From an early age Muhammad Hussain believed university to be a place where the exchange of ideas and knowledge was of paramount importance. “And being a curious kid, where else to explore the world than through a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds,” says Muhammad, who now holds a BCom Accountancy degree and a postgraduate diploma in journalism.
His parents were determined that he and his brother would have everything they needed to achieve, but financial stability was an uphill battle.
Muhammad was born in Evander, a small mining town in Mpumalanga, but his family moved around a lot for “financial” reasons. They often had to move on after his father's attempts at a business failed.
Consequently, Muhammad and his younger brother went to a number of very different schools. “I was a chubby fellow with self-confidence issues,” recalls Muhammad. “I never really engaged much with other children, just kept to myself and focused on my school work. Because of the moving, I never really made lasting friends.”
Muhammad got his first taste of the satisfaction of exceptional marks in Grade 4 when he scored 90% in a geography test. “I wanted to have that feeling again and eventually it became an obsession for me to better myself,” he explains.
Although his parents tried to mask their financial difficulties from their children, Mohammad understood. “I’ve seen the strain financial pressure can put on a family and I have seen the way the world looks at you when you have money and when you don’t,” he says. “I learned that sometimes life throws unexpected curve balls at you, but your attitude to those is more important than the problem itself.”
With business and finances a constant theme in his family, finance and accounting intrigued him. In high school he vacillated between wanting to move into the sciences and business fields. His highest marks were always for maths, business and accounting. “I have this obsession with accountability and after working at an accounting firm for a week, I was sold on the concept that this is what accounts primarily do,” he says.
Muhammad applied for both science and business courses and was immediately accepted for a B.Com Accountancy at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. He grabbed it with both hands.
But his introduction to university was “sad and lonely”. Having built it up as the experience of a lifetime, he was disappointed. “I quickly learnt that – as with most things in the world – expectations and reality are vastly different. I knew virtually no one in a new and strange place.
“I was brought up in a very conservative family, never having smelled alcohol or been to a club before. So seeing my res mates go out every night and come back drunk was a real culture shock,” he says.
From the beginning, though, he loved the academic freedom of university.
When, about four weeks into the academic year, he got a call from the university’s financial aid office, he thought something was wrong with his government student loan. His heart “soared” when he realised they had contacted him to offer him a full Moshal Scholarship. “It was like a rock had been lifted from my shoulders … the scholarship allowed me to have the freedom to pursue my dreams fully.”
His marks put him in the top 10 percentile in his first year, and campus life improved. He was elected president of the Muslim Students Association and onto the house committee as res sports captain.
But things were not good back at home. “There were times I didn’t want to go home because seeing my dad and mum going through such hard times pained me to the core,” he says.
Muhammad graduated at the beginning of 2014. He had the option of doing economics honours, repeating a year to get into accounting honours or taking another post-graduate course. “I was tired of numbers and especially numbers that would not correlate and just seemed imaginary. So I figured I'd tried the numbers path and now wanted to try the wordsmith path.” Muhammad fell in love with journalism that year.
He was employed the following year as part of the online/multimedia team at City Press newspaper and has been there ever since. “My work is my life. I am learning from the experts in print and experimenting in the digital space,” he says.
In the next few years he plans to travel, work for an international news organisation, and to study further.
He is also working on a plan to teach children through technology. This fits his belief that education is the key to salvation and, like the Moshal Scholarship Program, he wants to change the world through knowledge. And, he says, “I also want to grant my parents peace of mind in their retirement.”