“Every day when I’m at university, I remember how hard my mom worked,” says Rebecca Tshangela. Rebecca’s not only inspired by her hardworking mom’s example, she’s also grateful that she invested in her education.
Growing up in Cape Town in the Langa East township was hard, says Rebecca, who’s currently doing her honours in agriculture at Stellenbosch University. Yet the grounding her parents gave her, especially her mom, allowed her to overcome difficult circumstances.
“My mom got married very young, at 16, so she finished her matric while she was already married,” says Rebecca. “I was raised by both my parents and I have five siblings, four of whom are my mother’s and one who is my father’s outside child. I attended primary school in Parow and high school at Groote Schuur High School.” Working as a train driver, Rebecca’s mother initially managed to fund her children’s education. “My mom managed to get a job at Transnet which was lucky for her because she only had her matric,” says Rebecca. “At that time, it was very hard to get a proper job as Apartheid was still a big issue. So, it was difficult for her to adapt but because she’s very strong and brave, she managed.”
Rebecca’s mother also worked hard to give her children the best possible start. “She made sure we went to good schools,” says Rebecca. “That was one thing that she wanted, the best education for us. So, she invested the money she got at Transnet in our education, but it got to a point where she couldn’t afford it when all five of us were in school. Because we were smart kids with potential, we got exempted from school fees though, which was amazing. Going to those schools also helped because we came back late from sports and weren’t exposed much to what was happening in the township. I’m grateful for that part that she played; it really made a difference.”
Rebecca initially came to Stellenbosch University without any funding. “My mom was very stressed because with the little salary she was earning, it was going to be impossible to afford university fees,” she says. “I applied for funding late and had to wait for a certain period for NSFAS to release funds. Then someone at the bursary offices saw my marks and recommended that I apply for Moshal.” Rebecca did so and was accepted. From there everything changed. “It’s been a really amazing scholarship. Moshal helped a lot, not just in terms of finances but also with navigating varsity life and the environment change that comes with that.”
Asked why she chose to study agriculture; Rebecca says she loves the science and technology behind it. “I’ve always been a science and mathematics person, but medicine and engineering weren’t really for me. When I found out about agriculture, I knew that was for me, I love it. I was struck by the need to address food security issues especially with the population growing. I wanted to be the person who contributes to solving that problem.”
Inspired and inspiring
Rebecca wholeheartedly identifies with the Moshal value of integrity and says that paying it forward is also very important to her. “At the moment I’m involved in many community initiatives where I grew up in Langa, especially in collaboration with my local church. We do a lot of youth programmes and I’m involved in their youth camps.” Rebecca also volunteers for a government community programme conducted over the holidays. “I come up with ideas of games, and so on, anything that can keep them busy over the holidays so that they don’t get involved in negative things. I also mentor students and tell them about things that I do.”
While Rebecca inspires the youth, she herself remains inspired by her mother. “Her life inspires me,” says Rebecca. “She lost her parents at 9-years-old, so she had no-one to guide her. She always reminds us that we’re lucky that we have people to do that for us. The fact that she was able to stand up for herself, to know what she really wanted in life and set goals, inspires me a lot. The environment she grew up in was very difficult – it’s easy to lose your dreams and not to follow them. Even today, although she’s now lost her job, she’s still pushing. She’s sells clothes and so on – she’s a really hardworking woman.”
With a mother who’s always worked hard but has also been there for her kids, it’s unsurprising that Rebecca’s living by her example. The quote that’s a key motivator for Rebecca underpins this way of thinking. “The world is run by those that show up.”