At the age of 23, Shamila Mpinga, the daughter of a domestic worker from Dambuza township, outside Pietermaritzburg, was awarded the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only did she qualify to study at Oxford University, but she also received the Rhodes scholarship.
When asked how she felt, Mpinga burst out in excitement and said she will never be able to say in words what she felt when she heard the news.
“I trust that my earning the Rhodes Scholarship provides hope for individuals with backgrounds similar to mine to push the boundaries, surpass expectations and to not be victims of circumstance,” she said.
Mpinga said she never felt poor and never allowed her circumstances to hinder her drive to succeed academically.
“Although my family are not wealthy, I don’t feel that I have struggled through life because I have been surrounded by supportive people. I have truly felt the effects of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I’m the first person in my family to get a degree,” she stated.
Raised by her aunt and uncle while her mom worked as a stay in domestic worker, Mpinga said her mom played a major role in her life by always pushing her to achieve the utmost best and by simply supporting her be it via text or otherwise.
“The first person I shared the news with was my mom. I had sent her a picture that was circulating on social media and two days later my mom had still not replied. Eventually I went to her and asked why she never replied, to which she said; I am not fond of social media,” Mpinga joked.
After a rigorous national selection process, Mpinga has now been awarded the Rhodes scholarship to study for an MSC in law and finance and an MBA at the University of Oxford in the UK.
She said she was very fortunate, and she worked hard for every opportunity she has ever received.
When asked what advice she had for students from underprivileged communities on the brink of quitting, she said no obstacle should stand in the way of what you wish to achieve.
“If anything, your circumstances should not define who you are and what you are destined to become.”