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A long journey’s end

Phumzile September-Williams (48) had a bleak future ahead of her in 2007.

At the time she had been an alcoholic for more than 20 years – and it took a visit to a church to inspire her to turn her life around. Today she hopes to inspire other women.

Williams always dreamt of being a social worker when she was young, but didn’t take education too seriously when she was at school.

At age 15 Williams found herself living alone after her grandmother died. “There was no-one there any more to guide me, and I ended up making all the wrong choices,” she said. “After school I could’t find work and my life was terrible. My drinking escalated until I didn’t have control over it anymore.”

In 2010, she enrolled at a church Bible college where she completed her matric. In 2015, she registered for a degree in social work at Stellenbosch University. “They say the older you get the rustier your mind becomes, but this is not true,” she says. “If you want something go for it no matter your age.”

The grandmother of three says at the beginning she got a lot of strange looks from her much younger classmates, but says she has become like a mother-figure, especially to students who hail from other provinces. “There are students from the Eastern Cape or Limpopo who are far from their families. They have come to admire me and see me as a mother figure.”

Balancing studies and home life wasn’t always easy, Williams says. “It is difficult, but doable. If you want something you must work hard. I would come to campus in the morning after the kids left for school. By 16:00 I would be home doing my chores. When everyone was asleep I started studying. It’s all about balancing your time.”

Even though her studies have not been smooth sailing, she is determined to see it through to the end. “I have a challenge with psychology. It is the only subject I still have to do to qualify for honours. When I first failed I felt disappointed, but I decided I’ve come too far to give up now.”

Williams is determined to empower other women and started a movement in 2017, Z’thande#loveyourself, with this in mind. The movement has now expanded to three other provinces.

She says: “The aim is to motivate and help women. Most of the time we concentrate on our families and our jobs. Most women are mothers and fathers at the same time so they end up neglecting themselves and they worry about everyone except themselves. We empower women and want to make them realise how much they matter. We also encourage them to empower themselves and to look after themselves by discussing a range of topics including health, education and finances.”

In January this year, Williams started her own business, Know Your Lingo, where she teaches Xhosa to beginners.

She is also a Xhosa tutor to second-year students at the university.

The journey to this point was not easy, but after drinking from the age of 15 Williams is determined to realise all she hadn’t been able to when younger.

“I feel there are people at a certain age who have given up on life and pursuing their dreams. If you have a dream, pursue it and go all out to make it happen.”

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