Constance Matshidiso Lelaka - Inspirational South African - From hotel cleaner to a PhD graduate!

An inspirational story is currently trending in South Africa about a hotel cleaner who recently graduated with a PhD!


Johannesburg, South Africa – Constance Matshidiso Lelaka is an inspirational South African who once waited tables and worked as a hotel cleaner for tips to raise funds to pursue her academic goals.

Lelaka completed her doctorate studies earlier this year and recently celebrated the achievement at her graduation day, but just over two decades ago, the Soweto resident served tables and swept the floors of Sandton City’s Garden Court Hotel in South Africa.

IOL reported that the 43-year-old is now working as a Social Scientist Researcher at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

She also holds a PhD in Literature and Philosophy.

Lelaka started working in the hotel in 1995 after her mother – a domestic worker – encouraged her to save money to further her studies.

“I served as a waitress in a restaurant and in the hotel room for housekeeping. In 1995 during the Rugby World Cup, I had received good tips in foreign currency from the international guests,” she said.

Her mother had already instilled the culture of saving when she was young.

Lelaka was accepted to the Fort Hare University in 1996 and resigned from her hotel job to focus on her studies. She used the tips she had saved to enrol and then received university government financial assistance. In her final year, she received the “Kellogg’s bursary”.

The determined student said she always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and knew from the age of 14 that she wanted to pursue a career in social work.

“The profession helped me break out of my shell and improve the lives of those who were faced with social, mental and family dilemmas,” she said.

But the passionate South African continued to work towards fulfilling her dreams and continued to study to help even more South Africans.

“I enrolled with the University of South Africa to achieve the following – a six-month certificate in HIV/Aids Care and Counselling in 2002, a one-year certificate in Human Resource Management in 2004, a one-year certificate in Total Quality Management in 2007, an Honours degree in HIV/Aids Social Behaviour Studies 2011 and a Master’s in Public Health 2014,” she explained to IOL. 

“I decided to apply for the PhD later in 2015 and I completed it in January 2019,” she said.

Lelaka hopes that her story will urge women, especially girls, to pursue their dreams.

Sources: IOL | UNISA 
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