It was cause for a double celebration in the Mbatha household when twins Sandile and Siyanda graduated with Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees majoring in Computer Science and Information Technology.
The Mbatha twins attended Bhekathina High School in Emvundlweni, a rural area 30km outside Escourt, characterised by people carrying firewood, fetching drinking water in the valley, high unemployment rates and a large dependence on social grants. To reach the village situated beneath the Ntabamhlophe mountain requires travelling along a 5km gravel road.
The Mbatha twins learnt responsibility very quickly as their lives revolved around attending school, herding the cattle and fetching water. Owing to the conditions experienced in Emvundlweni, their mother had to seek employment outside the community and the twins stayed with their grandparents, an aunt and four other children. Everyone depended on the grandparents’ pension for food and clothing. Although it was a struggle, their grandparents managed to take care of everyone under their roof.
Sandile’s interaction with teachers and friends at school helped boost his confidence levels and he quickly realised the value of hard work and dedication. ‘If you believe in yourself and that you can achieve anything you want in life, good things happen to you.’
Siyanda agreed that his self-discipline, dedication and work ethic came from his experience at high school. Support from teachers and fellow learners inspired him to excel.
It was through career guidance and career exhibitions that were organised by their school that the Mbatha twins decided to pursue Bachelor of Science degrees specialising in Computer Science and Information Technology. They chose UKZN because of its position as one of the top five universities in South Africa committed to academic excellence and quality education. When accepted to study at UKZN, the twins’ grandmother and a teacher, Mr A Mdluli – now the principal of Bhekathina High School – managed to pay the acceptance fee of R500 each for the boys.
It was inevitable that both brothers would study Computer Science however, while Siyanda gravitated towards problem-solving and logical thinking, Sandile grew more curious about the digital systems age.
Although both brothers undertook the same modules, they describe their undergraduate experience very differently. For Sandile, his undergraduate years helped him to be more outgoing and sociable. ‘Every person is unique with regards to his or her studies but with dedication, hard work and passion, anything is possible,’ he said.
For Siyanda, the key role played by certain academics in bringing out his educational and personal strengths and interests was what was important. ‘My educational journey allowed me to attain a better understanding of virtues such as patience and perseverance, both of which I had very little of in the early stages of my educational development,’ he said. ‘My advice is to surround yourself with success-oriented peers who are committed to their university studies.’
The twins visit their former school as often as possible to encourage learners to pursue careers in science. Their message is that if the learners are dedicated and work hard, they too can graduate in science. ‘As tough as it is in our community, education is becoming more fashionable, and more people have a hunger to improve themselves through education,’ said Siyanda. ‘Lifting others up is our passion as we know how it is to be in a position of disadvantage. Our success is everyone’s success in the village – we will always ensure that we encourage everyone to consider Computer Science when choosing a career path.’
Lecturer in Computer Science Mr Anban Pillay said: ‘The Discipline of Computer Science is justifiably proud of the achievements of these young men. Through hard work and perseverance, they overcame challenging circumstances and completed their BSc CSIT degrees. The Academic Leader of the Discipline, Professor Serestina Viriri and the staff, congratulate both Siyanda and Sandile on their excellent achievement and we wish them well in their future.’
Currently the twins are registered for their BSc Honours degrees in Computer Science at UKZN. After completion, both brothers hope to secure employment at a top tech company.
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Melusi Dlamuka