Young as she is, Siphosethu Sirayi could write a book on her life that would inspire others to greatness. But she’s only just getting used to the idea of telling her story….
Siphosethu Sirayi may be young, but she has experienced more in life than most people twice or even three times her age. Now working as a consulting analyst at Dimension Data as a member of their graduate program, her journey has been one of twists and turns. Even her current position is an unexpected gift, she says. “I didn’t even study anything related – I studied biochemistry and microbiology!” she exclaims.
The professional switch was due to the fact that there are few employment opportunities or graduate programs in microbiology, says Siphosethu. Not that she has any regrets. “It’s really fun; I’m learning more than I thought I would, and I love analytics and problem-solving, so it’s a great challenge for me,” she enthuses.
The company’s selection criteria proved the perfect fit for her, says Siphosethu, even though she would not have described herself as an ‘out of the box’ thinker. “I thought they were the perfect company for me; I am a curious person, I like learning new things and I ask a lot of questions, so though working here meant a lot of study and preparation – I had to learn the jargon, just how to speak the language – I realised that before I got in here, and I was ready for it,” she adds.
The job signified a major move to the big city for the girl born and bred in the Eastern Cape. Siphosethu hails from Mdantsane in East London, and spent four years studying at Rhodes University. “I always wanted to move out of the Eastern Cape, to explore and start over, so moving to Johannesburg, on my own, has been really exciting,” she says. Her family wasn’t thrilled with her decision, she admits. “I come from a big family – I’m one of seven children – and support, to them, is everything.”
Grace under pressure
Siphosethu’s tightknit immediate family share a bond deepened by a shared trauma that left them homeless for years. Her father, the breadwinner, had a taxi business that provided well for the family. But they lost everything when he was imprisoned for eight years.
Siphosethu was in Grade 3 at the time, and remembers it all too clearly. “We were chased out of our neighbourhood, and our home was burnt down,” she recalls. Their extended family provided little support, and Siphosethu, her mother and siblings ended up under a bridge. “I remember my mother saying: ‘I guess this is where we are going to spend the night’ – then it hit me: we were homeless.”
It took three years before her mother’s fight for a home paid off. In that time, Siphosethu realised a resourcefulness she had not known existed. “My mother has a hearing disability, and wears a hearing aid, so she found it really hard to get work. So I took the initiative, and got a job selling fruit and veggies,” she reveals. Only in Grade 4 at the time, Siphosethu is understandably proud of her younger self: “I can’t believe I was the breadwinner for a while,” she notes.
The whole experience was horrific, but brought the family closer, and made them all the more resilient, says Siphosethu. “We went from having everything to nothing, until my dad came back in 2010. But the struggle made me more streetwise, smarter about money, stronger, more focused – and my future is so clear. I know how you can lose something quickly; in a second your life can turn around. It taught me about financial management, and made me an honest person,” she notes.
She also refused to let the experience define her; the straight A student missed a year of school due to moving around, but persevered with her studies, which led her to Rhodes – and the Moshal Scholarship Program.
“My experience at Rhodes was amazing; it’s relatively smaller than other universities, so classes are more intimate and you get the attention you need,” she notes. “Having Moshal’s support also helped me feel nurtured,” adds Siphosethu. “I had applied to a lot of bursaries, and when I was told I had been accepted by Moshal it was just unbelievable – I thought it could only be by the grace of God,” she exclaims. “Moshal is more than just a scholarship – they grow you, they invest so much more than money in you – they go beyond, from helping you get a job, to a life coach… I’m really appreciative of it, and grateful each and every day,” she adds.
Resilient and independent, Siphosethu lives by the adage that: “A ship does not sink because of the water around it, but because of the water that gets into it,” and says her life is guided by attitude and approach. “If you say anything to people, it should be inspiring, it should be positive,” she believes, adding: “It’s better to create something that people criticise than to create nothing and criticise others.” With that fiercely indomitable spirit, and clear determination to “be that inspirational person” Siphosethu is clearly a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to all.