“I just can't give up now. I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy.”
These lyrics, from the song Mary, Mary, were what kept Mxolisi Nkosi going through the darkest times of his first year at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
They resonated with this lonely young man who felt out of his depth studying a BSc Physiotherapy. He wasn't enjoying the course and didn’t know how he was going to pay his way.
Then Mxolisi was awarded a Moshal Scholarship and was able to move to the University of Pretoria to study a BCom Accounting Sciences. And things have looked up for him since.
Until the age of 12 Mxolisi grew up in Elukwatini, a semi-rural township in Mpumalanga, with his single mother and never having known his father. His mother did domestic piece jobs to ensure that her four children didn’t go to bed hungry.
When she died, when Mxolisi was in Grade six, he and his siblings had to move in with their grandmother. On her meagre social grant, she was already looking after their aunt, cousins and uncle, none of whom were employed, in a four-roomed house. For Mxolisi, the loss of his mother was devastating. “Losing her was my darkest moment,” he says. “I was so close to my mother and wanted so much to grow, finish school and be the best I could be to help look after her financially as she always hustled so hard for me.”
In her memory, Mxolisi was determined to excel, despite the fact that, having asthma, he sometimes had to miss school, which was a 45-minute walk each way. “Even though I missed some classes I worked hard and was always in the top 10 in my grade,” he says.
His school's lack of resources “meant we had to use the little we had to make it through. Learning was our responsibility as teachers could only help to a certain extent. In Grade 12 we formed after-school study groups where we shared our knowledge among ourselves and consulted with teachers when there was a need. This really helped us understand challenging concepts, especially in maths and physics.”
He decided to become a chartered accountant after being selected to attend a development camp run by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). “Being exposed to what the profession offered I immediately fell in love with the idea of becoming one.” He made the decision having accounting as a school subject.
Mxolisi did exceptionally well in matric, coming in the top 10 of matric students in the Gert Sibanda district (one of three districts in Mpumalanga).
Having never been away from home before, his arrival at UCT was a shock to his system.
“It was very hard to make friend and I spent most of my first year being lonely,” he recalls. He was stunned by the pace of study and the workload. “I called my family to tell them I could not take it any more and I was quitting varsity because I wasn’t going to make it. It was too much to handle,” he says.
His older brothers convinced him to persevere and used to call him often and share their own experiences of first year to reassure him that what we was going through was normal. “So I learnt to take each day at a time.”
A R20 000 entrance scholarship from UCT had allowed him to register and move into res. His stress about future finances was soon lifted when he was notified that he was a Moshal Scholarship recipient. “I felt like I was dreaming or that someone from my school was pranking me,” he recalls.
“I am now positive about my future and look forward to graduating in record time and starting to help my family.”
Although he was to change degrees and universities, Mxolisi achieved five distinctions in his first year. In his first year at UP, he attained three distinctions. He is now in his second year BCom and loving it.
He plans ultimately to work for “one of the leading companies” and is considering becoming a tax practitioner once he has his chartered accountant qualification.
He says he sees Martin Moshal as a good example of the “future me”. “To see the difference he is making in people’s lives is amazing. Touch lives is what I am going to do after getting my education,” Mxolisi says.
In the meantime he will keep the words of Mary, Mary on his lips: “And there will be battles that I will have to fight.
But victory or defeat, it's up to me to decide.
But how can I expect to win if I never try.” And Mxolisi will keep trying.