Forty years on, Mchunu has used the pain she endured as an orphan to prove to the youth that nothing is impossible in life.
“They say, you can predict the future of any country by the way it treats its children - and by extension, its youth,” she said.
Mchunu, from Pietermaritzburg, married Premier Willies Mchunu last year on his 70th birthday.
Prior to becoming the first lady, she was an astute businesswoman in the textile industry.
Mchunu has lived a life of hardship. After her parents died, it became difficult to make ends meet which forced her to relocate to Msinga, central KwaZulu-Natal, where she lived with her relatives.
“Having to endure the hardship of losing both my parents as a child laid the foundation for what I see now as a life of strength and courage. I was raised by my community.”
Mchunu later returned to Pietermaritzburg, where she had to start a life that would not just support her dreams and desires, but primarily, those of her family and the community that raised her.
“This is why I am committed to sowing back into our communities, however small the effort, it makes a difference.”
Mchunu praised women who broke barriers and overcame difficult situations that seemed to be beyond them.
“Those are the women I looked up to and continue to do so today. I believe they are me, and I am them,” said Mchunu.
She said being the first lady gave her an opportunity to be part of nation building.
She uses her foundation, the Zodwa Mchunu Foundation, to focus on the youth.
“Many people want to know what prompted me to start the foundation.
I grew up under challenging circumstances, and I can identify with these youngsters.
“Apart from my background, over the past few months, I have met and interacted with young people living in the streets of various parts of Durban and Pietermaritzburg,” she said.
“The reality is that we expect more from our youth. Yet, there are young people who come from broken families with no sense of love and compassion.
They have nobody to guide them on how to deal with the challenges of life,” said Mchunu.
“We are calling upon each and every one of you to join hands with Zodwa Mchunu Foundation.
We must build a prosperous future for our children, irrespective of who they are and the colour of their skin,” she said.
She said her foundation would be embarking on fundraising campaigns to raise money for a youth academy.
“It will cater in the main, for youngsters living on the streets of Durban, Pietermaritzburg and various parts of the province.”
Mchunu said the academy would focus on the promotion of behavioural change, skills development and entrepreneurship.