Growing up, most boys my age were obsessed with sports, gadgets and girls – I was obsessed with changing my family’s fortunes.  

Growing up in a neighbourhood like Daveyton in Johannesburg’s East Rand, survival was a constant battle and dreams of graduating seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.  

The sounds of gunshots, reverberating Kwaito and house beats were often my offbeat lullaby. The constant buzz of township life mirrored my internal thoughts, often filled with doubt, anxiety and hope.

Sharing the joy of graduation with the one who has been with me every step of the way. Photo: Simphiwe Mkheloe

I normally refer to myself as the son of a street vendor. My mother is an unemployed single woman who worked tirelessly to pave the way for my success.  

The money she made from selling fruits, vegetables and snacks on the side of the road, was the first investment in my education. Education was a scarce commodity in our neighbourhood, yet she ingrained in me the belief that education holds the key to a better future. 

I grew up in a small household and most of my weekdays were spent at Lekamoso Secondary School, while my weekends occasionally consisted of helping my mom with her vending business.  

The corner at which my mother’s vending business is located showcases different role-plays of individuals: some are the product of the system, and others demonstrate how a life of bad choices can turn out. To me, all these scenarios served as life lessons that taught me which paths I do and do not wish to follow.  

Despite learning about running a business from a young age, I ironically still grapple with impulsive spending habits. But, from dealing with difficult customers I learnt patience and humility.  

My mother dreams of a day without having to wake up to endure the harsh weather conditions to provide for her family.  I often look at her and remember all the promises I made to fulfill her dreams. It is inspiring that despite being in her fifties, she still believes success is possible, especially through me. Her words encourage me to pursue success relentlessly and with every fibre of my being. 

One thing she has always advised me was to never compare myself with my peers. I have never felt like she was not enough as a parent just because she could not provide everything that I desired or everything that those around me had, she taught me to work for what I want. 

My family and surroundings never laid the blueprint for success. For most, success and survival were synonymous, anything beyond that was seemingly impossible for someone like me.  

On May 16, 2024, I walked across the North-West University stage to receive my first qualification, a BA in Communications degree. Looking into the hall from the stage, I could see her standing and waving at me and overcome with emotion. I will never forget how making her proud made me feel – it was an accomplishment weightier than the scroll in my hand.  

Her tears during the ceremony and mine on the drive to university, reminded me of all the struggles we both went through for me to get where I am today. 

I am proud to say that I am the first-generation graduate in my family, I am currently studying towards an honours degree and all of that is because of the strong and steadfast woman behind me. 

FEATURED IMAGE: From corner stalls to university halls, my mom’s unwavering support has been the driving force behind my academic journey. Photo: Salim Nkosi