Sonwabile Tafeni  

Sonwabile means “We are happy” in isiXhosa – and ‘Soso’ Tafeni definitely lives up to her name.

True to her name, Sonwabile is a ray of sunshine. “People say that whenever I walk into a room, I bring happiness. I like to put smiles on everyone’s faces, and I think that’s why I get on so well with other people,” she says.

Now in her first year studying towards a BCom in Management Science at Stellenbosch University, Soso also devotes a lot of her time to working for the Earthchild Project in Khayelitsha.

The project aims to inspire a new generation of healthy, confident and conscious young leaders. It works with primary school children and teachers, providing programs that focus on the environment, health and life-skills – teaching practical skills such as yoga, mindfulness and organic gardening to over 3 500 children and 300 teachers.

Soso is the first child in her family to attend university and says graduating well is the most important thing she needs to focus on right now. She also has plans to start her own NGO focusing on supporting high school children with their academics and preparing them for entrance into university.

Accessing opportunities
“I want to focus on giving back to my own community in Khayelitsha. There are only a few kids from my community who have had access to university, and I want to change that so that they can have more opportunities available to them,” she says.

Unlike many of her peers, Soso and her three siblings were fortunate to have been raised by both of her parents, who are still happily married. She attended Sakumlandela Primary School in Site B, Khayelitsha where she was President of the Rotary Club. Thanks to the good grades she achieved, she was able to transfer to the Centre of Science and Technology (Cosat) for high school.

“My maths teacher, Mr Mkhwanazi, was the best guy ever,” she says. “He was more like a father figure to us and gave us so much support to help us in and outside the classroom.”

Soso is close to her father, who has been her strongest supporter. “I usually tell my Dad everything. Whenever I’m down, he has a way of cheering me up and keeping me going,” she says. “I remember stressing so badly before the matric results were out. I couldn’t stop crying and my dad told me that whatever results I got, he and my family would be proud of me because they knew how hard I had worked,” she says.

Free to choose

Sonwabile loves the freedom and independence that comes with being a student. “Nobody tells you what you have to do, or mustn’t do – you can make your own decisions for yourself,” she says. “I love the fact that it’s really chilled, even though the workload can get very challenging,” she says.

Soso has found an ideal distraction from the stresses and strains of academia: she has joined the Paw Society on campus and loves to spend her free Saturdays at the animal shelters, feeding, grooming and playing with the dogs and cats.

Soso plans to change her course next year to a B.Acc in financial accounting. “I love working with numbers and money,” she says. She aims to study further after graduation and qualify as a chartered accountant.

Soso was introduced to the Moshal Scholarship Program by her high school principal, and was one of the few who took the initiative to fill in the required application forms. “I took my chance and applied as I believe Moshal is the best scholarship a student could have,” she says.

“I wasn’t actually expecting to get the scholarship. I’d already decided to give up because it was already February and I didn’t have any funding, so when I heard from Moshal that I had been awarded the scholarship I was so happy, I could hardly believe it,” she adds.

Soso says the scholarship has motivated her to be the best student she can be. She is grateful for all the academic and emotional support she receives from other Moshal scholars and from the organisation itself.

“It’s the first time I have been able to buy some toiletries and some clothes for myself, as my father is the only one working at home. The allowance has lifted a financial burden from my family, as they now don’t have to borrow money to take care of me,” she adds.

She has a strong sense of self, and is a firm believer in remaining true to her goals and ambitions. “Be yourself in a world where others want you to change who you are. Other people will lose themselves and their morals and give in to temptations, but if you are steadfast and being true to yourself in whatever situation you are in, then you will flourish,” she advises.