Indeed, one needs not judge a book by its cover. My aunt is the exact epitome of the idiom. She overcame plenty of obstacles in her life. She was a village woman who did not have a lot of support to achieve her dreams. I learnt the true meaning of perseverance through her.

She grew up in a destitute family where she had to share the slice of pie with her nine siblings (my father included). My grandfather had only his cattle as his movable assets, so prosperity was something one had to fight tooth and nail for. Her husband abandoned her with her six children, three boys and three girls. He didn’t even bother to support his children, so she had to grapple to put food on the table. She got a job as a domestic worker in a village called Tshandama, Limpopo, outside Thohoyandou. She managed to keep body and soul together as well as supporting her children with the peanuts she was earning. Although some of the relatives assisted her where they could, it did not neutralize the sting of her abject poverty. With one look at her dark- skinned face, you could see her misery in her deep-set eyes, which were mirrors that reflected her inner pain.

She often told people how she was consistently mistreated and disrespected by her employer but she had no choice since poverty kept on reminding her of her circumstances. She continued working until she finally opened the door to an idea that had been knocking in her brain – she decided to go back to school and complete her Grade 12, which set the tongues wagging. It did not deter her determination at all, she kept her faith strong through all the trials and tribulations. “Ha! Why can’t she simply admit that her time is over? Her brain can’t comprehend the present-day knowledge!” the naysayers repeated the words. None of them could stop her burning passion which kept her focused and energized.

She quit her job whilst her oldest son, at 39 years of age, supported her financially since he was working in the City of Gold, Johannesburg. Her other son, the one who followed her oldest son, drove a taxi from his home village of Thengwe to Thohoyandou. In fact, he made sufficient income to sustain a village lifestyle. Her other children were unemployed and her last born, a girl, was still in Grade 10. Unfortunately, she lost her son in an accident; his taxi collided with a truck.

As we all know, misfortunes never come singly – her supportive son was laid off out of the blue. She remained tough-fibred amid all the obstacles she was encountering. After all this, she finished her Grade 12 and a few months later she got a permanent job as a cleaner in one of the clinics in Mutale Municipality.

She proved herself to all those who wrongly judged and undermined her. She built herself a beautiful house and with her salary, she managed to give some of her children the key that unlocks all the doors – education. “Sam, always know that your dream is more powerful than the challenges”, she advised the other day.