Born in Soweto and growing up in Mountain View, Grasmere, in a one-roomed shack, Matimba Mabonda (25) understood early in life that in order to succeed, hard work is a necessity.
“My dad inspired me to be diligent and to do my best in everything. He was a plasterer ... and the diligence and passion he displayed for this trade showed me that it is imperative to persevere if you want to succeed in life,” he says.
Mabonda’s relationship with ArcelorMittal South Africa began in 2011 after he aced his matric (with six distinctions, in Xitsonga, mathematics, physical science, engineering graphics and design, civil technology and life orientation).
“It is imperative to persevere if you want to succeed in life.”
The company, upon learning of his keen interest to study further from an article in a local newspaper, offered him a comprehensive bursary to study chemical engineering at UCT.
It was not an easy journey for Mabonda to achieve his matric results. His school day commenced at 04:30, when he boarded a train from Grasmere Station and travelled to Midway Station in Soweto, before walking about two kilometres to Altmont Technical High School in Protea South, where he matriculated.
His interest in chemical engineering was sparked by a visit to Sasol in 2007, where he was intrigued by the production processes. It was there that his mind was made up. He vividly remembers questioning the engineer who was giving them a guided tour about a plant burner that he found particularly interesting.
A host of pressures
Mabonda recalls the stress he felt during his second year at UCT, a result of the combined pressures of being far from home and needing to “make it”, describing these days as “rough”.
In time, he became depressed and refers to this as the moment he hit rock bottom.
“It’s very uncommon for the black community to seek help because we grow up being told depression is not a thing. One has to be strong.”
“The degree itself, though challenging, was not the problem; but rather other unresolved personal issues that came into play. It was a dark place for me. But yes, I still chose to take full responsibility for my failures.
“Additionally, it’s very uncommon for the black community to seek help because we grow up being told depression is not a thing. One has to be strong.
“I’d like to think that this very same statement killed so many dreams along the way. People should always seek help – mental health is a reality,” Mabonda says.
Compounding his problems, he lost his ArcelorMittal South Africa bursary. But at the back of his mind, he knew that he had to somehow make it work because going back home was not an option, and bettering the lives of his family was a priority.
He reached out to the psychologist in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment for help. From there, he was able to pick up the pieces again. And with the assistance of the Students’ Representative Council at UCT, he was able to receive funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
As he slowly got back on track, he was rediscovered by ArcelorMittal South Africa and was afforded a second chance.
Getting back to business
Mabonda has been a candidate engineer at ArcelorMittal Coke and Chemicals, Vanderbijlpark since February 2017.
“My first point of learning was getting to know the plant, and I must commend my supervisor, Mutshidzi Nenzhelele, for taking me through everything. It’s been great but challenging at the same time,” he says.
His job entails liaising with the production and maintenance staff, coordinating and allocating projects for plant efficiencies and coming up with solutions for efficiencies.
Never giving up is something Mabonda knows very well.
“I am always grateful for what I went through while in tertiary [education] because it has taught me a number of valuable lessons. The moment you let go and relax, it becomes easier to come up with solutions.
“The moment I relaxed and let nature take its course, my grades picked up. So taking a moment to breathe makes it easy to find resolutions instead of giving up,” he says.
“Once you accept that things will happen to you and there is nothing you can do about it, stress miraculously leaves your life,” he says.
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