Coming from a small town, in the villages, a convicted criminal with nothing but a voice did not keep Nathi Mankayi down.

A young man from a dusty village in Maclear, where poverty strikes on a daily, Nathi and his sister were raised by a single mother who sold fruit in town as a street vendor, as means to put food on the table for her kids. It’s appropriate to say that odds were against him.

He grew up with a love for singing, “my sister and I sang during prayer sessions at home, we would take turns between each session”, he recalls in an interview he did with Sunday Times.

Although he was a devoted Christian and a firm believer, with a growling stomach and empty cupboards at home, life on the dark side was calling and ultimately he fell for the trap his peers were already caught in, and became a slave to crime. With pressure from friends, he went against his Christian values and the values his thought to mother taught him. They started looting, mugging and soon became known as hooligans around their community.

To his dismay, he learned the hard way that crime, indeed does not pay. He recalls the day they wanted to kill a man but the gun jammed, so they took his wallet and ran, unfortunately the man knew one of them and reported them to the police. Soon after that, they were arrested and were held at holding cells, where they escaped. He fled and went to Jo’burg. Soon after that, reality hit him that he couldn’t run forever. Having left his sister and mother behind, Nathi went back home and handed himself over to the police. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail.

As he sat in that cell, he started thinking about his life and what he’s meant to do with it. He speaks of how that experience shaped the man he is today.

After coming out of jail, he immersed himself deeply in his music, he taught himself how to play the guitar and started writing music about his life and experiences. He entered a local talent show, but came second to his equally vocally talented sister, but he entered again the following year and claimed the top prize.

As part of his winnings he got an opportunity to record an album (which would go on to be a multi-platinum selling hit). Even though he had the album, things did not work out that well, as he was still stuck in his small town and sharing his album with locals only. Due to people’s good reaction to his music, the whole province was soon enjoying his music and that’s how his big break came about.

Musician Vusi Nova heard his song playing in someone’s car and demanded to be introduced to this man, and well, as they say the rest is history.

Now, Nathi is not found in the dusty streets of his small town but on red carpets and awards ceremonies winning awards left, right and centre.

From the villages where, when the sun rises and sets every day dreams seems like they are moving further and further away, determination, hope and belief are the only things that kept Nathi moving forward. Now, he only knows poverty, crime and lost dreams as a story he’ll tell his kids one day.

So, should we judge a book by its cover? If it’s an anthology of Shakespeare short stories, then yes maybe we should, but if it is in reference to man then no, we should judge by the measure of the human spirit, because with its presence there’s a conqueror in each and every one of us.