TRIUMPH OVER ADVERSITY | Young graduate proves that disability is not an inability

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University of Fort Hare student, Sibongiseni Siyamcela Gonya proved that being disabled is not an inability when she walked the graduation stage to collect her BCom in General Accounting degree during the 2022 Spring Graduation Ceremony.

The 23-year-old from Engcobo in the Eastern Cape was born with several limb and spinal deformities.

She passed matric in 2017 and enrolled at the UFH in 2018, beginning her journey toward obtaining a university qualification.

“I enjoyed this journey. Being at UFH allowed me to meet many incredible people, some of whom I have made amazing friends. Also, I am grateful to have had inspiring and supportive Lecturers who have all played a part in making my journey at UFH a memorable one.”

Sibongeseni said the University’s Disability Unit (DU) contributed immensely to her academic success by providing adequate support to enable her to navigate this chapter of her life.

“The DU played a major role in making my life on campus, as a student with a disability, easier. One of the exciting things that I enjoyed participating in, and will truly miss, was the DU’s annual Disability Awareness Week. The Unit has been helpful and supportive throughout my journey at UFH.”

Like many other students, Sibongiseni says she also had her fair share of challenges that she encountered.

“The initial challenge that I faced was the transition from high school to university and navigating a new environment, it was not easy and I really struggled. This negatively affected my mental health which unsurprisingly affected my academics. My affected academics also further declined the state of my mental health —a vicious cycle to be trapped in. But I pushed through.”

“While trying to find a system that works for my mental health, doing my final year, the Covid-19 pandemic hit South Africa and we went straight to lockdown. Factors surrounding that situation, such as the uncertainty that it caused, further affected my mental health.”

As a result of the challenges, it took her four years to complete the three-year degree.

“What pulled me through these challenges was determination, resilience, seeking for help for my mental health issues, and the support that I had from my support system.”

“It has been a journey filled with lessons, growth, challenges, and special moments. The journey to that graduation stage has not been an easy one but it has definitely been worthwhile,” she said.