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Monday, 10 December 2018

Farmworker turned Graduate refuses to give up

CAN DO ATTITUDE: Philiswa Dingiswayo battled depression and other odds to graduate CAN DO ATTITUDE: Philiswa Dingiswayo battled depression and other odds to graduate

Former farmworker Philiswa Dingiswayo is ready to take a big bite out of life. The 26-year-old single mom struggled through crippling depression, a failed suicide attempt and an uncertain financial situation to graduate with a diploma in Marketing, one year earlier than she expected to.

Philiswa spent most of her teenage life being raised by her grandparents on an apple and pear farm in Grabouw and as one of the top students in her class she had hopes of studying at CPUT after matric. But at age 16, while in grade 11, she fell pregnant and this affected her marks. After giving birth in her final year Philiswa only managed to muster a D pass in matric. Soon afterwards she left home with her paltry matric and her infant son because she did not want to burden her ageing grandparents.

In 2010 she returned home to her grandparents and despite vowing to never be a farmworker herself she was forced to ask for a job on the very farm where her grandparents had been working for about 30 years.
“I worked for two years earning about R55 a day, I started as a sorter then got promoted to packer. I used to pack about 400 boxes a day.”
“I didn’t mind because I knew I was only waiting for my son to get older so that I could go study. People mocked me in the factory because I had a matric and
I was working there but I let that motivate me to get out of there,” she says.

In 2013 Philiswa spent a year at Northlink College but switched to CPUT when she applied and was accepted for Clothing Management. Miraculously she was able to register at the institution after a Financial Aid Officer at CPUT noticed her address and flagged her for funding from the Lombard Foundation which financially assists students from Grabouw.

Despite a good first year pass, including merit awards, Philiswa says the dark cloud of depression started affecting her studies.
“I started drinking and even smoking weed to combat these bad feelings I was having. People called me psycho and I was angry all the time. Eventually, I was academically excluded,” she says.
“I remember when I almost committed suicide by drinking bleach. Depression is a killer. I didn’t know I was suffering from it.” 

Thanks to the intervention of the Student Counselling Unit Philiswa slowly started rebuilding her life and began to understand the illness and how to manage it effectively.

In 2016 she opted to change courses and begged her way into a part-time Marketing spot.“My marks weren’t good and I really had to beg the HOD to give me a chance and not judge me on those bad matric marks. Luckily she gave me an opportunity and now I am graduating one year earlier than I should without failing a single subject,” says Philiswa.

It was also during this time that Philiswa started a job as a student residence coordinator and her understanding of depression helped her assist other struggling students.
“They came to me from all over because I understood what they were going through. Some of them just needed someone to talk to,” she says.

Philiswa is now looking forward to finding a decent job which will allow her to retire her elderly grandparents. She is also looking forward to being a hands-on mom to her now nine-year-old son.
“I want to share my story so that others know that depression is serious but doesn’t need to define you. If me, a farmworker with the odds against me can do it then so can they.”

Philiswa graduates on Wednesday evening at 7pm. CPUT’s December graduation series will see 6 599 students being capped- 104 with Masters’ degrees and 13 with Doctorates.

Written by Lauren Kansley

Tel: +27 21 953 8646

Liaises with the media and writes press releases about interesting developments at CPUT.