Scars turned into Stars.
She has soft skin with big brown eyes and a smile to fill the room.
“How has she overcome, how does she keep it together, how has she remained this beautiful? I think to myself. Siphokazi is indeed a living example of scars turned into stars and no burns could touch this soul.
The 31 year old lady, Sphokazi Jijana, born and bred in the Eastern Cape in a small town called Ngamakwe kwa Lambatha location. This is where a strong foundation was laid. Just like most of black families, she was raised by a single parent, her grandmother, because the mother was still in varsity when she had her and her siblings.
I cannot wait to be inspired as we begin chatting about this extraordinary burn survivor.
Siphokazi was born a healthy baby in Joburg Gen formally known as Baragwanath Hospital. She stayed in Joburg with her mom, siblings and relatives altogether. Raised in a Christian family, Siphokazi describes her grandmother as a praying woman who taught her how to pray. “I think I got my strong personality from her, Sipho sighed. I am very strong, ambitious and fearless. My mom is also supportive and always tells me that there’s nothing more important than trusting in yourself and God”.
It was only seven days after her birth, that a tragedic incident happened.
“It was early in the morning when a heater exploded in my grandmother’s house, Siphokazi said, with my twin sister and I, my mom and grandmother. The heater exploded and the whole house was on fire. My mom tried to blow it down but it got even worse and she fainted in the house.
It is said that there was a man who was selling brooms down the street who noticed what was happening and he came to their rescue. The man went to the burning house with a spade in his hands and went to the room where Siphokazi and her sister were sleeping. The man came out with one child and then the other. Unfortunately by that time it had burnt her mom to the third degree. But he managed to get her out.
They stayed in the hospital until they got healed. Unfortunately Sipho’s burns never got healed, instead caused her to start limping. They then moved to Eastern Cape and her mother went back to varsity where she obtained her degree in Bachelor of Science. When she finished with her studies they moved in with her.
Her mom took her to the best schools in Umtata. She had challenges because the school did not cater for persons with disability. She had to adapt quickly because she was the only student with disability in her school. “At times I would get funny looks and gestures from other students such that they’d question my ability to run on the playgrounds but it never bothered me”. I passed my matric with flying colors and became one of the top students.
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After completing her high school she went further and studied diploma in Marketing and logistics at NMMU, unfortunately she had to drop out due to financial constraints. She then applied to WSU to study Business Management (Bachelor of Commerce), where she got a bursary. On campus there was a number of disabled people where she joined student movement for people living with disability.
‘I was actively involved and I learnt a lot about disabled cultures such that I became the chairperson of the movement, Siphokazi emphasized. The movement focuses more on the rights of people living with disabilities.
They opened another branch in 2002 called Disabled Youth of South Africa (DYSA) at OR Tambo where she was also nominated as a chairperson. She and the team had to come up with strategies to assist to raise awareness and their needs to be met. She stood up in mobility and advocacy for people with disability in the Eastern Cape where she represented the youth in the province. Her love for people with disabilities grew fonder and she discovered leadership skills within the organization.
▪︎ In 2012 she was one of the selected few to be offered a learnership at Mercedes Benz in East London. The learnership catered graduates living with disabilities who were unemployed. It was a one year contract after that she went to Volkswagen for an internship programme to experiential training in accounts department.
▪︎ Since October 2013 she was permanently employed by the Department of Justice as an Administrative Clerk and she enjoys the experience.
▪︎ Together with the team, they do advocacy and lobbing through Disability awareness.
▪︎ Her passion for people living with disability is noticed in her community. On the 5th Dec 2020 she was invited to a Disability Awareness Campaign as a guest speaker to encourage them to keep their heads high, study and fulfill their dreams.
“I have developed a brave character and am not afraid to speak my mind and to stand out for what I believe. My life has not been easy but I am pulling through, said Siphokazi. Like any other human being, I have made bad choices which am not proud of and I conciously made a decision that I will not allow myself to be defined by my past and my disability.”
‘I was raised by a single strong woman who taught me so much about life. I am currently full time employed. A new mom and furthering my studies and I bought my own car. Having a car is a priority because at times I struggle to walk long distances and I cannot stand for long. I went to a driving school for the lessons, went for testing and passed fairly like anybody else. Nothing was given on the silver platter, everything I managed to achieve I worked hard for and earned it. This is my way of giving hope to people living with disabilities to hold on and not give up.”
“Opportunities are waiting for your presence out there, said Sipho. Being disabled is not only about getting disability grant and sympathy from people. Do not feel small, threatened or unapologetic.
Ability is not Inability. Know who you are, know your purpose and remember God created you for a particular purpose. In ten years to come I see myself successful, driving a big car either BMW or a Jeep, having my own family ( loving husband and children) in a beautiful house. The sky is the limit and the future looks bright, Siphokazi concluded.”
I can never get enough of these truly inspiring overcomers. What excuse do I have when such a horrific burn disaster goes on to achieve such great feats? Truly the will to live is a deeper fuel than having to merely survive. These are lives well lived. Models of inner and outer beauty. Once again I’m inspired.
From my heart to yours