Alfred Nkosi was born in the early ‘70s to a poor family. His father abandoned them when he was still very young. He had three older sisters and a brother. They lived in a rural area called Kranskop. After his father had abandoned his family, his mother found a job at a sugarcane farm near Greytown, forcing the family to relocate and live in a two-roomed hut owned by a farmer. All the family members worked on the sugarcane farm earning peanuts.
Alfred and all the other children at the farm didn’t attend school because there was no nearby school and the parents didn’t have transport money to take their kids to school. He was helping his mother in the sugarcane fields by age eleven. This helped his mother do more work in a day which meant more money, as the money they got depended on how much work they did.
The following year, the farmer hired Alfred as a cowherd and he did this for three years. He had a very good relationship with the farmer, Mr Wilson. In his fourth year, Mr Wilson told Alfred that his brother, a hardware owner, was looking for someone who was dedicated and a hard worker to work at his store as most of the people he hired were lazy and stole from him. So, the farmer recommended Alfred.
Alfred left for Greytown and stayed in the backroom of his employer’s house. He shared this room with another employee, Dumisani, who worked as a driver delivering building materials around Greytown. Alfred and Dumisani worked together. Later, Alfred found out that Dumisani was using the car for his personal gain. Instead of accepting money for his silence, he asked Dumisani to teach him how to read and write. It was difficult in the beginning and Dumisani hated it. Dumisani first taught him how to hold a pen, write the vowels and how to write his name and surname.
He would practice every day after work and after a long time of practicing, he was able to read IsiZulu. Seeing his efforts to learn to read and write, Zanele, who worked as a domestic worker for the Wilsons, told him about night school classes that her son attended. Alfred enrolled without thinking twice. A year was split into two which meant you could do two grades in one year. This was applicable up until Standard 5. He continued with his studies and obtained his matric certificate at age 28. He was then promoted to Store Manager by Mr Wilson and he also continued to support his mother financially. She was no longer working due to being ill.
Two years later, he found a temporary job as a high school history teacher. While working as a teacher, he was also studying towards a degree in education through Unisa. He obtained his degree in education and was employed permanently. He started the Siyafunda project helping illiterate people to read and write and also encouraged students to read and about the importance of reading. They distributed books to schools. He and his friends acquired a sugarcane farm through the land reform programme and today they run a successful farm. Mr Alfred Nkosi, ‘The boy who chose a pen over cash’, has taught me never to judge a book by its cover.