Change the world


After escaping captivity and fleeing a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, walking 6000km to South Africa and starting school at the age of 10 - Popina Khumanda graduated with a Diploma in IT at Nelson Mandela University’s Autumn Graduation. 

“Dreams do come true. I came to this country with nothing but dreams, hope and determination. Witnessing them all come to life is overwhelming,” she says.

Popina is currently working at AgileHuts based in Cape Town training to be a ScrumMaster. Scrum is a framework for project management that emphasises teamwork, accountability, and repeating progress towards a well-defined goal.

“I see myself working with people, becoming a professor and an author of books. I love writing, reading, and showcasing my creativity. I am currently studying for my Advanced Diploma in IT and I am enjoying the challenge that comes with it” Popina says. 

Initially she wanted to study Electrical Engineering, but she was told that she would struggle with Mathematics and was advised to study IT. “IT chose me but it took me a whole year to realise that this course is perfect for me” she says. 

This young entrepreneur has also created a website for her hair business, Urban Doll Factory, where she sells wigs and weaves online to pay for her rent, food and transport to university.   

“This Diploma is in honour of the refugees living in this country, to all the girls who are being killed every day, sold every day, sexually, physically, and emotionally abused every day. I want you to know that I have been there and finding that strength to pull yourself out and say enough is enough, it’s not easy. I pray that my story gives you strength, and gives you hope to fight for your dreams”, says Popina.

It started 26 years ago when she was the last born in her family and now, she is the first to ever graduate.

A recognised refugee, Popina was born in the village of Zongo, not far from the equator. She remembers growing up climbing trees and running freely in the rain forest of the Congo.

When she was five, their village was attacked by rebels who killed many people, burned down huts and took the little girls and boys. Her and her 18-year-old sister, Diane, were taken to be traded off for guns, oil, money, and cars. The boys were turned into soldiers.

They were kept in captivity for five years, during which time “I was raped, tortured, and lived in pain. Watching so many people die, and I just kept on waiting and praying for my day to come too so that I could get away from that pain and suffering”, she says.

Diane had the courage to want to escape and she looked at her and said: “I am taking you to South Africa. I had a vision of you standing in front of so many people and I was there in the midst of the crowd clapping and cheering for you.”

They started walking and after three and a half months they arrived in South Africa where she ended up at a children’s home in Despatch. She could not read or write but jumped straight to Grade 4 within six months and learnt to speak Afrikaans fluently, as well as English and isiXhosa. She reached the top ten in her class.

“I remember when we were walking to South Africa, my sister was pushing me to not give up. She kept on telling me stories about what I am going to do and about the food and water waiting for us. She said that when we get to South Africa, I would go to university one day, graduate, and live a life that I truly deserve, but that I should not think about the long walk ahead of us.”

We had no shoes, food or water to drink and slept in the forest surrounded by wild animals. Now I realise what an experience it was. I’m amazed myself; I don’t know how we survived that”, Popina says.

“I am living a dream that so many African girls wish to live, if only they could be given an opportunity too.

The power of literature is amazing. I remember when I started reading, my whole life changed.

Nelson Mandela University thank you. My experience has been amazing, every day I came to school as if it was my first. You have been my home, my place of safety, my place of dreaming and just helping me to believe that there’s a better world, yet to be built for everyone, and I would love to live in it.”

Popina’s sister Diane is now 40 years old and has three children, two girls and a boy. Diane could not get into the children's home system after they arrived in South Africa as she was considered too old. She lives in Johannesburg and works in a restaurant kitchen. 

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160