‘I’m a new man’

By Drum Digital
18 August 2014

After spending three years in jail, DRUM reader has turned his life around.

Like many of us, I’ve done both good things and bad things in life, but I don’t regret it as it’s made me who I am today. When I was only 12 my mother passed away after a long illness. I never knew my father so it was painful watching my mother fight for her life. 

“Thabo, as you can see my days are numbered,” I remember her telling me one night,“I will pass away any time soon and I want you to take good care of yourself.” I didn’t actually understand what she meant.

After her passing I was raised by my grandmother, who did everything to put food on the table. As grateful as I was for my gogo, life was never the same with my mother gone and I had to pick up the pieces of what used to be my life. 

After some years, I moved in with one of my uncles and his wife. They had one child in the house and I was their second, adopted child. Things were good at first but as time went by my uncle’s wife started to treat me differently. I had to wake up early in the morning to give her a hand with her business. Even though I worked very hard every day, I was not the child who received nice things – her biological son did, although he was always at home. 

Sometimes I would go to school without lunch money, at other times she would send me to town and lie to my uncle that I didn’t bring home any change. My u  e would beat me up without giving me any chance to explain. I often thought that things would have been better had my mother still been alive. 

As I grew older I started needing more. Although my uncle would try to cover some of those needs, I knew that I wasn’t their child so I was afraid to ask for everything that I needed. 

When I started Grade 11 I couldn’t help but to compare myself to the boys who came from better family backgrounds. They wore nice outfits and always had a lot of money at school. I didn’t have much and all the girls would run to the boys who had, so I took matters into my own hands.

I met a guy who sold illegal substances and I asked him to get me a job. I started selling for him at school and in the township after school, and then I was also able to carry lots of cash like the other boys.

I then decided to get my own stock straight from the suppliers and things went well – until I was arrested. During my time in jail I realised that the route I was on was heading toward darkness. The only option was to start living an honest life, but with no matric certificate or previous work experience, finding a job was harder than I thought. 

I was smart enough to approach all the big companies in my province for employment but each company asked the same question: “Why didn’t you complete your matric?”

In spite of the rejection I kept on trying until I met a male receptionist, who I gathered was about my age. He too asked the pivotal question. When I replied he asked another: “Is that what you’re going to tell your children when they grow up and you have nothing in this free country?”

I left the premises feeling so disappointed. He was right; I had no one to blame but myself. His words may have hurt me but they also encouraged me. While talking to him, I realised that most people my age were already successful. 

It was painful to see the very same people I attended school with driving expensive cars. I knew why I was not on the same level as them and told myself that even though I wasted three years of my life in jail, I still have many more years to live. I couldn’t replace the time I wasted but I could do something with the time that I had!

Although I wanted to go back to school, I couldn’t because I had dependants who relied on me. But I needed to be constructive, so I started working for an air conditioning company owned by an uncle.

I wanted more and soon started a small business in the township. But because people still saw me as a thug, the business failed after a few months. With my child dependent on me it felt as if the whole world was on my shoulders!

Being born in a country like South Africa is a blessing. I heard about a college that offered free education and signed up immediately because I believed that with a proper qualification, I could beat my struggle and my past.

After registering I realised I needed to find a way to look after my child so I decided to sell tea on campus. I also started a small cash loan enterprise and soon became the best-known student in the college’s business field. 

Later I was elected one of 10 students to attend a peer-educator training programme, sponsored by the American government. And I was elected as a Student Representative Council member, acting as Head of Department in student affairs. Later that same year I participated in a college modelling competition and won a cash prize of R1 400 – life was promising!

College definitely opened my eyes to all sorts of opportunities and left me with a renewed sense of hope. I was no longer the criminal who was arrested as a teen but a young man living a constructive life with positive friends.

After completing a three-year course, I auditioned for a film company in my province and won a three-year contract with them. I’m now an actor working on an upcoming movie with the company and also a creative script writer. I’m happy and striving to make it big in the industry, and I’m not doing it for the money but for the love of it and the joy it brings to my soul.

Walking in town I wish that everyone could read my face to see where I come from. I now know that nothing can stop you from succeeding, only death. 

Life will always be challenging but you can achieve your dreams. Being treated unfairly is one of life’s challenges and can propel you to do better and be better. I also know that crime never has, and never will, pay. 

And always remember that being born poor is never your mistake – but dying poor is a choice you make. Take it from me, choose wisely. 

By Thabo Prince 

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