Zandile Mawela is proving that your past doesn’t have to determine your future success
Cape Town - Zandile Mawela is a living example that you can overcome anything if you are determined to succeed.
Her early years were mired in poverty and tragedy. Her father died when she was four and her mother, who suffered from hypertension and diabetes, had both legs amputated before dying when Mawela was 17. The grandmother who raised her and lived with them was later raped and murdered.
“We lived in two rondavels which always leaked when it rained. Almost every day my grandmother would send me next door to ask for basics like mielie-meal, sugar and tea. It was so embarrassing, as when my neighbours opened the door and saw me, they would say: ’Uyawazocela ntoni’ (What are you going to ask for now?)” Mawela recalls.
“Living with five siblings in a small space made it very difficult to study. The holes in my school skirt had been stitched up so many times that the kids called me ‘Strachan.’ They laughed at my hand-me-down school shoes which were so big for me that I stuffed them with paper.”
Her life-changing opportunity came when she was accepted into the Engen Maths and Science School in Cala when she was in Grade 10.
“I attended Batandwa Ndondo Senior Secondary and was one of a handful of learners accepted into the Engen programme from my school.
“For the first time in my life I started to believe in myself. My confidence grew and the idea that I could be the first person in my family to pass matric and go to university seemed possible.”
Every Saturday morning for three years, Mawela attended the free supplementary maths, science and English classes offered by Engen.
“I was extremely proud of my Engen Maths and Science School uniform because it made me feel special, and I started to dream about having a real future with endless possibilities.
“The lessons provided challenging content and really pushed me to think more critically.”
She lost her uncle on the day of her first matric exam which was very difficult, but she persisted and managed to not only pass but also secure a scholarship to attend the University of the Western Cape to study nursing.
“After working as a nurse for three years in the Eastern Cape, I was extremely excited as I managed to secure a new position in Saudi Arabia and was planning to relocate but then lockdown happened and I was unable to travel,” she said.
Yet, despite the disappointment of the past few months, Zandile remains positive, hardened by her tough journey to qualify as a nurse and the extreme hardship and poverty she faced growing up in Mbenge, a village near Cala in the Eastern Cape.
As the primary caregiver to her younger brother and a foster parent to her sister’s children, she has faced extremely tough times financially and emotionally over the past few years, often placing her own needs and life on hold.
“My Women's Day message to my fellow women is to always remember that we are enough! We are strong! We are talented! There isn't anything we put our minds to, that we can't achieve. We're not our parents' mistakes, we are not our backgrounds. We are only responsible for our own future and for the future of our children.”
Despite having her dreams put on hold by Covid-19, the registered nurse remains determined to obtain her Master’s degree and work overseas.
Over the past few months, Mawela has been one of the many heroic health-care workers who has played a crucial role in the fight against the pandemic, working as a locum and saving lives in hospitals across the Western Cape.
“My Engen Maths and Science School teacher, Mrs Daniso, helped me get through the tough times and I still remember her words today: ’If it is to be, it is up to me’.
“I believe that I'm not responsible for my past, but what happens in my future is totally my responsibility.
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