Jacinthe Mutuzo will not let the scars of being born in Rwanda shortly after the genocide to parents who crossed the Hutu-Tutsi divide get in the way of her future in South Africa.
In her second year of BCom Information Science, this 21-year-old has made her home with nuns and dedicates her free time to helping the needy.
“My mother lost her family in Rwanda when their home was raided and she was the only one to survive. My father disappeared shortly after the genocide and his body was found years later,” explains this soft-spoken young woman.
Her mother brought her two daughters, then aged six and three, to South Africa and we moved in with a friend.
“For years we lived in friends’ homes in Johannesburg until my mom married a Congolese man in the early 2000s,” Jacinthe says, her shyness belying her innate strength and sense of responsibility.
Jacinthe was initially turned away from Norwood Primary in Johannesburg because she didn’t speak English well enough. So she spent her first year in South Africa watching TV to learn the language.
He mother got a job as a stocktaker at Orange Grove Primary School, where Jacinthe began her education. “I had no idea I was different until the xenophobic attacks started and I was called into the principal’s office to check if I was okay.”
Once she learnt English she did well at school. “My love of reading and learning made it easy for me,” she says. She was later selected for a scholarship programme and attended SSB High School in Randburg. “The school started as a bridging programme to help black students qualify for university and, because there was a need, it became a proper and really good school,” she explains.
Taking public transport on her own every day and having no one to help her with her studies, Jacinthe grew up fast. “I didn't have anyone to guide me and I needed to help my siblings [her half-brother was born in South Africa],” she says.
Jacinthe struggled with her stepfather who didn’t believe women should be educated. “He was hard on me because he knew if a person is educated you can’t control them. His attitude motivated me more. If someone wants me to fail, it pushes me harder to succeed.”
She was awarded academic colours in Grade 11 and was made a prefect. Her mother was very proud and supportive.
She did well in matric in 2013 although it was a tough year, with her mother being ill a lot of the time and her stepfather doing what he could to prevent her from studying. But it was finding finances that got in her way of university, despite her being accepted to study.
“I would tick all the criteria for scholarships and bursaries until I got to the citizenship question and I failed every time. After 14 years and most of my life in Johannesburg, I am still categorised as a refugee. My mother has been trying for years to change our status, but it hasn’t happened.”
So Jacinthe took a gap year. As luck would have it, the Moshal Scholarship Program offered her a scholarship that year, but were happy to hold it over for the next year.
It was while working on the computers for a preschool that year that her career path involving business and IT became obvious. She applied for a BCom IS at Wits and got in for 2015.
“I hope to work in the technology part of the finance world, somewhere between user and interface,” she says.
During her gap year, she left her family home and moved in with the nuns of Trinity House convent. “The nuns became like family to me.”
Her first year of university was a “bit of a shock” and her first test was an “eye opener” as she got 40%. “I came home with that mark and wanted to cry, but promised myself that I would never again do so badly.”
She is forever grateful to the Moshal Scholarship. “Without them, I wouldn't have been able to go to university,” she says. “When I got that call from Jodi (Bailey), I kept reminding her that I am not South African and asking if she was sure she would still give me the scholarship.”
Jacinthe says just thinking of Martin Moshal makes her emotional. “He holds my future in his hands and he has given me a chance in life with his generosity and care. I promise, with all that I am, I will pay it forward.
“Thanks to Martin and those working with him, I can work towards helping my family and being a role model to my siblings. My mother always said she was leaving the role-model job to me.”
While studying, Jacinthe tutors scholars and helps homeless people and refugees. On Mondays, she helps at the Trinity House soup kitchen and on Tuesdays, she takes food and goes onto the streets of Braamfontein to feed and interact with homeless people. “Some of them are really educated and had just fallen on bad times. It could have been me.”
She also plans to spend more time this year seeing how she can help refugees.
Once she finishes her studying, Jacinthe wants to become a business analyst, managing people and solving problems. “I believe my future lies in a problem-solving field,” she says. It seems she is probably right.
“My mother always said she was leaving the role-model job to me.”