“I never want to be the reason that you are unable to achieve your dreams. I don’t want to block you from any future academic experiences.”
These were the words of Dr Trust Matsilele (38) to his class of Bachelor of Technology Journalism students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) last year. There was a sincerity in his voice that I, as a student myself, had never heard in him before and I couldn’t stop myself from melting just a little.
“Here’s an interesting online article about me on Forbes Africa, have a look at it,” said Trust, the usual arrogant, side-grin dominating his face.
My friend and I exchanged exaggerated eye-rolls, but after opening the link to Trust’s story, we were shocked and teary-eyed at what we saw.
I chat with him to find out more about his inspiring journey.
“I was born in Masvingo, which is a city in Zimbabwe and at around seven months old, my twin brother, Justice and I were abandoned by our mother, who left us at Harare Central Police Station, where our father had worked. I only saw my mother one other time before she passed away last year.”
The same week Trust and his brother were left at the police station, they were adopted by their aunt and went to live with her in Mwenezi, south of Zimbabwe, at a Free Methodist mission compound, where she supported a ten-person household.
“My aunt was a teacher at Lundi Christian High School, so we had the basic things we needed, such as three meals a day and clothes,” he said.
However, after Trust’s aunt moved to South Africa when he was only ten years old, he and his brother were sent to live with his grandmother in Chitanga village in Masvingo Province, which meant adjusting to a new way of life without electricity, running water or lunch for school.
“Justice and I went to stay in a rural area with my grandmother, where people would herd cattle and goats, looked for firewood, fetched water from long distances and would hunt and fish in order to sustain themselves. We walked 4km to Chitanga Primary School every morning and needed to adjust to no longer carrying lunchboxes to school,” said Trust.
However, despite the change in dynamics, Trust notes that his time with his grandmother was filled with love. Later, he attended Lundi Christian High School, which was a boarding school.
After matriculating in 2001, Trust studied Journalism at the Christian College of Southern Africa, where he saw a traffic light for the first time.
“I worked as a workshop assistant during the day and attended classes in the evening in order to pay my way through college. My brother also helped supplement my fees.”
After graduating with his diploma in Journalism in 2004, Trust worked as a journalist at National FM radio station, which catered to minority indigenous language speakers in Zimbabwe and in 2005, he decided to take a leap of faith and emigrate to South Africa.
“Initially, I lived with my uncle in a settlement called Ga-Rankuwa, near Pretoria where I worked in a scrapyard earning R50 a day, but because my uncle didn’t like my doing manual labour, I decided to move from his home, because I realised that I wouldn’t get anywhere in life if I were to simply be supported by him and relax all day,” he said.
Trust then found himself living at a dumping site in Elardus Park in Pretoria. He had hit rock bottom and was living as a homeless man selling second-hand bricks in order to make money.
“At the dumping site, there was no infrastructure, I would cook out in the open, wash my clothing in the open and even bath myself outside, protected only by a tree. I was homeless for around four months,” notes Trust.
After moving to a squatter camp called Olievenhoutbosch in Centurion, south of Pretoria – where he shared a shack with eight other people – at the end of 2015, Trust started freelancing for a newspaper called The Zimbabwean, which was based in Johannesburg.
“I eventually moved to Johannesburg and by 2008, I had enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to do my honour’s degree in Journalism, paid for by a friend of mine named Tapera Kapuya, who was a coordinator at the National Constituent Assembly, which was one of the entities I freelanced for,” notes Trust.
But this wasn’t the end of struggle for the 38-year-old, who had a stroke while completing his honour’s degree.
“I nearly dropped out of university because of the stroke, I could barely talk and it took me a month to learn to walk again. The good thing was that I was in recovery during the semester break at Wits and so my studies weren’t interrupted,” he said, enthusiastically.
After completing his honour’s degree in 2009, Trust worked in Senegal for a year for a non-profit organisation called the African Democratic Institute in 2010, before enrolling to do his master’s degree in Journalism at Stellenbosch University in 2011. He later graduated with his master’s degree in 2013.
“I then started working at CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa between 2014 and 2016 and enjoyed my time at these publications because I was able to work as an online, print and broadcast reporter and learnt so much under the tutelage of Chris Bishop, who is the founding editor of Forbes Africa magazine.
In 2015, I enrolled to do my PhD at the University of Johannesburg and later graduated in June 2019.
“While it was certainly an amazing moment for me to graduate with my PhD after all I had been through in my life, there is still so much I would like to do and achieve and I always have new goals to accomplish,” he said.
Trust now works as a lecturer at CPUT and hopes to inspire young students and demonstrate to them that anything is possible with hard work, grit and endless perseverance.
“I enjoy being a lecturer, because it gives me a chance to share my experience and networks with young people and in that way, I am making a contribution to their lives,” he said.
“I always advise young people to never give up on their dreams and to spend time with people who are invested in their progress. It’s also very important to be humble and willing to learn from everyone. The sky is the limit, so don’t be afraid of dreaming big!”
If you liked this story, read about the inspiring journey of a young media student here
Tell us: What inspiration can you draw from Trust’s story?