“This is a bittersweet moment for me. I arrived at University of Cape Town (UCT) a few years ago as a sad, lonely young boy. I didn’t have what my peers had, which was the support of a loving family.” I had no one. But I was determined to do my best and to succeed,” said Tshediso Mahange ahead of his graduation at the UCT.
Mahange could have easily joined gang members in his neighbourhood who terrorise wreak the community of Tsietsi in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg. His age and impoverished family background are some of the key factors that drive most youngsters his age right into the cursed world of gangsterism.
But by some Providence, Mahange was spared. He summoned some inexplicable moral strengths and courage to resist joining the crooked urchins in his area. He will be among hundreds of the UCT students who will be graduating next week Tuesday. This follows his successful completion of the bachelor degree in business science with a major in finance from the Faculty of Commerce.
Mahange spent his early childhood at her grandmother’s place who showered him with lots of love, warmth and all what every child would to expect from home. “My grandmother was the only parent I knew, and I loved her dearly. Losing her was very hard for me. She taught me everything I know,” he said.
After the death of her granny Mahenge was forced to go and live with his mother and stepfather. He has never met his biological and neither has he enjoyed a close relation with his mother. Things got worse when his mother moved to another town for work when Mahange was still a baby. He suffered years of immense emotional and mental abuse at the hands of his stepfather.
The continued abuse at the hands of his stepfather forced him to leave his stepfather’s house. With nowhere to go, Mahenge eventually moved into a tiny ramshackle structure just a stone throw from where he used to live. This made him even more vulnerable and exposed to get involved in crime, gangs and drugs. But he resisted the temptation to go astray.
However, the impact of the abuse at his father’s house has already affected his personality and emotional state. He suddenly became morose, shy and struggled to mix with his peers. “I didn’t realise the impact it was all having on my life until one of my school teachers, a Ms Tshabalala, noticed that something was wrong, spoke to me about it and with my consent secured the help of a psychologist to help me work through it all,” said Mahange.
His mind was focused on his love for maths and science and he was determined to pursue his academic dream, come rain or shine. “I was good at maths and my teachers would regularly sign me up to participate in maths competitions widely attended by private schools. Just participating was a great achievement for me because I attended a humble public school. When I won a competition, I would put the money towards my living expenses – and I needed every cent,” Mahange.
To avoid idling by, Mahange made sure he kept himself meaningfully occupied. He made sure that by 06:00 he entered the school gates and spent a few hours studying alone before the official school day started. In the afternoon he will remain behind and spend hours in the library.
“I was asked numerous times to join the neighbourhood gang, but I always declined. I didn’t want that life. “I did this so that I didn’t have to be near those negative influences,” he said.
Mahenge singles out Ms. Tshabalala as a person who had a positive influence on his life. Upon discovering that Mahange lives alone, Ms. Tshabalala attempted to adopt him but this fell through. But she continued to give him moral and financial support; giving him R250 a month for necessities and paid for his transport to and from school. She also invited Mahenge to spend weekends at her home.
Unfortunately, Ms. Tshabalala also passed away while Mahange was in Grade 8 leaving him shattered. But she has been sharing Mahenge’s circumstances with another teacher, who continued to provide financial and emotional support to him.
Upon completing his matric, Mahange applied for a space at UCT and he was ecstatic when he received the news that his application was successful. But he said his excitement turned into nightmare when he arrived at the university during orientation week in 2015.
“As I walked onto campus with nothing but the contents in my backpack, I felt sad and alone. I looked around me and saw other first-year students surrounded by their families. Suddenly, I felt the weight of my lonely childhood. I realised there and then that I had no family who I could share my success with, and I spent my first day in tears. I came to university to learn, and I was committed, even when things got very challenging,” said Mahange.
But through the UCT’s mentorship programme and with the help of a faculty psychologist, Mahange overcome his challenges and vowed to work hard and do well in his studies. “When I made this mind shift, everything started to fall into place, and it became a bit easier for me. I began to deal with things while focused on my end goal.”
With time he got used to life at university as everything fell into place. “I came to university to learn, and I was committed, even when things got very challenging. I always had good support from my campus family,” he said.
In November 2019 he was offered a permanent job at Mastercard South Africa. “Life hasn’t been easy, and I thank God that my life today is filled with what I prayed for. I am grateful to those people who helped to make it possible,” said Mahange.
His ultimate dream is to establish a private school to cater for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He has started with putting together the building blocks for his dream. While he was in high school he established Ulwazi Olubanzi Academy, a non-profit organisation (NPO) that tutors learners in maths and science. Since moving to Cape Town, Tshediso has roped in three volunteers to assist with his project.
“I want to take the NPO a step further. One day I want to be able to build a school and to help children with a similar fate as mine. That is my biggest, wildest dream, and I will work to attain it,” Mahange said confidently.
“Life hasn’t been easy, and I thank God that my life today is filled with what I prayed for. I am grateful to those people who helped to make it possible, who pushed me and reminded me that it will be worth it. I can see now that it is,” he added.