Talking from her family home yesterday, 23-year-old Shamila Mpinga said she had achieved through the love, kindness and support of her extended family and the Muslim community into which she was born.
With her mother working away from home, Mpinga was raised by an aunt and uncle. “Notwithstanding the limited resources, my mother always ensured that I was well taken care of,” she said.
“I was also taught independence at a young age. I voluntarily started working at the age of 12, mostly as a cashier at local shops, and have not stopped since,” said Mpinga, who completed high school with five distinctions in 2012.
She subsequently received a scholarship to study law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
After her first year of study, Mpinga was awarded the Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for being among the top 25 first-year students.
After completing a degree summa cum laude, she read for a Master's in Mineral Law at the University of Cape Town, where she was awarded the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship in 2017.
After a rigorous national selection process, Mpinga has now been awarded the Rhodes scholarship to study for an MSc in law and finance and an MBA at the University of Oxford in the UK - a world far removed from the dusty streets of Dambuza.
She said the doors of education had opened to her after she was awarded a bursary to attend the Maritzburg Muslim School for Girls.
“Although my family are not wealthy, I don't feel that I have struggled through life because I have been surrounded by supportive people. At school, a close friend of mine brought me lunch every day since Grade 8.
“I have truly felt the effects of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I'm the first person in my family to get a degree.”
As a young adult, Mpinga says she is now driven by a vision of a more equal world.
“I trust that my earning the Rhodes Scholarship provides hope for individuals with backgrounds similar to mine to push the boundaries, surpass expectations and to not be victims of circumstance,” she said.
“Ten years ago, if someone had predicted that I would have a law degree and was preparing to study at Oxford, I would have laughed at them,” Mpinga said.
“I now realise that my reach stretches beyond my own family. If my life is a testament to anything, it is that the best adventures are often least expected. I encourage others to be open to possibilities they have never entertained before.”