‘This degree is for you, Mom.’ Brother and sister whose mother died in 2020 finally graduate together

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Siblings, Andisa and Makabongwe at their graduation at Nelson Mandela University.
Siblings, Andisa and Makabongwe at their graduation at Nelson Mandela University.

What you do with the grief of losing a loved one can either break you or make you. It's even harder to see the future clearly when it's a parent that you've lost.

For siblings Andisa Batala and Makabongwe Tyiwani, their mother's death in 2020 was a turning point. It made them sit and take stock of their lives, achievements and goals, and it spurred them on to study further. 

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“I decided to study after a difficult period of losing my mom," says Andisa who tells Drum she had decided to channel the pain that came from her grief into a motivator to achieve something she knew would have made her mother proud.

"Although I was in a tricky situation, I was able to push myself to get out of it. We all face challenges, but it just depends on how we respond to them and this was my response to life’s challenges,” says the mom of three who recently graduated with a postgraduate diploma in business administration, which she obtained with distinction.

It was tough going, though, the 42-year-old admits. “It was hard but the support I received from my family and the people around me made a difference,” she says. 

Andisa says she recently looked at her undergraduate transcript and realises she barely scraped through with a pass, but this time around she was determined to ace her next qualification.

“I was just looking at my undergraduate statement and I was getting 50s. But this time I had an extra push, knowing that I am using my own money to pay for the fees and knowing that I can’t waste any opportunities.”

Her younger brother, says he also didn't take his studies too seriously when he first attempted his postgrad sports management studies a few decades ago.

“I was still young and was not mature. I didn’t understand the importance of a postgraduate qualification. But the disappointment of not getting that qualification at the time didn’t propel me to the career path that I wanted, which was my primary goal, to be in sports,” he tells Drum.

He was able to work as a business consultant and later worked in parliament as part of the Economic Development Committee. But Makabongwe (42) always wanted to finish what he started.

"Sports has always been my passion and I enrolled at Nelson Mandela University to study towards a postgraduate diploma in business management. My goal was to not let my primary talent and passion for the sports industry and its development go to waste,” he shares. 

His decision to go back to school was motivated by the desire to make his late mother and family proud. “It was also about overcoming personal failure, and perceptions of who I am. My mother, wife, and family always believed I could do so much more.” 

The journey was not easy, though. For instance, as the oldest in his class, Makabongwe had to overcome ageism. 

“The people I studied with were 10 years younger than me, but for me, this was not about age. Healthcare is evolving, life expectancy is increasing and there are better ways of living that can sustain us beyond the age of 65 years."

He graduated top of his class and is currently working on a Master of Business Administration with a keen focus on sports.  

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Next year Andisa also wants to pursue her MBA and she urges anyone who is currently at school or deciding to go back to school to do it – for themselves.

“I know education is seen as the key to success but to me it’s also a key to opening a mind to think differently, seeing the world differently. That exposure changes you and allows you to tap into opportunities that you never taught,” she says.

“Do it for yourself, I understand we come from a background and society where we were taught to study to get a job. But now we are forced to study to understand the market so that you can apply your mind to new ideas.”

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