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Full Scholarship, Full Potential

News of Note


Published June 12, 2023

Desiree Lalbeharie ’90 and Verna Lalbeharie ’93 were one of two pairs of South African sisters who attended Smith on full scholarships during apartheid. Desiree, who appeared on the cover of the Winter 1990 SAQ, went on to receive a master of education from Smith and a doctorate from UMass Amherst.  

Describe your early life in South Africa.

My siblings and I grew up in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal. Our parents did not finish high school, so education was super important to them. They were loving, kind, avid readers, smart, and hardworking. Life was complicated, as South African culture is vibrant, diverse, warm, and joyful—in contrast to apartheid.

How did apartheid affect you and your family?

Apartheid controlled where we lived, where we went to school, and even where we ate. During my teen years, I was involved in school boycotts and marches against apartheid. There were many nights when desperate calls would come to our home and my dad would go out to help family members who were being attacked or arrested or having their homes ransacked by government police because they were involved in the struggle against apartheid.

What was it like to come to Smith in the late 1980s?

I had never been surrounded by so many white people before! I had experienced very little contact and interaction with white people before I arrived at Smith. My comfort level grew thanks to my roommate, who was white and very supportive; other Smith friends, especially my fellow South African Smith sisters and my international friends who I met at the international student pre-orientation program; and a bumper sticker I saw that said “End Apartheid,” which made me feel safe and welcomed.

Why did you decide to stay in the area and make a life here?

In my senior year at Smith I met Craig Josias, a South African anti-apartheid youth activist who was on a similar scholarship program at Amherst College. Together we raised three children while completing our doctoral degrees at UMass Amherst. Over the years this area has grown in diversity and become our second home. I appreciate being part of the wonderful community here, and I visit my family and community in South Africa as often as I can.

The Incredible Story of a Little-Known Slice of Smith History
A Special Series


PART 1: Where I Became

A new documentary brings to light the story of an apartheid-era program that gave Black South African women the opportunity to study at Smith. 

PART 2: Full Scholarship, Full Potential

An interview with one of the women who benefited from Smith’s South African scholarship program.

Desiree Lalbeharie ’90 was featured on the cover of the Winter 1990 SAQ.