Getting an education in South Africa is a privilege only a few enjoy, due to lack of funds for most, but even when you do have an education most graduates end being unemployed with a mountain of debt to pay off. Which is why Nomonde Gwevu* decided to take up domestic work while she was still studying to pay off her student loan.
We meet Nomonde at a coffee shop in the north of Johannesburg, where she arrives in her Mercedes-Benz in a work suit and killer stilettos.
“Most people don’t believe me when they hear I was once a domestic worker, which goes to show how distorted our view is of people. It’s a problem,” she says while sipping on her water.
“I was studying towards my accounting degree, and I realized that if I don’t get a job afterwards I’d be in serious debt so I decided to look for jobs I could do while I was still a student. I searched for a while, it wasn’t easy, but I was blessed enough to find a family who understood my story and accommodated my priority, which was getting my degree in record time,” she tells us.
The Pattison* family took Nomonde in and let her do her chores in the evenings. “I’d attend my classes during the day and then in the evening take a taxi to their home and clean, cook and prepare lunch for the children’s lunches for school. Once I was done with everything they’d ask their driver to take me back to res, then I’d study for a few hours and sleep – wake up in the morning and do it all over again. I did this for two years – the family would pay my salary into my savings account and I couldn’t touch it even when I really wanted to,” she laughs.
Nomonde achieved her goal of completing her degree in record time – in fact, she got distinctions for all her modules and ended up being headhunted by one of the country’s leading accounting firms.
“I was so shocked because there are so many unemployed graduates in our country, so in my mind I think I was preparing for that life but God had greater plans for my life – my late mother would’ve been so proud.”
Nomonde’s domestic-worker mother died when Nomonde was in matric and she made Nomonde promise to continue studying. “She’d say, ‘I want you to study until education comes out of your nostrils’,” she fondly recalls.
“Even though she didn’t want me to become a domestic worker like her those two years made me feel so much closer to her, and I finally understood the things she’d share. I also became very attached to the family I was working for. In fact, we still have lunch and dinner sometimes. The kids are now in high school, and I sometimes go to their games and take them out for movies. They became my family, it was God’s plan really.”
Nomonde’s saved-up salary was enough to pay for 70% of her NSFAS loan, but because the Pattisons admired her hard work and determination, they paid off the rest of her loan and even bought her first car. “I still can’t believe how kind those people are. They sat me down and told me that they will always love me and that they have paid the rest of my loan. Then they took me outside and showed me my brand-new car! I was in tears – they told me they bought me the car because I did well in my studies and was an inspiration to their children,” she says as she wipes a tear.
To every unemployed graduate, Nomonde says: “I really hate people who have negative things to say about unemployed graduates. You know those ‘we all have the same 24 hours’ people? They’re very insensitive. Unemployment is painful, some people even commit suicide because of it, we should be more sensitive and if you have nothing to say, just keep quiet.”
*Real names not used.