Tiny Mapodile may have a name that means small but there is nothing diminutive about her. She may have come from a little-known South African tribe in Bushbuckridge, on the Mozambican border, but that hasn’t got in her way.
This 18-year-old Pulana, who speaks Sepulana, is in her second year of a BSc in Biological Sciences, on her way to doing Honours in forensic science at Wits University.
Tiny is the youngest of six children brought up singlehandedly by their mother, who made a subsistence living from farming and selling organic colocassia. (The nutritious roots are eaten like potatoes and the leaves used in soups).
“While some times we did go to sleep a little hungry, we had a peaceful and loving home,” says Tiny. “I remember when I was a little girl we would sit around the fire at night and my mom would tell us stories.”
By the time Tiny started Grade R at five her mother had already taught her to read and write and so she was moved up to Grade 1. “My mother always told us the only way to get out of our situation and our town – where there weren’t opportunities – was through a great education. Most girls we knew finished matric and got married, seeing that as an achievement. My mom ensured we worked hard and did well.”
Tiny is especially bright and, although she claims she was an introvert in primary school, “everyone wanted to be my friend because I was the smart kid”. By the time she got to high school she had found her voice and “was always debating and speaking out at school”.
After a term in Grade 8 she was moved up a grade.
“I was close to all my teachers and principal. I suppose I was the whole school’s teacher’s pet,” she says. “I didn’t put up with peer pressure and I was never bullied because I could always talk my way out of things.”
While all her academic marks were excellent, she developed a great interest in verbal presentations and all things media-related. “I was always good at anything that required me to speak. Talking was my greatest skill,” she says. Her teachers and family didn’t believe media would be a stable career for her. Her family wanted her to be a doctor, but, she says, “blood freaks me out and I can’t deal with sick people”.
Her creative writing teacher introduced her to forensic analysis and after doing some research, watching many forensic-related TV shows and job shadowing, she decided it was the career for her. “I am fascinated by what you can discover from DNA testing and fingerprinting,” she says.
She was determined to go to Wits although it meant she had to do a more general BSc degree first and then do forensic science at medical school afterwards.
Tiny did eight subjects for matric and achieved five distinctions. She was accepted by Wits and applied for a number of bursaries. In April of her first year she was ecstatic when told she had been given a scholarship by the Moshal Scholarship Program.
Tiny believes that she is best able to “pay it forward”, as is the Moshal Scholarship way, by giving motivational talks and helping people understand what they are capable of.
“I am also determined to enable people to read – which is my passion – so last year we helped build a library in Thokoza and I plan to help create libraries in many schools, starting in Bushbuckridge. I want to get people to donate books.”
She explains that there was no library at her former school and she would get books from a deputy principal with whom she shared a love of reading.
When she is finished studying she wants to work as a forensic analyst in Johannesburg. “This city is ‘woke’ [slang for always vibey and happening] and I love being here. Bushbuckridge is way too quiet for me,” she says.
There is a part of Tiny that still hankers after a media career and she might one day follow that path, but not before she has made a success of her forensic career and been able to pay it forward.