Blind graduand says degree belongs to her mum

2011-04-14 00:00

SHE was completely blind by the age of five and the first few years of her life were spent in and out of hospital.

While most children her age started school at six years, she had turned 10 when by the time she first set foot in a classroom.

But last night Zama Ngwenya(32) graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social science in labour studies and sociology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Funded by the Education Department, Ngwenya is reading for her honours in industrial relations and hopes to follow that with a master’s degree.

Her journey has been anything but easy. It was always clear to her that she had to redouble her efforts to compete with her sighted peers. But nothing could have prepared her for the death of her mother, the only parent she had known. Worse, her mother died in her final year, while she was busy with June exams.

While Ngwenya managed to pass her supplementary examination after the burial of her mother, she couldn’t cope with her studies afterwards and had to repeat the year.

“It was undoubtedly the darkest time of my life. My mother was everything to me. She was not educated. She went as far as standard five. But she made sure that I got the best education. The fact that she didn’t know any other blind person did not stop her making it her duty to find out all that she could and asking questions.”

When social workers’ promises to help get Ngwenya into school did not materialise, her mother took matters into her own hands and got her daughter enrolled.

“I can’t explain how I feel right now. But this degree was never mine. I just wish the rightful owner was here to witness it,” Ngwenya told The Witness.

As the eldest, Ngwenya had the added responsibility of looking after her younger siblings after their mother’s death.

“I used part of the money I received from my scholarship as well as from my disability grant to send money home so that my siblings had food and [school] uniforms.”

Two of her younger siblings, aged 13 and 17, are at school, while the oldest, aged 25, is at a further education and training college.

“I had to come to a resolve that if I can’t change something, I have to learn to adapt to it,” said Ngwenya.

“My advice to other students would be exactly that.

“The journey might be long and difficult, but iyahambeka [it is accomplishable].”

Ngwenya hopes to work as an industrial relations officer for Trans­net or Unilever.

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