Esther Mafikeng’s two children – aged five and one – are her biggest incentives to do well in her BCom Accounting Science course. They are also the driving force behind her ultimate goal of becoming financial director of her own company.
When this 23-year-old final-year Pretoria University student goes home to her little ones every weekend she is reminded of how much she wants to give them. “I don’t want them to face the financial and other problems I had when I was growing up,” she says. “Even though I gave birth to them at a very young age, I am determined they should have everything I didn’t have.”
Esther grew up in a small village near Brits in North West, where she still lives with her family. She was one of six children and her parents earned a subsistence living going from house to house selling fruit and vegetables. She was 10 when her father eventually got a “proper job”. The family finances were stretched even thinner when an aunt died, and three cousins moved in. Esther and her older sister were beaten and frequently sent home from their first primary school. “The teachers treated us as inferior because of our financial status and background.”
So, their father moved them to another school. “I truly loved school even though I often had to go without lunch or school uniform. I didn’t let those, or other obstacles stand in my way to success.” Throughout her schooling Esther worked extremely hard, not wanting to be the “second best” in her class. “The fact that we were a poor family inspired me to study even harder so that I would end the cycle of poverty in my family,” she says.
At a school at which most learners didn’t see the value of education, Esther was harassed for being so hard-working and doing so well. But she says: “I take failure and hardships as learning curves and the end goal as my motivation.”
As a young girl Esther had dreamed of being a pilot, but that fell away when she realised she “didn’t love” all the subjects needed to take it further. In high school she fell in love with commerce, not least because she had an exceptional accountancy teacher who became her mentor.
In matric in 2010 Esther achieved three distinctions: 90% for accounting, 88% for economics and 80% for mathematics. But her determination to do a BCom was put on hold for a year because she fell pregnant and her father was retrenched. “I was so worried about how we were going to survive with no income.”
She got back on track the following year when she was accepted to Pretoria University. “My parents went to a loan shark to pay for my registration fee and I hoped that as long as I registered I would get a bursary or student loan,” says Esther.
Her first few months of 2012 were “hell” as she worried about finances and struggled to cope with the workload and different way of studying. She was also taking long-distance public transport every day from her village to Pretoria. “I often had to miss classes because of irregular rides,” she says. “I failed to such an extent that I felt like quitting.”
The turning point was finding out she was a recipient of a Moshal Scholarship. “In March I saw a huge amount of money in my student account and I was afraid to say anything because I thought if I inquired, they would realise there was a mistake.” But it was no mistake, as she discovered when she received an explanatory phone call. “My tears fell, and I thanked the lady so many times. I couldn’t wait to get home to share my wonderful news with my family.”
The Moshal Scholarship Program has, Esther says, “changed the stop sign that was my life into a U-turn”. After that she took control of her studies, consulting with lecturers and changing her study techniques. In 2015, she gave birth to a second child, which meant she still spent a great deal of time and money travelling between university and home.
Nevertheless, she is now in her final year and plans to do her honours degree next year.
Those who know and love her believe in her. “They think I have something special that makes me want to achieve more and that I don’t feel challenges, nor do I let things pull me down,” she says. And she certainly doesn’t want to let them, her little girl and boy or the Moshal Scholarship folk down.
So, while it hasn’t been an easy road, she says: “I will be running my own business within the next decade and working as the chief financial accountant.”