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We Thank You

By Tristan BiggsPublished 3 months ago 4 min read

Siyabonga Khumalo grew up in the Impendle township outside the city of Pietermaritzburg in what was then called Natal. Her mother raised her and her three siblings on her own. Their father left just after the birth of the youngest child to work on the goldmines of the Witwatersrand and never returned, although he did send his family a sum of 200 rand a month as maintenance.

Siyabonga’s mother worked as a housemaid for various white families in the city’s suburbs, but money was always tight. Then, when she was just 18, Siyanbonga’s life was turned upside down! Her mother was diagnosed as being HIV positive, and soon contracted full-blown AIDs. She died less than a year after becoming ill. This meant that Siyabonga now had to drop out of school - she was only in standard 7 at the time, having started her education late - in order to raise her brother Bongane and her youngest sibling Thandi.

She continued in her mother’s footsteps as a maid in order to keep the other two children in school and maintain their somewhat meager standard of living. She continued to work in this way until she herself was a mother of two children and her siblings had left home.

Bongane was very ambitious, and was determined to make something of his life. Thus, just after leaving school, he worked in order to save enough money to move to Johannesburg and settle down where there were more job opportunities, especially since this was post 1994, and Apartheid had officially come to an end. He worked his way up in one of the major building societies, until he was earning a decent salary, and every month he saved a certain amount. When there was enough, he contacted his sister, insisting that she join him in Jo’burg and attend night school so that she could get her matric.

Fast-forward a number of years, and having achieved a resounding success in her bid to finish high school, Siyabonga had worked in order to save up enough money to attend the University of Johannesburg. By this time her own children had left home, and she even had a grandchild. The only issue was that she was the oldest student in the class, at the ripe old age of 65. Not only that, but her grasp of this ‘modern’ technology - computers and the internet - was somewhat limited, much to the amusement of her much younger classmates. 

There was a running gag that meant that every time she asked a question about how to do something that would have been considered simple, one of the students would say: “Okay goggo (the colloquial word for ‘Granny).”

Even some of the lecturers would just smile at her, but in a rather condescending manner, before helping her with the problem at hand.

None of these things went unnoticed, and Siyabonga often found herself discouraged and somewhat downhearted. Nonetheless she soldiered on, until four and a half years later, she eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.

It was at her graduation that one of her fellow students stood up, and gave a short speech in her honour. This took her by surprise, but what he said brought tears to the goggo’s eyes.

This was the gist of his speech: “I would like to relay our respects to Goggo Siyanbonga. We used to tease her when she asked the lecturer how to save a document and correct a mistake, but we knew that she would not give up. Even though I am sure that our words hurt her, I can also say that they made her even more determined to succeed. She showed us that you are never too old to achieve your goals, and for that lesson we are very grateful. As her name says: Siyabonga Goggo. We all thank you.”

The auditorium erupted with applause as the oldest student on campus stood up to accept her degree, and fresh tears ran down her kind, wrinkled face.

When she arrived home after the ceremony, one of her children stood up in front of the family and said: “We are so proud of our mother and grandmother tonight. Not only did you teach the rest of your class a good lesson, but you gave us so many happy memories too. You showed us the important things in life, like how to cook and clean our homes, and more importantly never to give up on our dreams. For these and many more, we say: “Siyabonga mama. Siyabonga kakhulu. (the words meaning “We thank you mama, we thank-you very much”)

The lessons that Siyabonga teaches us is never to make fun of another person’s efforts, and to be thankful for those who teach us even the most basic of life-skills.


About the Creator

Tristan Biggs

I was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and currently live in South Africa. From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for poetry. I have written a number of stories, poems, and several novels, ranging from fantasy to non fiction.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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