Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
They have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve what had hitherto been thought impossible.
The three youths had to fight ideological, mental, physical and social barriers to be the first in their community to enrol at a university.
From the reclusive San community in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North whose way of life has hardly changed in decades, the trio may now carry the hopes of a people that some say are being threatened with extinction.
Last week it was established that although the San appear to exist in a cocoon that insulates them from the rest of the world, modernity has broken through enough to dilute their language.
The San/Tjwa language is facing extinction as less than five people can speak their native language and the death of their language might mean the loss of their culture too.
Others have adopted dialects of isiNdebele and Kalanga.
The nomadic San are hard to locate or speak to as they disappear at the sight of strangers.
To access them, one needs to go through someone they trust from their community.
Even donors and Government authorities struggle to get information about the extremely shy people who are content to eke a living through hunting and gathering.
A majority are illiterate and they have resisted numerous interventions to integrate them into mainstream society since 1928.
Never before has someone from the San community been enrolled at a university.
No one from the San community has ever been employed in a professional set up, not even as menial labourers and for the longest time they exclude themselves from interaction with other communities.
To complete Ordinary Level and Advanced Level is a great achievement for someone hailing from the poverty-stricken San community.
Only a handful have completed Grade Seven and a visit to communities such as Mpilo village, Sifulasengwe, Butabubili and Mgodimasili in Tsholotsho District, paints a gloomy picture.
It might be unimaginable that 10 to 14 people can share two huts but this is the reality of some of the families from the San villages.
The narrative is, however, changing after Mr Nkosiyazi Brian Ncube (20), Mr Victor Moyo (21) and Mr Obvious Ndlovu (26) successfully enrolled for the Bachelor of Arts in Education Degree at the Midlands State University (MSU) last month.
Initially four had enrolled at the univesity but just a month into their studies one of them quit citing difficult working and studying conditions.
Between 7.30AM and 4.30PM the trio are menial job employees at MSU and attend lectures in the evening.
Their parents and guardians cannot afford to send them to university hence they are working to raise tuition fees and money for other needs.
Mr Ndlovu said poverty had shattered his dream to enrol at a university.
Almost five years after completing his advanced level, Mr Ndlovu says his dreams are back on track.
He says he is a pioneer not just in his family but among more than 3 000 San people living in Tsholotsho and Bulilima districts after he together with his colleagues successfully enrolled at MSU.
Mr Ndlovu says by merely enrolling at MSU, he has become a role model for his community and he is determined to complete his studies despite the challenges he is facing.
“When we enrolled at MSU we were four, all coming from the San community. But one of us has since left and we understand his reasons.
We are also facing the same predicament but we have told ourselves that we cannot quit.
“We enrolled at the university under a sponsorship programme where we have to work at the university to pay fees. So, we are employed as assistant builders (odaka boy). This is really demanding, there is a lot of work and when we are tired from the job, we have to start studying and it’s never easy,” says Mr Ndlovu, a former John Landa High pupil.
He says he wants to inspire other youths from his community to know life can be anything one dreams of as long as they are prepared to work to achieve their dreams.
Mr Ndlovu says while he settled well at MSU, largely due to the fact that he is always with his San ethnic friends, he sometimes feels trapped as he cannot communicate with his family back home.
Most San communities live a distance away from other societal groups and their areas do not have access to telecommunications infrastructure.
“We are so poor, even when I think of my family there is nothing I can do. I don’t have the money to travel back home just to visit them. I live with my mother as my parents separated, she is also not employed so she cannot provide me with any form of assistance. What we get from the university’s dining hall is all that we eat,” says Mr Ndlovu who majors in History and the San language.
He says the San language is also part of his university studies but at the moment, they are yet to commence lectures as the institution was yet to find a lecturer for them.
“Our language is no longer spoken, right now you can count the number of people who can speak it.
I don’t think there are more than five adults who know it. Ever optimistic, Mr Ndlovu sees the positive in all the challenges.
“So, all of us here are studying it and I see this is an opportunity for us as well because if there is a shortage of teachers or lecturers who speak or can teach, it means that is a job opportunity for us. We will be able to teach those who come after us,” he says.
When a Chronicle news crew called Mr Ndlovu he was together with Mr Ncube and Mr Moyo.
Mr Ncube said they were bubbling with confidence and most of their colleagues at university do not even know that they come from the San community.
For instance, the San are not as short as the perceived stereotype.
“I just want people to understand that we are just the same like them. I want them to understand that we only hunt, eat meat. We might be facing challenges but we are determined. I want to motivate others, even teach those who are not San about our culture. We are looked down upon and discriminated against but we also want to live a normal life without being labelled,” says Mr Ncube who majors in Tjwa and English communication studies.
He said he is struggling to balance between the demanding job and studies and sometimes he even misses assignments deadlines.
Mr Moyo who majors in Geography and the San language, says it is a milestone achievement to have someone from their marginalised community rising to study at university.
“For some people this might seem as if it’s nothing but where we come from, we know how significant this is. We are now inspiring others to do the same. We know a lot of people from our community are struggling to even complete Grade Seven due to poverty as they can’t pay fees, afford uniforms and all the other necessities,” said Mr Moyo.
He says the trio struggles to buy toiletries as this is not covered under their work for studies arrangement.
Victor says even food is not sufficient as they are sometimes given only tea while at work, leaving them seriously drained in their demanding work.
Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust director and founder Mr Davy Ndlovu who has been instrumental in capacitating the San community said it was ground-breaking to have a San enrolled at a university.
He said it was his hope that the trio will be agents of change in their communities.
“Having someone coming from their community progressing up to A Level and university, and coming back to live with the community will definitely inspire others. We are banking on these three to be agents of change in their communities when they complete their studies,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu said the students’ circumstance was unique in that most university students are only concerned about passing their examinations yet they have to work for their education.
“These students do not have resources, so we came up with an arrangement that they provide labour in exchange for their tuition fees payment. I was talking to them, they were telling me that they are daka boys when other learners are conducting online lessons, these are some of the challenges that they face,” said Mr Ndlovu.
You can help make their dream come through by donating to their cause by contacting the Chronicle. — @nqotshili.