School of Life Sciences

From a UKZN Cleaner to a BSS Degree Graduate Through Hard Work

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A full-time member of the cleaning staff at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Ms Sthembile Mngwengwe – affectionately known as Sthe – has graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science degree and now plans to register for an honours course.

Commenting on Mngwengwe’s achievement, UKZN writer Ms Swastika Maney, said: ‘I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ms Sthembile Mngwengwe. Pleasure, I say, because in all of the years that I have spent writing Graduation stories, Mngwengwe’s has been one of the most inspiring ever – more so because of her attitude to life and everything around her!’

Despite all the adversities and hurdles life has thrown at her, Mngwengwe has managed to remain positive, upbeat and full of expectation. She said: ‘To me, graduating means no matter how old you are, you can still work towards your dreams if you stay positive, determined and put your mind to it.’

Mngwengwe matriculated from Albini High School near Hammarsdale. Her dream was to attend university full-time and complete her degree but owing to financial constraints she had to start working straight after matric and joined Supercare Cleaners before transferring to UKZN. Years later when cleaning staff became full-time employees at UKZN, her dream to study became a reality and she took advantage of the University’s fee remission benefit for staff.

Mngwengwe registered as a student and the rest, as they say, is history. Working long hours, raising a toddler alone and finding the time to study were all new experience for her. As much as she dreamed of completing a degree, she soon realised it was hard work.

Being an example for her daughter, Sindiswa, is what motivated Mngwengwe to persevere through the long days and nights. ‘I wanted to show Sindiswa that anything is possible because I believe that our children look up to us as their parents for guidance. Sometimes it was tough and I just wanted to quit but the guidance and motivation I received from my friends and colleagues at UKZN helped me make it through.’

She enjoys working on her laptop in her spare time to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world and applying what she has learned in her undergraduate modules.

‘I want to be ready for bigger and better jobs when the opportunities arise,’ she said. ‘I am a single parent and with my salary I pay school fees, transport and also give some financial support to my parents, so I thank God for giving me an opportunity to study for free. I feel truly grateful and blessed.’

Mngwengwe believes that when God puts something in your heart, He gives you the strength to achieve it. ‘I have managed to obtain this degree through prayers, hard work, sleepless nights and pure determination.’

On being asked about her plans for the future, Mngwengwe said: ‘I now know that the sky is the limit and if I dream it I can do it!’

Mngwengwe thanked academic administrator Mrs Marshia Vesazie of the School of Humanities as well as her lecturer’s Dr Bongani Mkhize, Mr Lawrence Abiwu, Dr Phindile Dlamini and Dr Tholakele Ngcobo, for playing such pivotal roles in her academic journey.

Her advice to aspiring students was: ‘Life is about choices, some we regret, some we’re proud of and some will haunt us forever, but the message is, we are who we chose to be.’

Heart-warming comments from Mngwengwe’s “sister crew” flooded in when news of her achievement broke. Said Ms Mbalenhle Gumbi, an HR Consultant in the College of AES: ‘Words really fail me when I think about Sthe. What an achievement! I am super proud of her; she is a strong, hardworking, humble, kind-hearted lady. She is really an example to all not to get comfortable where you are. Always look for better and greater opportunities.’

Said Ms Sibongile Khuzwayo, Administrative Officer in the School of Life Sciences: ‘I have witnessed so many Graduation ceremonies but seeing Sthe in her academic attire was the best of them all. Her achievement is a true testament that nothing is impossible. Over the years I watched her multi-tasking. She would check in for work early, dressed in her cleaning boots and overalls and a few hours later I would meet her in the corridors in her tightest jeans heading for a lecture theatre. Sthe is ambitious and never afraid to pursue what she wants. Well done Sthe, you have earned it!’

Said Financial Aid Advisor Ms Marcia Ntamote: ‘Sthe is a humble, kind-hearted, hardworking and determined lady. All there is to say is may blessings keep falling upon her with love.’

Ms Cynthia Jabulile Bhebhe, HR Consultant in College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, said: ‘Sthe taught us not to settle for the average. Despite our historical background, if you have a dream and the opportunities come your way, you just need to immerse yourself in that fountain and come out on the other side victorious. She is the epitome of inspiring greatness, in line with our University motto.’

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Supplied