Nonkululeko Mokoena is from KZN, Ladysmith, in a small village called St Chad’s. She was born in 1988
August 7 by the late Thembisile Zikalala and Oupa Mokoena. Her mother and Father never got married,
so she was practically raised by a single parent. Hlengiwe and Andile are her sisters from her Mother’s
side and Thabiso her brother from her Father’s side. She is a last born to her mom and the first born to
her father. She never had a good relationship with her Father and that’s because he was never there, he
and her mom never got along but she never wanted to associate herself with their disputes, they were
both her parents irrespective of who was present and who was not in her life.
Nonkululeko was born a miraculous child, she couldn’t walk, at the age of two years (in 1990) and her
family realised that she was not being hard headed she actually had a serious problem. They took her to
the hospital; Doctors discovered that she had a dislocated hip bone. They scheduled an operation and
admitted her in a hospital for 8 months. She attended her lower education at St Chad’s primary school
and matriculated at Ncinjane Secondary school, now called St Chad’s high in 2005.
She lost her Mother in 2003 that was the most difficult year of her life. Her sisters at that time were
young and not working. She was doing Grade 10, looking at all her hopes and dreams slipping away from
her. The emptiness within her was born. It was like her life just took a wrong turn; She was lost and left
alone in a darkest lonely space. At the age of 15, one needs a mother more than anything, but there she
was burying her mother and bidding her farewell and saying goodbye for the very last time. That year
opened a wound that never heals. Till today she still looks around and wish for her mother to kiss and
hold her one more time.
Through the hardest times after her mother’s passing, she pressed on towards completing her matric
which she passed with good grades. She wondered what to do next. People told her to look for a job and
work like everybody else. Something inside kept on telling her she could do better, she can still achieve
great things and be the best she has always wanted to be. In 2006 she went to Tshwane University of
Technology to register for Horticulture; She got accepted at school and even got a study loan. The main
challenge was finding residence since they were full. She had no support system and no financial
support to survive; the loan only covering academic fees. This led her to drop out and go back home.
She told herself that she wasn’t going back home to stay but she was going back to study the following
year, the study loan was going to pay for accommodation only if she got a space within the University
She came back home and started looking for a job. She got a job in Ladysmith link pharmacy as a
promoter of TIBB product. During this year she applied at Tshwane University of Technology again. She
got accepted to do Water Care, because of applying early she got a space in one of the school
residences. In 2007 she was a registered TUT student, doing Water Care, things were fine but there was
still no financial support system. She remembers having R20 as pocket money which was change from
her travelling costs. She had one pair of jeans, two skirts, three t-shirts and one pair of shoes. Her bag
was very small; you could swear she was going for a weekend visit. Two slices of bread were enough for
two days. It was hard but she knew why she was there. Somewhere somehow time moved, before she
knew it, it was September of the very first year and she was selected as one of the best students in class
and offered a bursary which was going to cover all costs including pocket money. That was her break
through; things took a right turn.
Choosing water care as a career was the best decision she ever made. Water care is about water
chemistry, purification of water from different water resources to ensure it is fit for use. It is also about
treating wastewater from ablution facilities prior disposal to the rivers or used for irrigation in agricultural land.
In 2010 she completed her National Diploma in Water Care and started working for the Department of
Water Sanitation as an Environmental officer in 2011. The Job of an Environmental officer is to protect
the Water resources such as rivers, dams, wetlands, estuaries and groundwater from being polluted and
degraded. The Department has a constitutional mandate to ensure water for consumption and domestic
purposes is fit for use. They authorised people to use water for business purpose, however they provide
strict conditions to ensure water remains available for other users (present and future generation).
Nonkululeko loves nature and prefers working with nature other than anything else. She is a voice
behind water resources. In 2014 she obtained a B-Tech in Water Care as part of upgrading her career.
She is currently busy with her Masters, specialising in wetlands and their functionality. She is a hard
worker, being a fulltime employee doesn’t stop her from climbing the ladder. She is also a registered
Professional Natural Scientist with a scientific body (SACNASP).
After her mom’s passing she struggled and survived difficult situations. Her Grandmother was always
there but they were too many kids for her grandmother to focus on one child. She blessed the day she
accepted the lord as her personal saviour. God has been the pillar of her strength; knowing she can do
all things through Him, he has made and still makes her run her race fearlessly. Being an orphan is not
easy but knowing that there is a higher power within you, walking with you, and beside you is
She grew up loving her father and being angry at him but then she realised how much anger was killing
her inside, so she chose to forgive him and mend their relationship. Sadly, just when they were getting
along, he passed away on the 22 nd of May 2018. She thanks God for giving her an opportunity to make it
right with her father before his passing. Everybody has a role model, Nonkululeko doesn’t, she is rising
to be somebody else’s role model. Her goal now is to be that someone she never had, to another
Her philosophy in life is: ‘’you owe nobody an explanation and nobody owes you a damn thing”.
Everybody has everything they need to get going, they just need to realise it. Be brave and do it for
yourself young person. You got what it takes so use it, wake up and work hard. Sometimes help comes
from people and places where you least expect. When challenges seem to overwhelm her, she always
reminds herself that tough times never last but tough people do.
The challenging aspect of her journey was realising that she is a lesbian. Growing up in a religious
community and being classified as a good child made it very hard for her to come out. But the closet
became too small and hot. In 2011 she finally had the guts and came out to her family and friends. It
wasn’t easy for them to accept but eventually they made peace with it. When people know, they have
no power over you. Live your life the best way you know how.
Nonkululeko’s plan for this year and next year is to complete her thesis. She is focusing on building her
profile for the bigger plans that she cannot mention now.