From drop-out to academic
"While growing up I had more challenges than victories, but the victories are more sweet."
These are the words of Andile Mkonto, 22, of the impoverished Soweto-on-Sea who will be jetting off to the UK next week to study international business administration at London's Hult International Business School.
Mkonto, who co-owns Get Active Construction and Projects, which recently received a tender to build 150 houses in Witbank, was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13.
"I went to Johannesburg to stay with my mother, a domestic worker, but she fell sick. I had to drop out of school so that I could take care of her.
"After raising enough money to take a train [to Port Elizabeth, and] after my mother died, I ... had to repeat Grade 6.
"I bunked school for the whole term - I just got off track," the eldest of three orphans said.
Then, in about 2004-05, along came the Ubuntu Education Trust Fund, which offered him counselling.
"I had some psychological issues. The counselling really helped me, and things have been looking up since then.
"I am under no illusions that I would be where I am had I not met Ubuntu," Mkonto said.
In 2009, Ubuntu sent him to the African Leadership Academy where he matriculated.
"I am one of the fortunate ones that had opportunities opened for them. This is a huge opportunity for me. Not everyone from where I am goes to school.
"Without the support from my community and my granny I would not have made it. I am proud of my achievements and where I am from," Mkonto said.
He will be doing a four-year course -- two years in London and another two in Shanghai, Dubai or any of two campuses in the United States.
"I have never been outside the continent and it is scary, but I like challenges. I am looking forward to going there, meeting new people, making new friends and making money," he laughed.
"My granny is very proud of me, but scared at the same time, because she feels like she will not be there for me as much."
Ubuntu Education Trust Fund co-founder Banks Gwaxula said the programme had produced 14 graduates like Mkonto.
"I am very proud of Andile and the others that graduated through the programme," Gwaxula said.
"We are still keeping our promise that we would focus on education and health."
Mkonto had some advice for others who are in the same situation as he was.
"It is hard, when no one believes in you, to believe in yourself.
"Your family will always be there for you. Believe in yourself and go out there and grab any opportunity that comes your way," Mkonto said.
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