What would South Africa look like if its youth took a leaf from the book of Sabelwa Matikinca? They would be a force to be reckoned with. They would be relentless. They would be dissatisfied with mediocrity and strive for excellence. They would be unafraid of momentary suffering and unafraid of failing.
These are all qualities that characterise the young Sabelwa Matikinca. At the age of 21 she already exhibits the makings of what she dreamed of becoming as an 11-year-old – the president of South Africa. While becoming the nation’s leader is no longer her primary focus, a conversation with Sabelwa about her convictions and hope for this country will have you wishing she were already in office.
Learning to believe
At the age of 11 Sabelwa was interviewed by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation for the Scholarship Opportunity. It resulted in her completing high school with both the financial and developmental support of the Foundation – an experience she describes as “having a community, outside my family, that genuinely cared for my well being in all aspects.” She also recalls that because her Personal Leadership Officer believed in her so much, she started believing in herself too. “It is because I believe in myself that I believe in the future of South Africa.”
During her time as an Allan Gray Scholar she also learned that “we should not only be proud of ourselves when we reach our goals or destination, but we should also commend ourselves for the daily effort we put into reaching those goals.” It is a belief that she finds especially valuable in her current field of study, BCom Rationum Law, at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Her decision to study a degree that will allow her to qualify as a chartered accountant and as a lawyer was not based on practicality – one cannot practise in both these professions at the same time. It has more to do with the fact that she wants to prove to herself and others what she is capable of. “It’s about pushing the boundaries and showing young boys and young girls in this country that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to as long as you’re willing to put in the hours it requires and ignore those who tell you can’t and those who tell you it’s never been done before.”
It has never been done before
Sabelwa’s penchant for achieving things that have never been done before is evident not only in her choice of degree but in the fact that she is the first of the Foundation’s 156 Scholars to date who have managed to progress to the Allan Gray Fellowship Programme. If the Scholarship Programme taught her to believe in herself, then the Fellowship Programme has equipped her to find out who she is, what makes her unique, what she is passionate about and what she is called to do. When asked if she would encourage other young South Africans to apply for these programmes, the answer is a resounding yes. She would motivate others to apply because “the Foundation is not just a provider of funding. It offers personal growth programmes that allow you to realise your potential and explore [that] which you did not know you have.”
In fact, Sabelwa would want an opportunity like this to be afforded to every child in Africa. Yet even if this were impossible, her advice to young Africans and South Africans is to:
- first, have a vision;
- determine to never let it go;
- give up on waiting for someone to help you;
- consider your talents and/or resources;
- think of how resource a, b or c will connect you to opportunity d or e so that you get closer to your vision;
- look to those who have gone before you and adapt your plan to incorporate their proven approaches;
- be unafraid of failing or taking detours;
- expect greater difficulty as you climb higher; but always
- remember that the view from the top will be worth it.
When listening to Sablewa’s memories of growing up in Port Elizabeth one is easily convinced that she was set up for greatness. Her parents, both educators, instilled in her a great sense of responsibility. She knew that her homework had to be finished by the time her folks arrived home from work. She knew that when she wanted something she had to work for it. A living example of this was her father who taught history by day, drove taxis by night and delivered pizzas over the weekends all so she and her sister could be taken care of. Her mother too embodied passion for excellence, starting out as a teacher and eventually fulfilling the role of Acting Campus Manager at a TVET College. It comes as no surprise then that eight-year-old Sabelwa thought it normal to get up in the middle of the night to study and prepare for her next school day.
“I grew up in a family where you work for everything that you have; you work and you sweat and you cry and after all of that work, eventually, you reap what you have sown.” Hard work, dedication and picking yourself up after a fall is the mantra Sabelwa lives by and one she hopes the youth of our country can adopt in spite of the many obstacles they face.
It is important to consider where people come from and what they’re up against, but that will never be a sufficient excuse. Her empathy and wisdom is revealed when she says, “I understand and acknowledge that our past injustices have bruised us. A lot of black people don’t have computers at home; when they need to do a project they must go to a library. A lot of black people don’t have access to WiFi. They don’t have access to certain resources because of our past injustices. But it is not okay that we justify incorrect acts or incorrect behaviour [because of the] circumstances that someone is in or someone grew up in.”
Suffering is temporary
She goes on to bemoan South Africans’ willingness to accept mediocrity: “We cannot celebrate and find it okay that people always take an easy way out. We need to be a generation that isn’t afraid to suffer. You have to suffer in order to appreciate your success, you have to go through some sort of pain in order for there to be a celebration afterwards.” Quoting Dr Eric Thomas she explains that pain is temporary; it can last for a minute, it can last for an hour, it can last for a month, it can last for a year, but if you continue to persevere it will soon be replaced by something else; it will be replaced by something greater. “You will never suffer for the rest of your life; that is not possible.”
So far BCom Rationum Law has been the purifying fire that has turned her willingness into steely determination; her character into gold. She readily acknowledges that she has been tested academically. During her first two years of study she found that input equaled output – if she studied hard, the marks would always follow. As the workload in her third year increased she realised that if she was going to make it, she needed to fire up her passion for her studies and what it would equip her with. The challenge she currently faces as a fourth-year student is the fact that hard work in itself doesn’t pay off. She realised that what she needs now is resilience: the ability, when she’s on the ground, to dust herself off and try one more time.
Her encouragement to the youth of South Africa is something that she lives by daily and which originates from our former president, Thabo Mbeki: “Those who complete the course will do so only because they do not, as fatigue sets in, convince themselves that the road ahead is still looking long, the incline too steep, the loneliness impossible to bear and the prize itself of doubtful value.”
In her view society focuses too much on the end product and the success somebody is without giving due recognition to the failures that they’ve had to endure. “What makes a successful person is that when they fail they tell themselves that they still can achieve whatever they put their mind to and number two, they continue – they continue to try again, to work at it; they continue to thrive, they continue to move forward. What really defines failure is when you fail and you stop there.”