When Siyabonga Sithole’s mother fell ill while he was writing his matric finals, he had to work harder than ever. But his desire to fulfil his potential and to give his family “something to smile about” meant he excelled despite the challenges he faced.
Now in his second year of a Bachelor of Accounting degree at the University of the Free State, UFS, Siyabonga is continuing to make his family proud. “I’m from a small town by Newcastle in KZN,” he says. “We’re a family of four: me, my mom and my two younger sisters. Growing up, I had to take a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. My father’s still alive but he found another family and basically abandoned us, so my mom had to take care of all of us.”
Siyabonga says his mother worked so hard to create a happy home that he didn’t initially realise just how difficult things were. “It was hard finding jobs so she would go for peace jobs and support us through those. I had a very good upbringing, and I couldn’t see her struggle at home. My mom used to make things happy for us, so I only started realising how tough things were when I was in matric and she got sick.”
Working his socks off
By his own admission, Siyabonga only started taking school seriously when he reached matric. “In the early days I was passing but not to my full potential,” he says. “It was only in matric that I worked very hard. I realised that this is what I can do, and this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Yet as his finals approached, Siyabonga had to face his mom’s health crisis. “It was a busy time and I had to be the one taking care of my sisters while making sure that I studied and that I passed.” Yet Siyabonga remained determined to succeed. “2016 was a difficult year so I wanted us to be able to celebrate something, to have something to smile and be happy about. I had to work my socks off to make sure that I achieved what I wanted to achieve no matter the circumstances and I did just that.” Thankfully Siyabonga’s mom recovered and he excelled.
Fighting to go to university
The next step was getting a university degree. “My love for accounting dates back to grade 9,” says Siyabonga. “My motivation to study accounting came from a guy from my hometown who was doing accounting and chatted to us. I started learning about the field.”
After taking a year off after Matric, Siyabonga came to UFS in 2018, but battled to find funding. He ended up being sponsored by Nomonde, a director at the marketing department. “She said she’d sponsor my tuition and accommodation for 2018 as I’d missed the Moshal deadline and other bursaries hadn’t worked out. She said I could apply for Moshal the next year – I just needed to pass first year with an average of over 60%, which I did. I was approved for the Moshal scholarship this year. It was such a relief, I thought I may have to go back home. I was losing hope but on final registration week, I got the call that I’d been accepted. You can just imagine how I felt!”
The power of patience
Siyabonga is committed to uplifting students in his community. “I was paying it forward even before I got the Moshal Scholarship,” he says. “In 2017, when I wasn’t studying, I’d go to my old school and teach maths and physical sciences during the holidays. Last year I helped the matriculants there apply for varsity.”
Asked what message he gives learners based on his experiences, Siyabonga says: “Patience, patience, patience. If you want it, hold onto it, God will make a way.” Siyabonga knows what it’s like to fight for what he wants. “At high school I didn’t have accounting as a subject so coming to varsity and saying I wanted to do a Bachelor of Accounting was a challenge. The people in the admin office pushed me to change to BCom but I said: “No, this is what I want to do.”
“Chasing what you want no matter the circumstances is key,” he concludes. “Just hold on, it won’t be tough forever. Perseverance – another Moshal value – is so important. I went through a lot last year and if I was somewhat weaker, I may have dropped out. But here I am today still persevering. I was motivated to keep going by asking: “Why am I here, doing this? What will it take to improve my life?” I come from a very difficult background; I know my struggle. I know what I can do and what highs I can reach so I know why I’m doing this. Knowing why is where it starts.”