europe, Australasia, Africa and Transnational) and its goal is to generate the theoretical and methodological frameworks that will support the development of integrated and consistent local, national and international networks of policies, procedures, regulations, standards and legislation concerning digital records entrusted to the Internet, to ensure public trust grounded on evidence of good governance, a strong digital economy, and a persistent digital memory.
“Within the African team, the project has influenced curriculum development in archives and records management throughout the continent. It has also led to the development of a national standard on determining the authenticity of digital records. Furthermore, guidelines to be used by the Auditor-General South Africa to authenticate digital records when auditing governmental bodies are being developed as a result of the project. I am passionate about this research because it impacts on society, academic and practice as it is action-oriented research outcome.”
How has this young professor achieved so much? “First, it is important to always identify the trends in the area of interest. That way, one is always ahead of peers. Furthermore, I always set realistic goals and strive to achieve them. One must not be afraid to venture into unchartered territories. Being out of the comfort zone helps me to be creative and achieve more. I also don’t spend much time on things that do not yield positive results or add value to any course.”
And how does he continue to do it all? “At some stage I complained to my international mentor that I am overwhelmed. I complained that as I juggle many balls in the air, some are highly likely to fall. Her response was simple: ‘Get a bigger plate’. So I always get a bigger plate. However, if I know I won’t be able to accomplish a task, I don’t accept it. Of most importance is to set the goals and prioritise. Also, what keeps me going is the saying ‘it doesn’t matter where you are coming from, what matters is where you are going’.”
Imparting wisdom to other young scholars, Ngoepe says: “My advice to budding researchers, especially young black scholars, is to collaborate. Identify your niche area and stand on the shoulders of giants in that area so that you can see far; it may bring about a cross-fertilisation of ideas, helping to create new perspectives which would never have emerged working alone.
“If you find yourself alone in the early stages of research, start by publishing locally, and then expand globally by targeting journals published by reputable publishers. Also get yourself a mentor and collaborate with senior researchers. If you want to go far, go together as the African adage says. This can help to gradually build your confidence and start to build your publication record. Furthermore, get involved in local, national and international projects. This can give you exposure to the international arena. Once you embark on a project make sure that you complete it. If there are many things to do, prioritise.