Wits graduate honours his mom and hometown in traditional Zulu attire

26 March 2019 - 08:08 By Nonkululeko Njilo
Sbanisezwe Mkhize, 23, graduated with a BCom degree from the University of the Witwatersrand last week.
Sbanisezwe Mkhize, 23, graduated with a BCom degree from the University of the Witwatersrand last week.
Image: Provided

When Sbanisezwe Mkhize took to the stage to graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand last week, he immediately caught the audience's attention.

Dressed in traditional Zulu attire, known as "ibheshu", Mkhize, 23, paid homage to his Msinga, KwaZulu-Natal, roots, while at the same time honouring his mother, Bongathini Sithole's, efforts to get him through school and university.

Mkhize, whose first name translates roughly to "light of the nation",  was among 5,000 students who graduated from Wits this month. He said he was still overwhelmed that he had conquered Wits and earned his BCom degree in economics. 

“I decided to wear ibheshu to honour my mother and educate people about the importance of preserving our culture and heritage,” he told TimesLIVE.

Mkhize is the fourth of eight siblings, all raised by a single mother.

“My mother used to make and sell beads at various points for a living, and that’s how we survived. Each time she went out to sell, we would sit in anticipation, hoping that she brings us something, but that was not always the case,” he said.

Mkhize said he had no idea where or what he wanted to study after completing matric.

“I had no idea there was life after matric. I only realised when I was doing grade 11 that there was something called a university that even a rural boy like myself could go to,” he said.

“I was just a normal boy who went to school with the intention of reaching grade 12. In the afternoons we would go fetch water from the river and milk the cow. That was our life,” he said.

Mkhize said it was almost impossible to dream of a career other than teaching, because teachers were the only ones children had to look to for inspiration.

He said his academic journey was not an easy one, with the transition from rural to urban life being a particular challenge. Obtaining finance was also difficult and his mom didn't have the means to send him a monthly allowance.

But he persevered.

Speaking about how education was perceived by elders in the community in which he grew up, Mkhize said: “Back in the day, a girl child was expected to get married and not go to school. Taking a girl child to school was seen as a waste of money. A boy child was expected to go to school and, if lucky enough, finish grade 12 and then get a wife and settle down,” he said.

Mkhize said although the elders' mindset was beginning to change, he was still asked, "When are you taking a wife?”.

Giving back to the community and getting more pupils from rural communities to enrol at university is one of Mkhize’s long-term goals.