Poverty may have been a feature of Mfanakayise Zondo’s young life – but it was enriched with an entrepreneurial spirit that spurred the will to succeed.
As a child, Mfanakayise had to fetch water from the Umgeni River every morning for his family’s needs and collect firewood for cooking every evening. As the seventh of eight children in a family based in the Lindelani Township in Inanda – which did not even have electricity – Mfanakayise knew extreme poverty.
“Our primary school (Ithembile Primary) was built on containers and most of us students could not afford the school uniform, or shoes,” he recollects. “In my first year in primary school there were too many kids, so first years had to sit under a tree to ensure that the senior children were accommodated, as the primary aim of the school was to produce children who would go to high school.”
The government’s school feeding scheme was not yet implemented at the time, and children and families relied on food parcels and philanthropy initiatives from NGOs, explains Mfanakayise.
His high school – Mtapho High –was no better resourced. “We had little facilities and no libraries at all in the area, and I had to walk for hours to the nearest library,” Mfana recalls. The library proved a vital resource for the driven scholar, who not only used the space as a research centre for his assignments, but also to access textbooks.
His resourcefulness kicked in when he had to meet the cost of making photocopies. “I grew up business-minded, as both my parents were self-employed, and ran an informal shoe-making and repairing business. They gave me money to buy and sell chips and sweets at school. That taught me about generating income, so I would pick mangoes and sell them in a basket at school, to generate income for photocopies,” he explains.
Mfana took his entrepreneurial enterprise further, buying and selling everything from maize meal and paraffin, to matches, to make ends meet.
More than instilling an entrepreneurial drive, Mfanakayise’s parent also strongly encouraged an academic discipline. “The culture of studying was instilled when I was young. My parents insisted that study came first, then playing. By the time I got to high school I would study before my parents asked. Everyone encouraged and motivated me to study. Then, education was perceived differently: it was seen as a means for you and your family to get out of poverty. Education was regarded as an important tool for success,” he explains.
It has certainly worked for Mfana, who is doing his first year of articles with a law firm,
Meumann White Attorneys, in Musgrave. He is also pursuing his Masters in taxation.
His passion for law at first stemmed from watching TV and “seeing people wearing those black gowns,” and intensified when he understood what the profession entailed, he says.
“I think, with the conditions I grew up in, that is important to fight for education. Quite a few people who managed to go to tertiary education in my family and community motivated me to break the chain, and become a role model and agent for change,” says Mfanakayise.
Change, for Mfanakayise, came with his acceptance into the Moshal Scholarship Programme. “When I entered University things at were much worse in terms of finances and food. The scholarship Mr Martin Moshal bestowed not only changed my life, but also went further to change the extreme poverty situation at home,” Mfanakayise reveals, explaining how he budgeted school costs to help sustain his family.
“Mr Martin is the key player in making my dream come true in my life,” maintains Mfanakayise. “I say so because without him, I would not have been able to pursue my career well. He saved myself and my family,” he adds. The value of Ubuntu, which is integral to the Moshal programme, has also had a major impact on Mfana, who has already made inroads into paying it forward to his community.
“I have started a Non-Profit Organisation called Pursuers of Ubuntu, currently registered with the UKZN Howard,” he explains. “It focuses on offering career guidance to matric pupils from disadvantaged schools, as well as providing them with basic computer skills. We also assist them with application to universities and applying for different bursaries,” says Mfanakayise.
Assisting others with the means, no matter how small, to advance their education is a cause close to his heart. This, says Mfanakayise, is because of the immeasurable value of education. “Knowledge is a powerful weapon with which you can conquer the world. Once you have it, no one will take it away from you,” he stresses. “The more knowledge you have, the more you are able to deal or address appositely socio-economic issues from various angles,” he adds.
Sharing that knowledge is equally important, he maintains. “It is meaningless to have knowledge whilst the majority of our people are ignorant. And knowledge sharing can help in connecting each other better and build up a more connected society,” notes Mfanakayise.
That’s the spirit of enterprise, innovation and Ubuntu, personified.