UNIZULU Graduate First to Obtain Degree Within Family

Phumlani Bonginhlanhla Ngema comes from a family that may have easily been ruled out as doomed by many in society but through hard work and perseverance, he has broken the cycle of poverty and dropping out of school by becoming the first person to graduate in his family.

The 22-year-old from rural Mtubatuba graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Development and Foundation Phase) degree at the University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa Campus today, Monday (7 May 2018).

But simply obtaining a degree would not suffice for Ngema. He had to stand out for something either than being a young man from an impoverished background as he graduated top of his academic programme; making him one of the top five students in the Faculty of Education for 2017.

Ngema evidently could not contain his jubilation as he proceeded to be capped on the graduation stage. He therefore marked this milestone with a traditional South African dance known as ukusina, accompanied by loud cheers from the audience.

When asked to share his recipe for success, Ngema was quick to clarify that he is merely a hard-worker and not a brilliant individual; adding that his goal to change his family’s financial state was the impetus behind his achievement today.

“I grew up only knowing my maternal family. I met my paternal family in 2016. My mother and grandmother are both deceased so, needless to say, I had a tough upbringing. I was supported by the Foster Child Grant so coming from such humble beginnings, I knew that education was my ticket out of poverty so I worked hard in order to change the situation back at home,” he said.

Looking back, Ngema marvels at how he managed to pull through the hardships he faced while studying towards his degree. A portion of his Foster Child Grant was deposited into a special account intended to contribute towards his tertiary education. In 2014, when Ngema had to register at UNIZULU, he had R4900 with which to pay his registration fee, rent and groceries. The first two years of his studies were the hardest, he recalled. He was funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) and lived off-campus so he had to survive on a menial allowance. The situation slightly improved after he received the Funza Lushaka bursary in the last two years of his degree.

Though not moments Ngema would ever want to relive, he appreciates how these hard times helped unleash his entrepreneurial skill. “To supplement my R600 allowance from Funza Lushaka, I decided to join a network marketing business and sold health products. I put a lot of effort into my business and I reaped the fruits almost immediately,” Ngema said. Seeing his success in network marketing, the young man said he aspires to exploit the real estate market in the long run.

Ngema’s intention was to further his studies after completing his undergraduate degree but due to lacking financial resources, he had to postpone his plans. He will luckily resume his postgraduate studies in 2019 as he secured employment as a teacher in Khulunolwazi Primary School in the Mpumalanga Province at the beginning of February 2018. His remaining short-term goals are to rebuild his mother’s family home- in honour of his late mother and grandmother- as well as to support his two younger siblings throughout their high school and tertiary studies.

“Success comes after struggle and hardship,” said Ngema to students pursuing their undergraduate studies. “Do not measure your success based on your background. Know that anything is possible. When you have claimed something with your mouth, it is bound to materialise because words have power,” he said.

– Naledi Hlefane

Phumlani Ngema, one of the top five graduates in the Faculty of Education, after being hooded on the graduation stage; a moment he has long waited for.