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Orphaned as a teenager after the death of his parents in 2010, 17-year-old Vusumzi Qumza and his three siblings and a niece seemed destined for a life of hardship.

But thanks to the generosity of Sunday Times readers and a Good Samaritan, Qumza is on his way to graduating with a law degree and is now writing a book.

The heart-wrenching prospects faced by Qumza, brother Melusi, half-brother Mnoneleli Mpolweni, half-sister Nobahle Mpolweni and her daughter Onke was highlighted by the Sunday Times in November 2010.

The siblings were left to fend for themselves after their father died of an Aids-related illness and their mother died after a stabbing. The story focused on the remote village of Corhana in the Eastern Cape, where loved ones were buried in haste and in shame because of the stigma attached to Aids, leaving children without the means to register for life-sustaining state welfare grants.

When the Sunday Times visited the siblings in 2010, they lived in an unfinished three-room house their father had built on the slopes of a valley near Libode. To survive, they begged for food from neighbours, but a social worker alerted to their plight managed to get two of them - Nobahle's daughter, 2, and mentally ill Mnoneleli, 8 - registered for foster care grants.

Vusumzi, 17, Nobahle Mpolweni, 22, Melusi, 14, Mnoneleli, 8, and Onke, 2, at their father's grave in 2010
Image: Thembinkosi Dwayisa

During the interview, Qumza sat hunched over the table in tattered clothing with bare, muddy feet and did not talk much. After that, tragedy has struck twice again - his sister Nobahle died in a car accident in 2011 and Mnoneleli died in another accident last month aged 16.

Qumza finished his matric at St John's College in Mthatha with the help of the Sunday Times donations, which they also used to buy clothes, food and some household items. Then he and Melusi were taken in by a Good Samaritan - who doesn't want to be identified - to live in her home in Mthatha.

In 2012 he enrolled for a mechanical engineering degree at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, with his benefactor paying for his registration and accommodation.

When he couldn't cope with the demands of engineering, he switched to law but dropped out of university after falling out with his benefactor.

However, he managed to enrol again last year with funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and is now completing the second year of his law degree.

He has also started writing a book about the tough journey by him and his siblings.

"I would like to give hope to other people like me and ... I want to stand for president one day. I know it sounds like a lot from a 25-year-old who is still in school," Qumza said.

He was inspired to write the book by the plight of other poor children.

"The journey has been anything but easy. It got me thinking of how the system doesn't favour people like me... My story is not any different from most poor kids in the country.

"I thought to myself, umzi omnyama uyaphela ngokungabikho kwethemba [the black nation is perishing because of a lack of hope] and that's where my name finds usefulness," said Qumza, whose first name means rebuilding one's home.

This article appeared in the Sunday Times of 25 November 2018, written by Bongani Mthethwa

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