Asandiso defies the odds

A number of life challenges and poverty could not prevent 25-year-old Asandiso Mbewu, of Khayelitsha, from achieving greater things in life.

Having grown up in YAB informal settlement, one of Site B’s most impoverished communities, Mr Mbewu is now a civil engineering graduate from the University of Cape Town (UCT).

And his mission is now to motivate and inspire other young people facing similar challenges.

Mr Mbewu said he grew up in a family of eight, who shared a dilapidated two-roomed shack, and he slept on a mattress.

To make ends meet, his parents ran a small shebeen.

This, he said, made it extremely difficult for him and his siblings to do their school work as it was always noisy, with patrons coming in and out.

This forced him to stay at school for longer hours so he could study in a quiet place and finish his homework.

Mr Mbewu said sometimes they were required to assist their parents in the business after school and that when the business struggled, their parents had to find alternative ways of supplementing their income.

Mr Mbewu said he believed that the only way he could turn his life around was through education and he devoted most of his time to his studies.

He said he also faced challenges while at high school including when a youth gang terrorised his community. The gang made it difficult for them to go to school. Members of the gang would force them to join their groups and at times instruct them to do their homework, he said.

Like many teenagers, he said, he was tempted to join the youth gangs because of peer pressure.

The former Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) pupil said he enrolled at UCT in 2012 and last year he obtained his BSc in engineering – with honours.

He said one of the biggest challenges he faced was social diversity and navigating the new environment. “Back home everyone is poor, so you don’t feel that you are really poor. Now you find yourself at university with classmates who have never been to the townships. They are rich and do not understand the struggles we go through.

“I struggled to make friends because of this social and financial inequality and this was emotionally draining. Failing exams and tests was very hard to manage emotionally, but eventually I adapted and succeeded. I became one of the distinguished students and graduated with honours,” he said.

Mr Mbewu now works for the national Department of Water and Sanitation in Pretoria.

As a young engineer he looks at the environmental impacts of engineering projects, such as reviewing dams, and in five years time he sees himself running a successful business.

He also plans to come back to Khayelitsha and give back to the community.

He encouraged his peers not to give up on their dreams and always know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.