Itumeleng M Chidi-Kganakga
Itumeleng M Chidi-Kganakga is a 34-year-old academic who hails from Lebowakgomo in the Capricorn District of Limpopo Province. She is a young, dedicated and driven academic who is passionate about youth development, public speaking, social entrepreneurship, community development and women empowerment. To justify this, she participates extensively in many student development programmes and community initiatives that have to do with mental health, health and fitness, academia and research, media as well as mentorship. This is inspired by the many challenges she experienced from a young age and overcame which necessitated her to be resilient, irrespective of the circumstances.
My childhood and upbringing
I grew up in a family of six, my mother was a domestic worker and my father was a migrant labourer before he passed on in 2007 due to ill health. Unlike many other children in my neighborhood, I was not fortunate to grow up in a well-off family. Most of the time my mother had to look for extra jobs in order to put food on the table and to ensure we went to school. During weekends she would look for other parttime jobs that will enable us to have proper food, shelter and clothing. I still recall the two shacks we grew up in burning to ashes and we had to live on donations from the neighbours, schools and churches around us. My mother from an early age taught us about entrepreneurship. It was then that we started selling snacks and sweets in order to have extra money for school and groceries. Throughout my high school, I also did part-time work as a hairdresser so that I also could earn extra money for myself, family and my child whom I had during my teenage years. It was not an easy upbringing but I had to be intentional about the woman I wanted to be and the part-time job of being a hairdresser made a huge difference. It kept my family and I going until it led me to the University of Limpopo in 2005 where I studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences. Currently, I am an academic lecturing sociology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
My tenure in the University of Limpopo
During my student years, I had to continue to be a hairdresser so that I could be able to pay rent and buy clothing and groceries. This I did with so much pride as I knew where I came from and knew I had to study hard to become the successful woman I always wanted to be and be able to take care of my family and daughter. Fortunately, the University of Limpopo has an enabling environment for all people that come from different backgrounds. Through the Centre for Student Counselling and Development, I had to continuously go for counselling as some of these socio-economic challenges were disturbing. But with the University’s culture of finding solutions, I managed to complete my undergraduate degree with a good track record and I was appointed as Junior Lecturer in 2009. The University of Limpopo has been not only a work environment for me but also a place I can relate to as home. With the various opportunities and platforms, the University has contributed positively to the woman I am and refining myself to be. I have been accorded so many opportunities for growth and these all contribute to the sharper and dynamic woman I am and the role model I continue to be to the young girls at the University and my village. Serving as the Chairperson of the University of Limpopo Women’s Academic Solidarity Association (ULWASA) gives me an opportunity to be a voice of the many women at the University while we continue to ensure that all women become scholars in the Institution and continue to study until they become Doctors and Professors. Furthermore, my participation in the University of Limpopo Employment Equity Forum also gives me the responsibility to be voice of reason for the many women staff I represent in the Forum. Some of my achievements at the University include being awarded the Best Overall Teacher Award in the University of Limpopo during the 2007 Vice-Chancellor’s Research; Teaching and Learning and Community Engagement Awards as well as being given an opportunity to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education and Training that was awarded in 2019 from the University of Fort Hare. This was funded by the University of Limpopo through the Centre for Academic Excellence. All these attest to the motto of the University of finding solutions for Africa!
Overcoming life’s battles and being intentional about who you want to become
Being a woman comes with other responsibilities such as being a mother, wife and community member. It was during the unprecedented times of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown that I also had to deal with a bad break up – divorce. During these season, my resilience was tested and I must say through the support I received from my family, the many women at the University and my church family, I conquered. This taught me that as young women, we do go through some serious challenges that we are not ready for, but we can only be intentional about how we come out of them. Balancing a heathy lifestyle and fitness also assisted a lot during this dark period as I did a lot of meditation, went through counselling, ate healthy, exercised frequently and joined prayer groups that impacted positively on my social life. Through this I learnt that life requires a balance indeed. Each aspect of life requires its own intervention for survival and we all have to have a blended life that is accompanied by good mental health, physique and academic resilience so that when life’s challenges present us with a detour, without a proper balance and a proper support system, it is easy for one to give up. I did not give up, I had to be intentional in ensuring that I survived for the sake of my family and children, as I am now a single parent. I had to quickly train my mind from focusing on “why me” to “what is it that God wants me to learn out of this”. I had to pause and make serious life adjustments and become very focused on raising my children and concentrate on my studies. All these life’s battles that I had to experience in my youth – teenage pregnancy, poverty, marriage and divorce, has taught me that it is important to continuously develop and empower yourself because education indeed remains one of the pivotal instruments we can use for change and that will remain always. I have personally made a pledge to myself that I will take all these challenges and pain and use them for my gain. Today, I help many people through my lived experiences. I am a motivational speaker and coach learners and students. I also arrange Couple’s Retreat events, I host cook-out events where I teach people how to cook healthy food and also host women in business and leadership seminars. I have chosen to make my pain and use them to empower others for their gain. I believe that we heal through helping others.