By Yusuf Omar
Sipho Mbadaliga’s story is heartbreaking. Having recently completed his Bachelor of Business Science specialising in finance and accounting, Mbadaliga has had to endure a series of tragedies in his journey to graduation.
Growing up in the small rural community of Madombidzha in Limpopo, where few people had professional qualifications, Mbadaliga’s aims for university transcended merely getting a degree.
“When I came to university, I came with the aim of making my parents and community proud,” he said. “This is what really pushed me to try and excel academically, while also involving myself in leadership positions.”
Mbadaliga’s academic results bear testimony to his dedication. He left matric in 2013 with seven distinctions and as one of the top 20 students in the province, winning a scholarship from UCT’s Faculty of Commerce for his troubles.
Since then he has been part of the Dean’s Merit List and the Golden Key International Honour Society (being in the top 15% of achievers in his degree) and his CV has grown impressively – it’s simply too big to do it justice here.
But while sitting in a workshop in Jameson Hall (now Memorial Hall) in the first semester of his final year, he received heartbreaking news: his otherwise healthy father, a teacher, had suddenly passed away. It was a gutting blow for Mbadaliga.
“It was the worst day of my life. I remember pacing up and down with nothing but shock after I received the call. I immediately informed one of my close lecturers and sat in her office for about two hours, literally numb. What really hurt most was the fact that he was going to attend my graduation. That was one of the last things we spoke about.”
“I am therefore dedicating this degree to my father, in honour of his legacy. It is not mine, but his.”
“He sacrificed a lot in order for me to be where I am today. I made a promise to myself that I would dedicate every sweat and tear in pursuit of this degree to him. I am therefore dedicating this degree to my father, in honour of his legacy. It is not mine, but his.”
A succession of cruel blows
With scarcely any time taken to gather his thoughts, Mbadaliga was back on campus the day after his father was laid to rest.
And then about a month later his brother-in-law died. And three days after that, one of Mbadaliga’s closest friends also suddenly lost her life.
“That was a big blow for me. I was trying to recover from the loss of my father, and then this happens. I was at the lowest point of my life.”
“My friend passed away on the Friday, and on the Monday I had test week – four tests in a row. So for me it was, like, ‘How am I even going to deal with this? I’ve just lost three important people in my life.’ ”
After taking a short leave of absence when his father passed away, Mbadaliga was unable to attend his brother-in-law and friend’s funerals.
“I just couldn’t fall behind anymore. Two weeks of work in final year is hectic. I had to come back. I had to catch up. I couldn’t even attend lectures because emotionally I was not alright.”
With the shock of losing so many people close to him came the pressure of not finishing the journey that so much was riding on.
“My biggest fear was me not dealing with my emotions properly and falling behind. I had to keep composure and soldier on.”
So Mbadaliga came back and wrote his tests.
“They didn’t go well at all. I failed three and passed one. I received 38% and 39% for two of my tests respectively – something that had never happened in my life. I was falling into depression.”
A compounded struggle
To make matters worse, Mbadaliga was struggling to pay his fees.
“I knew that things were going to become increasingly difficult, as my mother was now widowed and was the only source of income in the family.”
Despite the trauma he had faced, Mbadaliga started applying to several companies for funding to continue with his studies – but he was met only with rejection. When his efforts to raise financial support via social media and crowdfunding were unsuccessful, he went back to the company that had sponsored his initial years of study. They agreed to fund him for the remainder of his degree.
“2017 will go down my life journey as the year that hit me and almost broke me. I would have easily given up, but I had to exercise resilience and grit.
“Use your obstacles as part of your success story.”
“But here I am, still standing and still pushing. I am currently pursuing my Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting, and this is my last year before starting my articles in my journey towards qualifying as a chartered accountant. I have an obligation to late father, to make him proud.”
Mbadaliga speaks with a wry smile, somewhere between resignation and determination. There was no natural progression from grief through recovery and refocusing.
“I think my story is a testimony for someone else. God will never give you a challenge that you cannot overcome. There are people that are facing greater challenges, but I would like them to use my story as a source of hope and encouragement.”
Some people never shout
By sharing his story, Mbadaliga hopes to inspire peers who might be fighting battles of their own.
“There’s quite a lot of people who may be going through the same thing I am going through, or who have lost their loved ones, but I think it is important for them to deal with it. Don’t keep it in your heart.
“I think it’s important for those around them to reach out to them, because we have a tendency to say, ‘If you need anything, just shout.’ Some people never shout. When you’re going through things, you never shout. You think that everything’s fine.
“So it’s very important to have a support structure and for the people around you to reach out to you.
“Mental health issues at university are serious. People are taking their own lives. So I think it is very important for people to reach out. It is extremely important to check up on your peers, as you may be their last hope.”
Taking an extended leave of absence to help with coping with the tragedies he went through was not an option for Mbadaliga.
“I couldn’t take a break because I knew that one more year is a year of fees, which I would need to pay back at the end of the day. So for me it is all about pushing myself and one day I will make a success of myself.”
And he is forging ahead with renewed motivation.
Mbadaliga is currently knee deep in his postgraduate studies and well on his way to becoming a chartered accountant. He’s not settling for just the one degree, nor is he settling only for academic excellence.
Mbadaliga was the secretary general for the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP)’s UCT chapter in 2017, and plans to contribute even more acutely to transformation in financial services and rural development through soccer.