Ntokozo Qwabe is a South African with an incredibly inspirational story… the KwaZulu-Natal man literally went from herding cattle and playing soccer in the dusty streets of his rural village to making his parents proud at Oxford University in England.
“I can only hope that my story would inspire those from disadvantaged backgrounds to dream big.”
Born in Eshowe in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, Qwabe is one of 13 children.
Like many children growing up in the rural areas, Qwabe said he used to herd cattle and play soccer in the dusty streets of Oyaya Village.
At the age of 5, his parents enrolled him at Stilo Primary School in the village and thereafter in Oyaya High School. In Grade 9, he went to Brettenwood High School where he lived on the school property with his father.
“I couldn’t speak a word of English and it was a nightmare to move from an under-resourced school that taught in my mother language to a resourced school. I failed three of the four terms and passed the fourth term.”
Qwabe eventually taught himself English by “carefully listening to the other children” and watching television. He said he was often teased about living on the school property, but shrugged it off.
“During class the children used to say, ‘Go home. Oops, we forgot this is your home’.”
None of this fazed him, because all that mattered was he was getting an education.
“When I applied to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I didn’t think I was going to get accepted. In my application I told them I would need financial assistance.”
He was accepted to study law with financial assistance from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
“Although I received assistance, I couldn’t afford simple, but important things, like food, transport, books and USBs, so I decided to drop out.”
Not prepared to let go of his dream of an education, Qwabe took up a job pushing trolleys at the Shoprite Checkers at Southway Mall in Rossburgh.
“I was promoted to packing groceries and later to cashier. This allowed me to save every cent I earned.”
In 2010 he decided to return to university.
At the end of his fourth year and after completing 40 modules, Qwala received 34 distinctions and was awarded his degree summa cum laude.
He was also awarded the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship which he used towards his master’s degree at the University of Cape Town.
However, in mid-year, another great opportunity came knocking when he was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.
Last September Qwabe left for England and last week graduated with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree which, he says, was the world’s toughest law degree.
“When I am done with my studies, I am going to give back, because it feels like I am living a dream. I am not sure how at the moment, but I know I want to change people’s lives,”
He returns to England next year to complete a master’s degree in Public Policy.