Durban – Meet Fatima Mama Khawula, the KwaZulu-Natal woman who beat the chalk board and interpreted the law her own way.
Working as an interpreter at the tender age of 18 at the Durban Magistrate's Court was not enough for her, so she enrolled for a teaching diploma because it was all she could afford.
She saved every cent she earned as a teacher and when she had enough, she enrolled at the University of Zululand for a law degree. Today, she is the acting deputy director of public prosecutions and the regional head of the tax unit in KZN.
The 42-year-old from Yellowood Park, who was once married to Ukhozi FM’s Nkosinathi Mshengu, said watching the hardships endured by her late single mother, Mantombi Khawula, had pushed her to work harder.
Born in her grandmother’s Umlazi house, Khawula marvels at the age gap between her and her mother.
"She was 14 when she had me, in primary school, I am told. She was 40 when she passed and I was 25. I used to call her sisMantombi. We were like sisters."
She grew up in her grandmother’s house with her mother, who was a general worker at factories around Durban, until her mother could afford to buy her own home in Z-section, Umlazi, in 1988.
It was in Vumokuhle Lower Primary School where she dreamt of one day becoming a policewoman.
"I wanted to serve and protect my community."
In Grade 8 she went to Ogwini Comprehensive High School but would later complete her matric at Kwamgaga High School in Umlazi.
Khawula, who was one of five children, was forced to grow up fast as life became tough for her single mother.
"I started selling sweets and chips in school so that I could get money to pay for my school fees. After school I would go door to door selling fruits and vegetables in the local community.
"I only bought a uniform for myself once, at the beginning of my Grade 8 year in 1996. The rest of the years, I would take hand me downs and donations from friends."
Khawula said even at a young age she could tell that her family was poor and that her mother was struggling.
"So I knew exactly what I wanted in life. I told my mother that I will take care of myself, she can take care of my siblings.
"I knew it was up to me as the eldest to change the situation at home. It was up to me to get them out of poverty."
In order to succeed, she knew that she needed to work hard, so she sacrificed the fun times her peers were enjoying.
'I wanted to add value'
Her mother did not have the money to send her to university but she did have a friend who worked as a prosecutor at the Durban Magistrate's Court, who was able to get Khawula a job as an interpreter when she was just 18.
"In those days you did not need a qualification to be an interpreter and it was not really recognised as a profession, as long as you knew how to interpret languages accurately."
While working as an interpreter in Durban in 1991, she watched state prosecutors fight for justice and with each passing day, she began to fall in love with the law.
"I loved seeing offenders paying for their sins. I also wanted to add value by making sure that l prosecute without fear or favour and also by protecting victims of crime so I started saving money."
In 1993 she had enough money to enrol at Ntuzuma College of Education, a teaching college.
"I did the teaching diploma because it was the only thing that I could afford to study at the time."
After completing her diploma in 1995, she got a job at one of the best schools in Umlazi, Zwelibanzi High School in 1996.
"Even when I started teaching, I knew that my ultimate dream was to become a lawyer."
She taught science and biology there from 1996 to 2001.
Not an easy road
"In 1998, I found out that the University of Zululand, Umlazi Campus, offered LLB and I enrolled and I was accepted to study."
At 25, Khawula,was rocked by her mother’s death and quickly found herself heading the household, looking after her four siblings. The youngest was 10 at the time.
"I don’t have children but I immediately became a mom. She used to tell me that she named me Mama because I was going to be the mother of the nation one day."
Khawula continued with her studies and graduated with a law degree and in 2002, she got a job as a public prosecutor at the Umlazi Magistrate's Court.
"I felt like I had reached my dream but I was hungry for more, I knew that I was going to the top."
She applied for senior posts because she wanted a challenge and she was promoted to state advocate in the tax unit.
"We deal with any matter relating to tax, whether it’s fraud, tax evasion and under declaration. We deal with people and companies that defraud the South African Revenue Services."
She has been working in the unit for more than 10 years.
'The world and your parents do not owe you anything'
"I am happy that we can recover money that has been stolen that was meant to go towards social grants and providing other services around the country.
"My hope is to one day hold a senior position in the National Prosecuting Authority so that I can have the power to do more for ordinary South Africans and make a difference."
When asked what pushed her to persevere to reach her dream, she said she remained focused on it.
"I was not distracted by the small things. I used to tell the children I taught that the future was in their hands.
"The world and your parents do not owe you anything. You will get yourself out of poverty, you have to work hard to be where you want to be and that is exactly what I did."
Khawula said she had worked hard for everything she has attained. "But it has not been easy. No bursaries, I educated myself and I made it, so can you."