One quote comes to mind when Sinoxolo Sithonga recounts her story and it reads, “Difficult times are like washing machines; they twist us, spin us and knock us around, but in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before.” 27-year-old Sinoxolo is an essential worker during lockdown, working as an HR intern at Pick ‘n Pay. Although you don’t pick your struggles in life, Sinoxolo has had to pay her dues.

“I am the fourth of ten children, born into a broken family with a stepfather from hell. My mom met my father and I was conceived after her then-boyfriend and baby daddy got arrested. He came back from jail and claimed his woman, he wanted nothing to do with me and demonstrated his feelings towards me,” she recalls.

Sinoxolo was born in Mdantsane Emivundleni squatter camp in East London, in the Eastern Cape. This is one of the most impoverished areas in Mdantsane and Sinoxolo says her father’s absence worsened the situation.

“We have never met; 27 years later and he still has no courage to! My mother believed that a woman stayed home and took care of the children, so my stepfather was the sole breadwinner. I am not justifying how she let him treat me badly but she really didn’t have much choice as she couldn’t financially take care of us,” she says, adding that his violent ways made it harder for her mom to leave.

Sinoxolo remembers how she’d go to school with an empty stomach because her stepfather wouldn’t let a ‘monkey’ [albino] eat his food.

“I was fairly light-skinned with an orangish hair, and I looked different from his kids. He passed on in 2000 and I thought my life would be better but things got worse. We were left with a depressed and alcoholic mom who didn’t know what to do with us. My grandmother tried her best to keep us in school but it was not that easy.”

Sinoxolo’s self-esteem took a knock and she questioned her mom’s love. She often felt like she had no chance at succeeding. She wondered why her mom couldn’t put them first and fight the urge to drink. She resented her. She adds, “I was a broken young girl!”

Her future looked bleak in her eyes. Staying in school was senseless when she battled to keep her body and soul together. Her Grade 7 teacher noticed her week-long absence at school and decided to follow up.

“She found her way to my house, and she was shocked and heartbroken by the situation we were in. She wanted to take me to her house. I had to pack my bags and go. I didn’t care much about where I was going. I was just happy to be escaping my misery.”

Sinxolo was now nervous about leaving and excited about going.

“I knew this was my ticket out of poverty so I was prepared to make an impression. I told myself I would work hard to make sure that my teacher didn’t regret anything. We got to her house, and all hell broke loose on the first day.”

She says she was mocked for asking how to use an electric stove, as she never had the privilege to use one before, and the teacher’s daughter reminded her to not ‘get comfortable, you will go back home – this isn’t your home!’

“I knew from then that I would have to be strong. I woke up each and every day and didn’t know what to expect. My teacher was and still is kind but like most parents, she was overprotective of her own. So I knew there was no protection for me there. I spent seven years in that house.”

Sinoxolo’s duties ranged between being a nanny and staying up all night so she could open the door for the daughter when she came back home – from partying.

“She reminded me of how thin and hungry I was when they found me and would curse and shout till the next morning. Outsiders were asking why I put up with all that abuse instead of going home. They couldn’t understand.”

Sinoxolo then got saved and accepted Jesus into her life then focused on obtaining her matric, which she passed in 2010.

“I walked into college with nothing but a R700 I got from my boyfriend, hoping to register and find accommodation. A voice kept telling me I was a big dreamer but my heart was so sure of God’s grace. Today I have a National Diploma in Human Resource Management and my family is well taken care of. They will never ever go hungry again. I believe my partner was sent by God to erase all the hate and anger I had towards men. I feel grateful and I can never thank God enough,” she says, adding that she wants to study further.

Sinoxolo now has two baby boys who she’s raising with love and happiness – a completely different set up to her childhood. Also, the faith that her mom has in her keeps her going. Her mom now has a revived faith in life and God.

“I feel like God is making up for all the pain I went through. I look at my boys and pinch myself in disbelief! I’m grateful to my grandmother and teacher for believing in me.”

Unfortunately, Sinoxolo’s teacher passed on a few days after this interview was conducted and she says, “I’ll forever be indebted to her, she saw something in me that others didn’t. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”

Sinoxolo concludes with words of encouragement: “Fight, fight, and fight! When you feel weak, ask God for strength and believe that he has great plans for your life. None of us are created to suffer. Keep going till you see the light. God gives the hardest battles to his strongest soldiers; you are stronger than you think. You will win!”

Read about how a Rwandan refugee persevered through great hardship here.

Tell us: What about Sinoxolo’s story inspires you?