Age is irrelevant

2012-11-16 00:00

AT the age of 80, Regina Beauty Mlaba from Esigodini in Edendale has completed her dissertation for her Master’s degree and now has her sights set on a Ph.D.

Due to personal circumstances, Mlaba had to wait until she retired from teaching before embarking on a BA. She graduated at the age of 68 and went on to do her honours and Masters, which she expects to have awarded next year.

The next step is to work on expanding her Master’s — which was on the barriers to teaching — to a Ph.D dissertation. While she’s at it, she wants to hone her computer skills, too. She feels she is too dependent on her grandson, Themba, to help her, and as a second-year chemistry student, he has his own studies to concentrate on.

Not that Themba — a student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal —  minds helping her. He is her greatest fan and contacted The Witness to tell of her achievements. He also helped the family organise a recent surprise 80th birthday party for Mlaba, to thank her for all she has done for them.

The spritely octogenarian is a mother of seven, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. Her life has not been easy and she sees her quest for knowledge as fulfilling her own mother’s dying wish, and not letting down her illiterate grandmother, who made it possible for her to go to school.

“My mother died when I was 12 years old and while she was sick, she told my grandmother to make sure I continued with my schooling,” Mlaba recalls.

Her grandmother arranged for her to go to boarding school in Centocow and she was able to study with the help of a bursary from the church, but this was not enough.

“If I needed books or anything, I would tell my grandmother. She never understood the education system but believed that what I asked for was important and would even sell one of her cows to get money.”

After matric, Mlaba obtained a loan and went on to get a teacher’s diploma at Mariannhill College.

She taught for 17 years at a primary school near Durban which was run by the Catholic Church, becoming principal shortly after starting her teaching career. When the school closed down, she moved to other schools, finally ending up at Curry’s Post in the Midlands, where she rose through the ranks, retiring as principal at the age of 65. However, these were challenging years as she was widowed while still in her 30s and raised her seven children on her own, leaving no time to think of studying. “What sustained me through all those years was my absolute love for teaching and making sure my own children got a proper education,” said Mlaba. Some of her children are teachers and nurses. She has a son who is a colonel in the police service and a daughter who is a director at Umgeni Water.

Retirement was meant to be a time to rest, but a passion for learning took over. “I finished my degree and did not feel satisfied that I had done enough. I thought, ‘Let me just round this off with an honours course’, which I finished in 2006. I was going to stop, but I had done all this reading and there was so much more to explore, so I enrolled with Unisa to do my Master’s,” she adds.

Mindful that she is in her twilight years, Mlaba says if she has time, she plans on completing a Ph.D, which she believes is possible. “I have no health issues and I am very careful about my lifestyle,” she says, describing how she takes good care of herself by eating properly and walking.

Her philosophy is that knowledge is power and a little knowledge can be dangerous. “Things are not going well in the world because people with very little knowledge are making decisions,” she says. Her advice to young people is to read, read and do more reading. This is what kept her going and what she tried to impart to all her pupils. Her other advice is that diligence, dedication, determination and discipline can take one far in life. “I think what kept me going was that I was very disciplined. Always at the back of my mind was this sense that I could not let my mother and my grandmother down.”

Mlaba’s advice to teachers today is to understand that teaching is not just a profession but a calling. “When I taught, I would not let anyone who passed through my hands leave school with nothing. I worked very hard to ensure that everyone in my classes passed, and it was not just a matter of pushing them up to the next standard; it was about giving them knowledge and skills,” she said.

Her reward is meeting former pupils who almost always tell her that she was the only teacher who cared, who pushed them and never gave up.

“Just about all of them say ‘may God bless you for what you have done’, and I think it is all these blessings from my former pupils that have given me such a good life and kept me going.”

The spritEly octogenarian is a mother of seven, a grandmother and A great-grandmother. Her life has not been easy and she sees her quest for knowledge as fulfilling her own mother’s dying wish, and not letting down her illiterate grandmother who made it possible for her to go to school.

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