My name is Thobelani Ngema, my mother is Zincane Cele and my late father was Mandla Ngema. I was born in a rural area called kwaQwabe in Port Shepstone in the south of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993. When I was only two years old, my father was shot and killed at Mehlomnyama village in Port Shepstone during the faction fights that were rife between the members of the African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in 1995.

My mother never went to school and she could not speak English. To earn a living, she had to plant and sell veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes. She also sold snacks and sweets at the primary school I went to. At the age of ten, we moved to Richards Bay where my father’s home was. I do not have any memories of my father as I did not get a chance to live with him or hear him speak. My mother got a job as a domestic worker a year after we relocated.

It was on a Saturday evening that she produced an A4 sized photograph, pointed at it and said “This is your father carrying you”.

“How old was I?” I asked. She said I was only one month old. I looked at the man in the picture. He was wearing a big brownish jacket, black trousers and brown shoes. It was my father, and that’s how I know him; from seeing him in a picture.

In 2007 when I was 14, I had several unusual sicknesses and was told that I have an ancestral calling. That was the last thing on earth I could ever do. The struggle carried on, and in 2010 when I was in Matric, the ancestral calling intensified and I would dream of Sangomas talking to me. At times, I would scream for no particular reason, or cry and isolate myself from other people. Thus, I failed my matric. Deep down inside, I knew that at the end my struggle in life would be over.

All I wanted was to be a writer or a journalist. I never let my past define me. I started to listen to motivational speakers on radio and read motivational books. Reading books rescued me from my misery. I could sleep on an empty stomach four days in a row and I could walk a two-hour distance from college to home if I had no money to travel by bus or taxi. Many people do not know about my struggle as I do not wash my dirty linen in public. I never lost hope and never will. Life was not easy after Matric either, but I managed to redo it and passed well.

When I look in the mirror, I see a conqueror and I see a writer. Sticking to my dream, in March 2015, I got a chance to speak on a national radio station, SAfm, with Ashraf Garda and was given 60 seconds. In the very same year, my story ‘The False Prophet’ was published on the FunDza fan page. In 2016, I was given a chance to compile a story by a local newspaper in my village, and they published my first story. Before that, several of my opinion pieces were also published by another local newspaper, the Zululand Observer.

I have an ability to do things best, so do not judge me by my past. Do not judge me by my age and background. Do not judge a book by its cover.