17th March 2017
Silindokuhle Thwala from KwaZulu-Natal is studying medicine at UKZN
“Background is just a word you should never allow to define you. In every circumstance I encountered, trying to reach out to science, I let it be my stepping stones. I inspired myself to do better, since I was in a competition with myself, I always wanted to be better than yesterday.”
Tell us a bit about your school
‘Against all odds’, yes, I know exactly what that means, for I am an example. I’m from a rural area, Mafakatini location, located in Pietermaritzburg. I went to Khobongwane Primary for my lower grades, then later to Ngcedomhlophe Secondary school. Chasing science, I joined the Protec Academy in Pietermaritzburg where we were more exposed to how things are actually done. There I developed a basic understanding of science and technology. For some reason Protec transferred me to Injoloba Secondary school where I finished my matric. At Injoloba I found the best education anyone could ever wish for, I found the best teachers who cared for us as if we were their biological children.
When/how did you realise you enjoyed science and mathematics more than your other school subjects?
The choice of science stream was an obvious one since I love to understand the human body, the creation of God which is very complex. This hunger for exposure, laboratory experiments (since my school had no facilities), scientific activities like technology Olympiads, made me want to stay glued to Protec.
Did you encounter any challenges at school? If so, what did you do to overcome these challenges?
Protec Academy was in town, so I had to go to town every Saturday. At Protec we were supposed to wear casual clothes, no uniforms, which killed me because we hide behind it, when we are all wearing it you can’t tell our backgrounds. I come from a family where the only time you get new clothes is around Christmas time, which used to be enough for me because I only needed to go to town maybe once or twice a year. Now I had to go every Saturday and I had nothing to wear. At Protec there was a variety of people; I gained in language too. At my school we did everything in Zulu, things were taught in Zulu, even English was taught in Zulu. When placed in the same room with a person who only understands English I would pray they don’t say anything which requires me answering. I then had to have a meeting with myself. I knew exactly what I wanted. That’s when I started selling chips and lollypops. I still recall what I bought with the first money I earned: a red backpack (my previous bag was black but because of the stiches it had all colors). Then I bought clothes, enough to see me through the whole year. In grade 12, I stopped selling because it was distracting me. One would ask why I had to do all of this. Well, my parents are not working. My mother has never worked before. My father was working but he was retrenched in 2011. My father finished building a house he started building in 2005, bought a car, bought another one (which broke down and cost more than R30 000 to fix), He never made an investment towards my studies. Money gets depleted if all it does is go out; by 2013, when I was doing grade 10, he barely had anything. He then started using the car he bought to drive people around in case of emergency. That’s how we live at home. Nothing makes you question your worth more than everyone around you having bursaries, but you don’t, despite the fact that you are regarded as a top achiever. I didn’t get any bursaries, I study with an NSFAS loan. At Protec I was given a total of R45 000 but it doesn’t help me since I have a loan, it just reduces the amount I owe, when I should have been able to buy stethoscopes, dissecting tools, textbooks with it. I was only given R1000 for textbooks, which is not enough, since second-hand textbooks start from R800.
Any other stories/tips/ideas/advice you would like to share that would be helpful to learners in Grades 11 and 12?
As I stated before, ‘background’ is just a word you should never allow to define you. In every circumstance I encountered, trying to reach out to science, I let it be my stepping stones. I inspired myself to do better, since I was in a competition with myself, I always wanted to be better than yesterday. With this spirit I have, the sky is the limit. A PhD is exactly what I will have. All I can say is if God provides me with plenty of years, I am still going far.