17 August 2021 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe | Photo Supplied
A story of hope, courage, resilience, and working your way to the top. Dilahlwane Mohono started working as a cleaner at the UFS in 1992. Today, she is a Senior Faculty Officer in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and holds two honours degrees.

Fuelled by her deep pain due to falling pregnant during her matric year, as well as the desire to one day hold a qualification, Dilahlwane Mohono – Senior Faculty Officer in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences – says her story is her favourite, as it is a story of hope, courage, resilience, and working your way to the top.

Because of her pregnancy, Mohono did not complete Grade 12 in 1990. She got married immediately thereafter. In 1992, she began working as a cleaner for a company that was insourced to provide meals on the University of the Free State Qwaqwa Campus. She says this experience often left her with mixed feelings, as it hurt to see her peers studying further, but this is also what ultimately motivated her to complete her matric. “Graduation ceremonies were the most painful events for me. This eventually pushed me to turn to ABET to complete my matric in 1994. From there, I was determined to start my academic journey, so I registered with Stanford Business College for a Secretariat and Computer Skills Diploma. It was a six-month course, but I graduated in the end. That graduation inspired me. It motivated me to study further. Juggling work and studying became challenging, because I was a young mother and wife, but I had to attend classes after work.”

The joy of education

In 2000, she registered for a Higher Diploma with Unisa, and at the same time took up a new position in the library on campus. At the time, it was still called the University of the North Qwaqwa Campus. She recalls this as the beginning of her upward trajectory in life. “The joy of education and seeing how far I have come made me realise how much potential I have, so in 2003 I registered for a BA Sociology and English degree at the UFS, and thereafter went on to do my BA Honours in Sociology.”

She took up a new position as Assistant Officer in the Faculty of Education. Wishing to be relevant to her new faculty, Mohono completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), and thereafter a second honours degree in Curriculum Studies. “I felt like I was flowing. My colleagues helped me out and I wanted to ensure that I was the best in everything, because I did not want to disappoint them. What always encouraged me, were my children. I separated from my husband in 2003, so I found myself raising my kids single-handedly, and I needed to show them that we could all make it, and life would still go on.”

In 2018, the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences advertised a senior position. Mohono says she took a chance and applied because she wanted more growth. “I am now a Senior Faculty Officer. I was privileged to be afforded an opportunity to work for the university, so I always thought – how can I work in an academic higher learning environment and not use the opportunity to study and pursue an education.”

Is there a woman who inspires you and who you would like to celebrate this Women’s Month, and why?
It has to be my late mother. She was a very hardworking woman, but she passed on very early, in her early 40s. She worked in the same dining hall I started in, and a lot of the women I worked with then worked with her too. They took me under their wings and motivated me to continue chasing my dreams. Some were not even educated themselves, but they motivated me. I drew a lot of inspiration from them.

What advice would you give to the 15-year-old you?

She must take pride in being a woman, know who she is, and know that she must be brave and confident, and run with education as the key to her success. If it wasn’t for education, I shudder to think where I could’ve been. When I look back and see what I have achieved, being able to rise from all that while single-handedly raising my children, it makes me feel very strongly about myself. I am a very powerful woman. 

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