“I like to live by the saying: ‘If your dreams aren’t scaring you, they aren’t big enough.”
Zenzele Dlamini’s first name means “do it yourself’ in Zulu and he has lived up to that name, never waiting around for anyone to help him do what he could do him-self. And it has paid off, considering he may never have finished school if he hadn’t been proactive. Zenzele, a B.Com graduate, completed his postgraduate diploma in enterprise management at Rhodes University at 2015 and he is now working at Tarsus Technology Group. He and his three siblings were raised by their single mother in Etete, a small township near Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal. “Our life had its challenges, but we lived in a church environment which shaped a lot of what I am today,” says Zenzele. His mother earned a living cleaning holiday rental homes in Ballito and, when his older sister finished matric, she also worked as a cleaner because there was no money for further education. “It really saddens me to think what she had to give up so that I could have this opportunity,” he says.
But no matter how difficult it was for his mother, he says, “I don’t ever remember going to bed hungry and she would always make a plan when we needed anything. At school, we always looked as good as everyone else because our clothes were clean and ironed. My mom always said no one needed to know our troubles,” he says. His mother always told him how important school was and that it didn’t matter if they didn’t have money because Zenzele could change his lot through education.
From as far back as he can remember, Zenzele was determined to do just that. “I was always a curious child and I loved reading. It was my escape and I knew that I had to work hard,” he says. Zenzele excelled at school and teachers asked him to tutor other children who were battling. “I loved that and find teaching so rewarding,” he says. His impact was felt in a school where classes were overcrowded with around 60 learners each and a dearth of textbooks.
Zenzele says that too few youngsters finished matric and many of those who did, ended up working on construction sites and waiting tables. “I went to school with some brilliant people who could have achieved so much, but few of them did because of their circumstances. Education is mostly a privilege not a right.”
In 2010, his matric year, there was a month-long teachers’ strike that scuppered many a matric, but Zenzele and his close friends were determined to get into university. So, despite the teachers not working, they went to school every day and worked through the syllabus. “We were all very bright and when we didn’t understand something we would keep at it until we figured it out,” he says.
Zenzele applied for a B.Com because he excelled at commercial subjects, and with his six-distinction matric, he was accepted to study at Rhodes. The R2 000 deposit to ensure his place was almost his mother’s monthly salary. “My mother had saved money for my matric dance, so I gave that up in order to go to university. I was sad to miss out, but it was worth it.”
He refused to be inhibited by financial issues. “I like to live by the saying: ‘If your dreams aren’t scaring you, they aren’t big enough.’” Going to university was a huge jump for him, not just academically. “I spent a good amount of time on my own before I found people I could relate to – it wasn’t easy…”
As for finances, he secured a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loan upfront to pay a contribution towards his university fees. Then, before the first semester was over, he learnt that he had been given a Moshal Scholarship.
“I immediately called my mom and she burst into tears because it was a huge weight off her shoulders. This meant my studies were secured and she could concentrate on my siblings’ education.”
Zenzele got far more from the Moshal Scholarship Program than freedom from financial worries. “I had always struggled to express myself in front of people and that was just one of the many things I have learnt.” He also always felt secure in knowing that if he had any problems, he could get help from the Program. In his second year, he eagerly became a volunteer tutor at a local high school in Grahamstown. And when his graduation arrived, he was thrilled but not quite as excited as his mother. “It was as if it was the best day of her life,” he says. “For me, though, the day I find a job will be my graduation. That will really excite me.”
He took advice from his res warden to do a post grad diploma because it would make him that much more employable. “I dream of building her a house. I want her to be comfortable.”
As for Martin Moshal and the scholarship program, Zenzele says, “Just thinking about what they have done for me and all the others, makes me tearful because I wouldn’t be here without them. They never make us feel bad or that we owe them, all they ask is that we make a success of our lives and that is their reward. They inspire me.”