Xolani Djedje is an intern business analyst at e-commerce website Bidorbuy, but there was a time his life might have taken a very different path. When he first went to high school he was exposed to drugs and violence, the type of toxic influences he had previously been sheltered from. The “game-changer” for him was that he did not want to disappoint his parents. So he chose to focus instead on excelling at school.
“They had sacrificed a lot to ensure I went to school, so I always had that at the back of my mind when I had to make a decision,” says Xolani.
Xolani grew up in Lekazi – near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga – which he describes as a bustling community where everyone knows each other well. In his family it was never an option to skip church on Sundays.
Xolani belonged to local soccer clubs from the age of 13.
He has a younger brother who is 21 and studying at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, and a sister in Grade 11. “We are very close. We grew up playing together and have always been best friends,” says Xolani. He remembers how he and his brother would often buy the same clothes and end up being mistaken for twins because they are the same height. “We’ve always been open with each other about personal stuff and now that I am working, I’m supporting them financially so they can also achieve their dreams.”
He describes his parents as strict, but is grateful for their influence. When registering his high school subjects, for example, Xolani initially intended taking commerce subjects with maths literacy. His father, however, would have none of it and promptly went to Xolani’s principal to sign him up for pure maths instead. “I was very angry at the time, but it worked out to my advantage,” says Xolani.
Inspired by his accounting teacher, a “Mr Dludlu”, to pursue commerce, Xolani achieved many awards in high school. In 2011 he was the overall top pupil and in 2012, his matric year, he was the second-best scholar, recognised by the provincial department of education for his marks in accounting and maths. “Numbers seem to come easily to me,” he says.
Xolani describes himself as a focused student, who was always one of the first people to submit tasks before the due date. He was a class representative in 2010 and president of his school’s student representative council in 2012.
Xolani chose to study at Rhodes University because he believed the smaller set-up would allow him to interact more with his lecturers.
He managed to secure a government loan to study towards a BCom in mathematical statistics and economics. Then just a few months into his first year he was sitting in front of his laptop at his residence when he received an email from the financial aid office. It said that he had been awarded a scholarship by the Moshal Scholarship Program. So shocked was Xolani that he believed the email to be merely spam.
He phoned the number included in the email and was elated to find out that it was real and that he would no longer have to repay a loan for his education.
When he first got to Rhodes in 2013, Xolani felt lost because he was so far from home. He had never even been to the Eastern Cape before. “It was hard finding friends … I didn’t know anyone,” he explains. “But I believe that I eventually found and mixed with friends who shared the same goals and vision as me.”
Xolani continued playing soccer and even represented the university a few times. Besides tutoring maths and statistics, he joined groups like the Swati Society, the East African Society, and the Black Management Forum.
Now working in Johannesburg, Xolani says his job gives him the opportunity to be on the front line of solving business problems and coming up with ideas to improve the business system.
He enjoys that he is constantly able to improve his skills and is challenged to get out of his comfort zone. “For example, at university I never liked computer sciences and never understood why I had to do it to get my degree. Now, I am required to learn Google Analytics and coding. The e-commerce industry is always evolving so I learn something completely new every day.”
When he goes home every two months to visit his family, he also “pays it forward” by going back to both his primary and secondary schools to help pupils with subjects such as maths, accounting and business studies.
His dad is still one of his biggest cheerleaders. Says Xolani: “He always says that he’s very proud that I have come a long way, and that I have achieved what he wished he had achieved in his youth.”