Fezile Manzini

I am Fezile Manzini, I am a medical doctor. I was born in Johannesburg and had a very unstable childhood. My parents divorced when I was five years old and I had no contact with my father until I was in my late teens. I have three siblings – my twin brothers are both 22 and still studying and my sister is in Grade 11.

I have defied statistics. A person like me shouldn’t be where I am today.

I was a smart child and my father taught me to read before I went to primary school. I attended a boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal where I skipped Grade 1 because of my advanced reading abilities.

In Grade 11, I had to leave high school because my mother – then a single parent – couldn’t afford the fees. I pretended all was well although we were struggling at home. My saving grace came when my accountancy teacher saw a drop in my results and a change in my attitude and called me aside to find out what was wrong. I explained my predicament and she told me about a high school for academic achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds. I moved to that school in Grade 11.

The education there was on a par with private schooling, but it was subsidised, and my mother paid a fraction of my fees. I excelled and was soon in the top 10 of my class. A month before my final matric exams, we had to move in with my grandmother’s sister and I had to walk a long distance to get taxis to school every morning. But my siblings and I adjusted well. I used to study in the taxi. When I got home from school, I would record notes on my phone and play them back on my headphones in the taxi on the way to school. Matric was my “get out of jail card”, so I blocked out all the negative things that were happening around me and visualised myself in university, studying for my future.

Knowing that God loves me and has a plan for me has kept me going. I have always told myself that, one way or another, I would go far in life.

I wanted to be a doctor from the time I was six years old, but I was discouraged from doing that and, at some point, decided I needed to do law. When I volunteered at a law firm, they were so impressed with my work ethic that they offered me a full university scholarship. Anyone would have grabbed that opportunity with both hands, but I knew that God had a different plan for my life. I didn’t feel called to do law, so I declined the offer. I hoped and prayed that I had made the right decision.

I was accepted at Wits and Medunsa for medicine but chose to go to Stellenbosch University because I heard it had an excellent medical faculty. I had heard rumours of racism there and, being a bit of a daredevil, I wanted to experience what it was like at a so-called ‘hostile’ university.

I have always been a leader so soon I was applying to be part of the societies and committees on campus, and I made friends easily. I avoided negative influences and focused on excelling, knowing this was my ticket to a better future.

The excitement didn’t last long, though. Afrikaans became a problem and, when I raised this, I was asked why I opted for an Afrikaans university, among other unmentionables. The fees became a huge barrier for me. I took on holiday jobs and my mother worked multiple shifts and took out loans to keep me at university. My family sacrificed so much so I could stay at university — I will never take this for granted. My mother is my hero! She is so strong and has never given up, despite her circumstances.

I approached different companies for funding and LinkSA stepped in just when I needed it. Then the university’s bursary coordinator saw my potential and put my name forward for the Moshal Scholarship Program (MSP), for which I was selected in my third year. It was exactly the scholarship I had dreamed of and so much more.

I told my family, and everyone was elated. It took a while for me to actually believe my financial future was secure. From then on, I flourished academically and grew more confident, knowing that MSP had faith in my abilities. I pushed my own barriers and looked past the challenges on campus, believing I could do anything I set my mind to.

I behaved, acted and saw myself as a champion and so I became one. I stopped studying to pass, but rather to know, to be enlightened, to grow from where I was yesterday. I blogged in my free time, shared my knowledge with more junior students and dreamt of a brighter future.

I tried not to call home too often because they had situations with which I couldn’t help. My family always told me to focus on finishing my degree because I was their pillar of strength. My biggest reward in all these years was not the degree but being resilient in a difficult environment and dreaming big. My degree was my ticket, but what’s a ticket when it has no purpose or destination? I refused to be another employee or number in the state or even in the world. I still believe that I was born for a purpose and for a time like this!

The day I graduated, it hit me that all the suffering, tears, frustration and all the persistence had come to this! I was now a doctor! And I knew I was on that stage because of the hope and belief MSP had in me. The Moshal Scholarship is not just about funding, MSP helped to restore my dignity and enabled me to believe that I was important again.

I am a philanthropist and I want to use my degree to open doors to help others. I enjoy public health more than clinical medicine and want to work with organisations like the United Nations, but before I get ahead of myself I give my family money every month to help educate my siblings. I assist members of our church with financial or food aid and I give my patients more knowledge on furthering their education.

MSP has shaped me to be more of a giver than a receiver and I am forever grateful for their assistance. Kate Kuper, in particular, has had a significant impact upon my life. She is filled with strength and zeal yet it’s all laced in gentleness. I attend some of the programme’s events when my schedule allows, and I will always will be a part of the MSP family.