08 December 2023 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Charl Devenish
Thabo Dithebe
When Thabo Dithebe walked across the stage in the Callie Human Centre, a childhood dream came true, despite several difficulties he had to deal with during his studies.

Thabo Dithebe received his Bachelor of Management Leadership (BML) qualification during the University of the Free State’s December graduation ceremonies. His life journey of resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace unexpected opportunities is an inspiring story that needs to be told. 

Born in the farming community of Bothaville, Thabo initially wanted to pursue a career in engineering, and he chose maths, science, and technical subjects in high school. However, a temporary job in retail near home and experiencing the toll of retrenchment redirected his path to sales and marketing and pushed him to apply for a BML in the UFS Business School.

“When I enrolled for the BML, my childhood dream of going to university became a reality. Although the journey was not easy, it was worth pursuing,” says Thabo, who is employed as an area sales manager at Marltons Pet Care.

Balancing studies and responsibilities at home

In addition to managing the pressure of being stretched to the limit in class, Thabo also had to balance his studies with the responsibilities at home – taking care of his sick and disabled daughter.

“Balancing these commitments was always a challenge, but I was fortunate to have a supportive caregiver who understood the needs of children living with disabilities. There were tough times, especially during submission seasons when my daughter would fall ill. In those moments, I had to prioritise her health, temporarily setting aside my studies until she received proper care at the hospital,” he states.

Besides caring for his daughter and being retrenched, he also went through a breakup. Thabo believes that things could have turned out differently if he had stopped imagining and dreaming, because he had every reason to give up. He describes reaching this significant milestone in his life as ‘unreal’. 

He says that he was motivated to persevere, because from the first day he enrolled, he wanted to make his family proud of him. “There were times when I asked myself if I had what it takes to complete the programme. Should I choose not to complete the course, what would I say to my son when life knocks him down, when he sees me giving up? How do I face my mother if I came back defeated? I had good people on my side who wanted me to succeed,” he says.

Ready to take on the next challenge

Having reached this significant milestone in his life, Thabo is ready for the next challenge. “I am hoping to be accepted into the PGDip in Business Administration programme for the 2024 intake,” he says. 

He advises others who face challenges while pursuing their educational goals to understand that their situation is not permanent and that there is strength in adversity. “It is important to celebrate the small victories often and to associate yourself with people who work harder than you,” he adds.

On 7 December 2023, as Thabo walked across the stage, he looked for the face of his mother in the audience – a lady who made several sacrifices to raise him and his five siblings. “I hope that when she saw me, she was very proud of me,” he concludes. 

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