Ntombizodwa Mahlangu is domestic worker turned graduate and author
This is evident in her book, Brightness of Diamonds Through Soil, an autobiography of how she went from being a domestic worker to being a graduate and now a published author.
Born in the dusty streets of Tonteldoos, Emhlabaneni, near Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, the 33-year-old always dreamed of pursuing an education.
However, a lack of resources and development in the rural areas, a poor education system, financial difficulty, and an unplanned pregnancy, all got in the way of her dreams.
“I grew up on a farm with my grandparents and three siblings, while my parents were in Gauteng trying to make a living. It was a tough environment with no electricity, no water supply, and extremely far from school.
“My late mother was a domestic and my late father worked in the construction sector,” she said.
Be that as it may, it was going to take more than that environment to extinguish the fire. To make something of herself, she always dreamed of pursuing her education.
So she persisted and completed Grade 12 at Tonteldoos Secondary School in 2003. At the age of 18, she moved to a shack in Mountain View village in KwaMhlanga to take care of her younger sister, while her parents worked in Benoni.
“My dream was to be an electrical engineer, but at that stage, I didn’t know how to get financial assistance because there were no career expos in Tonteldoos,” she said.
And as luck would have it, in 2004, she fell pregnant and had to pass on an opportunity to pursue her studies at Tshwane University of Technology.
To provide for her daughter, she started work as a domestic worker in Pretoria East in 2007.
“I must admit, it was not easy breaking into the domestic worker field. I was young and skinny, and most employers thought I wasn’t ready. They normally opt for elderly women, who were perceived as better caregivers and more responsible. I couldn’t get a break.”
Eventually, after applying to be a domestic worker through an agent, she scored numerous gigs in and around Pretoria. In 2008, she worked for a family that was the catalyst in her success story.
For four years she served the family, while determined to still make something of herself. During this time, she taught herself to use a computer and Microsoft Office, learnt to drive, and eventually, found employment as a receptionist.
“I had to pay for my own fees while taking care of my daughter and myself. I even bought myself an extremely old computer for practice,” she recalled.
From there, she worked as a personal assistant and a public relations officer at a large organisation in the debt regulation industry. With the support of her employer, she started studying part-time in 2014.
Her then employer Eleanor Cornelius assisted to pay for her exams, which she passed. Cornelius said it was a no brainer because she could see how Mahlangu was hungry for knowledge and ambitious.
In 2018, at the age of 32, Mahlangu finally obtained her degree in Public Administration and Communication Facilitation with Unisa. She managed to complete her degree while dealing with the passing of both her parents and while taking care of her daughter full-time.
“In 2014, I lost my mom, and in 2015, I lost my grandmother, and again in 2017, I lost my dad. My whole support structure was depleted,” she said.
It was a social media post of her in a domestic worker’s uniform next to one of her in her graduation gown that prompted the idea of a book.
People flooded her timeline and asked her to write a book about her life.
Following suit, she started jotting down an account of her experiences: growing up in a mud hut in Tonteldoos without electricity, living in a shack in KwaMhlanga, being a teenage mother and working as a domestic worker.
Because of her unrelenting drive to obtain a tertiary education, she overcame the odds. She is self published, and the book will be available in August, in both soft and hard copy. “While writing my experiences, I realised that I had a strong sense of writing and explored it to the maximum,” she said.
She is now employed at a large entity in the South African credit industry. She has become an advocate for the education of young women in South Africa.
“As cliché as it sounds, it’s true: don’t let your circumstances cloud your heartfelt dreams. We all have a journey on Earth, so trust the process and have faith,” she said.
As a ripple effect, Mahlangu is also a motivational speaker at her church. She said she was inspired by her family, particularly her late mother, who also worked as a domestic worker.
“She passed on before I graduated, but she was very happy. She told me that although she did not have money to take me to school she wanted me to study,” she said.