A former farmworker who earned R55 a day for two years has beaten the odds to graduate a year earlier than expected from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
Philiswa Dingiswayo, a 26-year-old single mother, survived crippling depression, a failed suicide attempt and an uncertain financial situation to graduate with a diploma in marketing.
“I want to share my story so that others know that depression is serious but doesn’t need to define you. If I, a farmworker with the odds against me, can do it, then so can they,” Dingiswayo said.
Dingiswayo was raised by her grandparents on an apple and pear farm in Grabouw, and as one of the top students in her class, she had hopes of studying at CPUT after matric.
But at the age of 16, while in Grade 11, she fell pregnant and her school results took a knock.
After giving birth in her final year, Dingiswayo only managed to muster a D pass in matric. Soon afterwards, she left home with her infant son because she did not want to burden her ageing grandparents, she said.
In 2010, she returned home to her grandparents, and despite vowing to never be a farmworker herself, she was forced to ask for a job on the same farm where her grandparents had been working for about 30 years.
“I worked for two years, earning about R55 a day. I started as a sorter then got promoted to a packer. I used to pack about 400 boxes a day.
“I didn’t mind, because I knew I was only waiting for my son to get older so that I could go study. People mocked me in the factory because I had a matric and I was working there, but I let that motivate me to get out of there,” she said.
After applying to study at CPUT, a financial aid officer at the university noticed Dingiswayo’s address and flagged her for funding from the Lombard Foundation, which financially assists students from Grabouw.
Despite a good first year pass, including merit awards, Dingiswayo said the “dark cloud of depression” started affecting her studies.
“I started drinking and even smoking weed to combat these bad feelings I was having. People called me psycho, and I was angry all the time. Eventually, I was academically excluded. I remember when I almost committed suicide by drinking bleach. Depression is a killer. I didn’t know I was suffering from it,” she said.
The Student Counselling Unit then intervened, and Dingiswayo slowly started rebuilding her life.
In 2016, she opted to change courses and begged her way into a part-time marketing spot.
“My marks weren’t good, and I really had to beg the HOD to give me a chance and not judge me on those bad matric marks.
“Luckily, she gave me an opportunity, and now I am graduating one year earlier than I should without failing a subject,” Dingiswayo said.