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Chatting to the team for a recent blog post about English Study Groups offered the opportunity to sit down with Axium alumnus Zukile Luzipho, who is helping out with tutoring now. Though we'd already exchanged Westlife tracks and isiXhosa phrases, getting to know my colleague "Bra Zuks" a bit better offered a whole new set of lessons and insights. Here are a few excerpts from a rambling conversation we had one afternoon in Zithulele, exploring the power of passionate teaching, making mistakes and looking to the future.

On language and learning from mistakes

KH: Zuks, you've been helping out with English study groups and I understand that you studied at one of the schools you now work with. How did you find English while you were at school?

ZL: In the early stage when I was young I was at Mthatha doing my primary there. I came back to Zithulele where I went to Seaview Junior Secondary School. People usually say the education there is poor, but I didn’t agree with them. I see for myself, it’s not. When you want to know something, you can’t wait for teachers to tell you. You must go for it and it’s something that will help you. I started to speak English in the junior class and I saw myself that I was improving. I was breaking it and someone would tell me how I was wrong and that’s where I improved.

KH: Just trying to speak?

ZL: Just trying to speak, ja. When I go to high school, English was not difficult because I started in the foundation. I’m the person who really wants to know. Everything becomes interesting to me. I want to know, what’s that, how did it come to be that? With English I was just breaking it, breaking it –

KH: Breaking it down?

ZL: Yes breaking it down to understand the language. I mixed up words and someone would correct me. Some people they would laugh at me. My friends would often laugh at me and when I asked them why they’d say it was because I was breaking English, although they’re not perfect. If you keep on pushing, you will become good, though not perfect.

On the importance of passion

KH: So one of my questions was to ask about your personal goals. Would you tell me a bit more about your thoughts with going on to study and what it is you’d like to do?

ZL: My first goal was to be a teacher, but because of my points – my statement, it’s bad. It wasn’t the way I thought I would achieve. So I didn’t qualify to be a teacher. My second option was financial management which means I’d deal with finance. Although I’m going to do the second option, I told myself that I can do my diploma in the college, after all I can do a bridging course to the university so I can change to be a teacher. Because during the time I was at school, I was a bit worried because if you do something you didn’t want, but you were pushed into because you had points that qualified in that specific activity – I would see some teachers whose goal was not to be a teacher. They didn’t want to be a teacher, but they scored the points for being a teacher, maybe not the points for being what they wanted to be. So they become a teacher. That is why they say in some schools there is a poor education, because they’re not happy with what they’re doing teaching the learners.

KH: It’s very difficult to do something you’re unhappy with.

ZL: Yes. If you wake up in the morning and say you’re going to work and you’re like “Aaah, I don’t want to go to work, I have this and this and this” – you don’t like it. So I wanted to be a teacher to change people, to show them they can look at the world in other ways. I like to say every story’s got two sides which means there is a positive side and a sad side.

KH: That is life, hey.

ZL: Ja. It reminds me: when I was at school, I was one of the people who was chosen to speak in front of people in Grade 12 if there was an event at school. I want to quote the words I said: don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree because that fish will live half of its life believeing it’s a fool. It means that if you judge a learner or a person on what she’s trying to do, she’ll leave that thing thinking she could never know that thing and believing she’s a fool. Which means you killed her or his life, a half of their own life. So I told myself I can know English and I kept pushing. Although I’m not perfect, one day I’ll be perfect and I’m still pushing.

On past pain and future possibilities

KH: What would you say is your favourite thing about helping with English?

ZL: As I said before, I want to change our people’s life, our generation. To get better jobs, to have better education. I see many dropouts who become slaves of people, working hard for just a little bit of amount they’ll earn at the end of the month. Just imagine, you earn such a little amount and you become married. How are you going to support your children and your wife? How can you meet your needs? That is why my goal is to push our generation so they can see their destiny. Now, it’s like there is a Berlin Wall in front of them, but if they can take their eyes to the horizon, that’s where they’ll see the future. If you take your eyes and look at the ground, you’re going to see the Berlin wall in front of you and you can’t overcome that. But if you take your eyes to the horizon you can overcome that Berlin wall and become something that you’ll be proud of, as we are South Africans.

KH: Sho. Preach, Zuks. That’s a beautiful vision. I have just one more question. Were you an Axium student?

ZL: Ja I started as a Masakhane student.

KH: What is it like to be a staff member now, with Craig and Michelle as colleagues rather than teachers?

ZL: (Laughs) It seems like I’m growing up bit by bit. I was in a junior class, taught by them. Then again in high school, they were my teachers again. And now we’re colleagues which means I’m growing and there’s some experience I get from them.

KH: What impact has being an Axium learner had on your own life?

ZL: It was to be a hard worker. They don’t mind if you are good or bad in Maths and Science, but they want the hard worker. I was just a student, but I was a hard worker. Because of some issues – when I was in Grade 12, I lost my father...

KH: Sho, I am so sorry.

ZL: So I became lazy because I was going through that stress, it was a week before going to write exams and it was tough for me. I failed Math and Physics and passed all the others.

KH: It’s pretty incredible that you even managed to write.

ZL: They told me that I must rewrite Math and Physics. So at home I told them I’m going to my desk full time, I want to redo all my subjects. I went to school again, in my desk, became a learner to repeat my Grade 12. And I passed my Grade 12. I have my diploma now, although I didn’t meet the minimum requirements for that particular activity I wanted to be. But I’m fine. We know in life there are obstacles; we must not stick in our past, we have to push.

KH: But also to recognise the things that you’ve been through. It’s very difficult. I lost my best friend while doing my Masters and had to take an extra six months to do the degree because sometimes after something like that, for a while you just can’t work the same way.

ZL: Ja. For me it was difficult to pass exams. Grade 12 was not difficult, but for me it was difficult because in 2016 – the second year I was doing Grade 12 – in the same month that we were starting exams, my grandmother, the one who was looking after me, got sick at hospital. They discovered she had MDR (multi-drug resistant)TB. But she called me to hospital and she said, “Don’t worry, write your exams, because I will not die now. I know that you’re going to finish your exams and that’s when God’s going to take me.” So she gave me a power. Although my heart was broken, I told myself “I can do this, let me do it not for me, but for my grandmother.” So I pushed. But I was very sad to see my results because the one who was pushing me to school, giving me support and giving me money for everything I need at school…for her to not see my results, I was disappointed and so heartbroken. I was happy to pass Grade 12, but I was not happy because I wanted to show her, to make her happy once in life.

KH: I hope she knows somehow. I don’t know what you believe about beyond life, but wherever she is, I’m sure she is proud.

ZL: Life goes on.

KH: Those are big challenges to have come through and to still be contributing now to Axium and working towards your vision of being a teacher, that’s really cool. Thank you for sharing all of this, Zukile.

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