A Magnificent Journey: From Destitute To Greatness

Life was hard for Magnificent growing up without his parents there. He depended on his grandmother’s laborious efforts to survive. She was his support structure both socially and economically.

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By Masindi Mamphiswana

Somewhere out of the shanty, dusty small village of Thokozani in Mpumalanga – the place of the rising sun – comes a young man of determined character who is undeterred by the abjection surrounding him. His name is Magnificent but there’s nothing quite beautiful and impressive about his humble beginnings yet he is going to change that now that he’ll be the first in his family to get a degree.

Magnificent’s life during the times of hardship and misery

Life was hard for Magnificent growing up without his parents there. He depended on his grandmother’s laborious efforts to survive. She was his support structure both socially and economically. When he was younger, she would carry the little boy on her back at the break of dawn to go to work in the expanse of the evergreen forests and toil in the deforestation industry for a decent income in order to put food on the table.

It was hard to get by as his family was poor and the community destitute. Back then, sometimes Magnificent had to go to sleep only having eaten a meal of pap served with sugared or salted water. Just to have potatoes as a substitute for meat was pleasing enough. Life was not good. His loving grandmother is his superwoman, his sole provider and he has always valued her efforts to make his life bearable.

He lacked the comfort of his parents through difficult times. A car crash claimed the life of his father, robbing Magnificent of a father at such a tender age of three before he could even form strong memories of him. His mother left the village for Johannesburg in pursuit of a better life for herself.

How Magnificent’s Belief Birthed Endurance To Conquer All Odds

Seeing the unprosperous circumstances which surrounded him, Magnificent always dreamed of breaking out of that reality.  He realized that education was the only escape. As he is a politically conscious fellow, he believes in Mandela’s saying that education is the key to success. Magnificent knew he had to do something to escape the prison of poverty surrounding him. There was not much surrounding him; people survived by farming and forestry and there were barely any resources in Thokozane – no water, no electricity, no library, even shops were very far from the village.

But, believing in the ultimate power of education, even though he wasn’t the best academically, he wanted to pursue his dream of acquiring knowledge and making something of himself and to be the difference in a place where achievements were uncommon. But how was he to do that? No one in his community had ever gotten a degree before. But Magnificent wasn’t going to allow himself to be stuck without making attempts to breakout.

One afternoon, after hearing that the University of Johannesburg is issuing free online applications to enroll for the university, he decided to give it a shot. But he had no access to a computer as there was no library in his village but a small one in his town of Amsterdam which only had one computer for the population of a couple thousand people.

He used his smartphone to apply and to his luck soon after that, UJ accepted him. Having also applied for financial aid, NSFAS also accepted his request to be funded since he was financially disadvantaged. Just like that, things were starting to look up for the small-town boy. He really was relying on his faith, knowing God had his back.

The Rural Life vs. Life in the City Of Gold

Now that doors started to open, Magnificent had to make that transition from rural, village boy to urban city boy. He travelled to Johannesburg ahead of commencing his studies.


Having arrived in the bustling city of gold, the place of dreams and settling in Johannesburg Central, Magnificent was daunted not having been used to the city environment. But he quickly learned that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, glitter and gold or glitz and glam in Johannesburg as he had always envisaged.

In some aspects, it was a hard knock life too over here. Hobos lining the streets, begging for money, crime and violence… Johannesburg, he told himself, is also a horrible and cruel place.

In spite of the ugly side of it, he enjoys Joburg as it allows him to flourish. It’s quite a nice life here, he reckons. Much better than the struggle life back home. He gets to eat nice food and this is one of the things he likes about being here – which also relieves him of chores he has to do back home fetching and chopping firewood.

Welcome to UJ . . .

One day he walked into the student center at UJ, marvelling at and nerve-wrecked by all the restaurants and shops and multitudes of students socializing in the vicinity. He thought it was something like a mall and was afraid to go in and explore.

Magnificent had to find a way of adapting to this new, exciting place. He literally googled the challenges youth face when they gain independence in the city. Realizing how Johannesburg is like a big ocean where people drown, he told himself that he would use his freedom and independence wisely. No boozing, smoking or partying.

The most exciting part about arriving at UJ was the day he walked into the library, confronted with a plethora of books in an array of giant shelves – not quite like he had encountered before. Now he had access to all this knowledge, it was truly gratifying for him. And just like that, he had the key, was education and knowledge, in his hands.

Now success awaits him if he uses the key correctly to unlock the door to success. Almost a year and counting…His journalism degree is waiting on the other side of the finish line and his graduation gown and cap await him faithfully and hopefully.

Masindi Mamphiswana is a 24-year-old Jo’burg-based aspiring writer and journalist. She did her undergrad studies at Monash South Africa and subsequently pursued a postgraduate honours degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2016. She has an interest in areas such as economics, sociology and literature.

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