Having a soft life for me meant having a house in a place like Sandton. Waking up to an English breakfast every day, driving the latest Mercedes Benz and having enough money to afford what I wanted when I wanted it. Personally, that’s what real freedom meant for me.
The soft life, I could smell it in the air I was breathing. I could feel its soft texture on my fingertips. It was finally within my reach.
It had always been my dream to have that kind of freedom and life, even before I went to university. My desire to escape the tough life I was living in the notorious Alexandra Township pushed me to excel in my studies, which led to me passing my matric with flying colours.
When I received a bursary to study for an Accounting degree at the University of Cape Town, I was over the moon.
I thought it was going to be smooth sailing from then on, only to discover that my bursary only covered my varsity fees and books. Accommodation and food were on me. I was crushed.
‘Come what may, you are going to Cape Town my son. I will make sure of that,’ my mother said.
‘But how mom? How will I afford accommodation in Cape Town, it is costly, and the food on top of that! I really don’t think this will work. Maybe I should turn down this bursary and look for a job instead; I will save some money and study part-time while working.’
‘You are of such little faith Thabo, God will see you through. He has blessed you with such a wonderful opportunity, an opportunity that many other young people your age can only dream of. How can you even think of turning it down? Trust me, my son, we will make this work,’ she reassured me.
My mother worked three days a week as a domestic worker in Sandton, earning a meagre salary. Her salary was just enough to buy groceries, which would often run out before the month ended, and a few other essentials.
When she said I was going to Cape Town, and we would make things work, it meant that my two sisters and three brothers would have to starve so that I could study. And that’s exactly what happened. My family had to suffer for me to get my degree, my freedom.
For the five years that I was at varsity, working hard to complete my degree, my family lived in poverty. My mother had to continue working even though old age had caught up with her. She even took extra work if it was available so that I could pay my rent and have food.
Thinking about my mother’s sacrifices, pushed me to work even harder on my studies, acing every subject until I earned my degree, cum laude.
Bell & Brooks accountants, the biggest accounting firm in South Africa, headhunted me and offered me a job before I could even hang my degree on the wall of my Mother’s sitting room. The job came with a five-figure salary; it was an offer I could not refuse.
There I was, a young man from the notorious Alexandra Township, finally hitting the big time. My dream had finally come true.
‘We did it boy! Our time to play with the big boys has come. I’m talking about chilling at the famous Konka Pub and Grill, drinking bottle after bottle of DOM PERIGNON LUMINOUS, and not worrying about your bank accounting complaining. I can already see us smoking Cuban cigars, no more R1.00 cigarettes boy,’ said an excited Freedom, my varsity friend.
All that he was talking about was tempting for a young man like me. For him it was going to be much easier to indulge himself, he came from a wealthy family anyway. His father was one of the top dogs in the ANC. He made his wealth through a billion’s worth of tenders. Freedom was going to spend his salary on himself; he didn’t have too many responsibilities. The same could not be said about me.
‘I am talking about driving the latest Mercedes Benz boy! And change it after six months, just because you can. No more dating farm Julia’s now. We will go for the Yellow bones, classy ones boy! Not slay queens, those ones will suck you dry with their fake Brazilian hair and long nails painted with cheap nail polish. We have made it! You hear me? We have made it!’ he was overexcited, I was not.
The truth is I would have loved to get myself a snazzy apartment in Sandton, drink expensive alcohol and drive the latest top of the range German car. I would love to wear Gucci from head to toe. That is every young man’s dream. But I was thinking of my mother, and the sacrifices she made for me to get this far. I thought of my siblings, they also needed an opportunity to get a good education and make something of their lives.
‘If you can rise, bring someone with you,’ my mother said after my graduation ceremony. And that was what I intended to do.
‘Ah boy! Sandton, the girls and the cars can wait. For now, I will take a taxi to work and continue to stay in Alexandra. The day I leave that hell of a township, it will be with my whole family. I have to free them from the claws of poverty boy. I want them to taste the fruits of freedom and democracy with me. My father died fighting for freedom. My mother worked until old age so that I could become who I am today. I have to honour them boy, the soft life can wait.’
I stood on my mother’s weary shoulders so that I could touch the sky. It was time I offered my shoulders to the rest of my family.