‘Never stop looking for opportunities’

27 December 2023 | Story Iman Latief. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 7 min.
Lizette Hendricks
Lizette Hendricks

Through the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Staff Learning Centre’s Staff Education Bursary Scheme, Lizette Hendricks, from UCT’s Communication & Marketing Department’s (CMD) Executive Support Unit, was recently able to finish her undergraduate degree from the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Growing up on the Cape Flats, Lizette didn’t see many opportunities for success around her, as she faced persistent hardships and lack of access to high-quality education. A cycle of poverty that she saw perpetuating through generations often led her to wonder whether she would be able to carve a path for herself beyond her humble beginnings.

“For many young people today, it still takes guts and determination to rise as a young person of colour from an impoverished community. My narrative was that I wasn’t good enough and that I’d end up just like everyone else in my neighbourhood. But my narrative started to change as I faced my challenges,” she said.


“There’s always something new every day and you get exposed to so many different aspects of the university.”

At school, Lizette dreamed of pursuing a career in opera music – her first passion – doing voice production studies at a performing arts school on the Cape Flats, and even securing an audition for studies at UCT’s School of Music. But she quickly realised she didn’t have the financial means to pursue opera further.

As Lizette worked her way up and started a family, she put the goal of studying on pause. She continued working in administrative support for the marketing and advertising industry; and jumped at an opportunity to work at CMD in 2018.

She enjoyed the flexible and diverse work and immersed herself in the higher education sphere. “I like the busyness and activity of the role. There’s always something new every day and you get exposed to so many different aspects of the university.”

Dreaming big

In addition to her work at the CMD, Lizette continued to grab opportunities to develop herself. She most recently completed training to become an accredited mediator for UCT and will soon be joining the Mediators Community of Practice for restorative justice. She also mentors young, orphaned girls through the South African Youth Education Sustainability.

After completing a Higher Certificate in Counselling and Communication at the South African College of Applied Psychology as a bridging course, Lizette enrolled at UNISA part-time, studying Health Sciences and Social Services with a specialisation in Community and Health Psychology.

“I thought about what interests me, what appeals to my heart and what I am passionate about. And it is the life of communities. Growing up in a very close-knit community, people from my church and school, I was always surrounded by people. So that is really what motivated me.”

Road to graduation

When asked how she managed to get to the end of her long academic journey, Lizette said she learned to set strict boundaries with her time, surround herself with people who supported her goals and to lean on her faith during difficult times and long nights of studying.

“There were definitely dips where you wonder if it’s worth it and if you’ll get through to the finish line. My faith is really the core of everything that I am. My dad was a minister, and being grounded in my faith, I am always cognisant of that cover over me – that knowledge that there’s something more than me or life itself. When I say I’m an introvert, that is where I draw strength from. The quiet, deep hours of being in spirit – it’s meditative for me.”


“We are a family of late bloomers, and I believe I bloomed at the right time.”

Despite the challenges, Lizette found herself “exhilarated” by the experience of learning new things. “It was mind blowing. I loved learning about the human condition and societal systems. Having discovered all of this knowledge was so invigorating. I exhausted myself but it brought me so much joy.”

Speaking about what inspired her to pursue an undergraduate degree, she points to her family. She is one of four girls, all of whom pursued further education later in life. “So, my motivation largely came from my sisters and dad, who had never had the chance to study, and at the age of 47 got his matric, and that for me was enough encouragement – I would say, we are a family of late bloomers, and I believe I bloomed at the right time.”

Looking to the future

Lizette’s passion for learning and her optimistic nature inspire faith in people’s ability to develop, regardless of age or background. Looking back at her time studying, she has no regrets about having to wait before she could finally graduate. “I accept that it maybe wasn’t my time to study straight after school, and there was a reason for that. You don’t always get everything immediately, but don’t let that get you down. There are no rules or script in life for when you can achieve your goals.”

Giving back to her community is the passion that lies at the heart of Lizette’s drive. “When you see the plight of people growing up in poverty, you see the need for people to speak. There are women who are abused and who are silent and never get an opportunity to speak. There are generations of families unable to escape poverty or access education. That same cycle is just perpetuated over the years and our people struggle to reach their full potential in life.”

When asked what she would say to anyone with a dream they worry is too late to accomplish, Lizette said that her motto is that life is never finished. “Your journey is never over, so I would encourage everyone young and old to continue learning, continue growing and becoming enlightened. Never stop looking for opportunities to develop in your mind and spirit.”

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