A True South African Inspires
Before Devland Soweto Education Campus opens next year, there is no stopping the learning……..we are “full steam ahead.”
How the Devland Soweto Multi-Purpose Community Education Campus changed one foreman’s life!
Group Five Housing, foreman, Mabisto Hlongwane, was born and raised in Limpopo, a village called Malamulele. At 10 years old his parents sent him to Pretoria, Hammendskraal, to live with relatives. The families were excruciatingly poor, both his Malamulele family and the Pretoria relatives but migrating brought him closer to a world where he could thrive. Education was only a dream his parents had for him.
But as most young boys, he needed to sow his oats, not any different to most youth in densely populated impoverished areas where the influences can and will overtake one’s spirit. He was not immune to these influences and was on a downward spiral.
Mabisto moves on to Alexandria where he would again enter school but failed dismally, as he was distracted by influences beyond his understanding. Until one day, “Stephans”, [Khosa] who was also living in Alexandra became his “mentor.” Stephans saw a troubled boy, in a society that would devour him and hold him back from fulfilling his destiny. He decided to take Mabisto under his wing. To this day, Mabisto credits Stephans with his “survival.” “Stephans” was a carpenter at Group Five, retiring only last year, after 30+ years with the company.
Mabisto started apprenticeship under Stephans, as general labor. He did this work for ( 4 ) years. He became a concrete hand and for the next 20 years, he moved around working in a number of divisions at Group Five.
He was sent to Namibia in 1998 to do shuttering, back to SA where he continued doing shuttering and setting out on construction sites from 1999 to 2004.
In 2004 Group Five sent Mabisto to Algeria where he continued using his skills: shutter hand, steel fixing and setting out for precast, building houses for the military base. What you might be asking at this point, “what education did he have? Did he ever matric?” No. Mabisto has one regret and that is that he did not finish his schooling. But his journey does not stop there. There is hope and Devland Soweto Community Education Campus triggered a deep regret to surface.
Mabisto learned conversational French while working in Algeria. Group Five provided schooling on the job, learning French at a level where he could communicate with the labor in Algeria. He attended classes Tuesday and Thursday during working hours. He gets excited when he says he has been to France! The flight from SA to Algieria travels via France, herein lies his journey to France! He is proud of the opportunities that Group Five has afforded him over the 20 years he has worked for Group Five but he also knows that his ability to climb the ladder further in his career has been stifled by his lack of education, particularly his ability to spell, write and communicate through the written word. He understands and speaks his languages perfectly well with his counterparts but for these setbacks, his heart cries for more.
Mabisto married in 1992 and with the same wife, has four children, two boys and two girls. He has been a very responsible father and husband and speaks of his family with great pride.
He attributes the quality of his life and career to:
- Stephans – thankful everyday that Stephans came into his life with a strong hand, led him to a better life.
- Group Five for stability and job opportunities.
- Learning the best lesson ever: Concentrate and focus on improving his life and his family’s life.
Devland Soweto Community Education Campus brings Mabisto to a turning point in his life and in his career!
When his boss suggested he work on the Devland Project, he saw the instruction as just another day in the life of working for Group Five. He showed up as instructed. Indeed, he has always been responsible and has always respected his superiors on the job.
He started to study the design and realized this was a project that would be different to anything he has ever done before, in the context of where it fits between for-profit projects and not-for-profit ……his first.
He saw this project as more then just earning a paycheck, business as usual. He knew his life had changed that first day but it wasn’t until Group Five completed their part of the foundation work and he was about to move to another Group Five project, that a sadness and disappointment came over him. That was when he realized he had to do more.
Recognizing his part in uplifting lives, entire communities, empowering and training, he never felt he could make such a significant difference in so many lives, as one individual. He was always thinking inward, taking care of his family and keeping his job.
He is overwhelmed that he will not be able to be a part of completing the project, but he knew this from the start. He understands this is a collaboration of many construction companies and suppliers and with that known, he has made it his goal to be the best he could be.
He says going to work everyday on the Devland Project was different. It was important to go to work with local people, albeit challenging, with unskilled labor but so rewarding at the same time, knowing he was able to give back so much of what he has learned over his 20 year career and to challenge his abilities to build a design, something so different to what he had experienced. Training  unskilled laborers on the job, showing them what he has learned in his career, project managing, working with the Growing Up Africa professional team, interfacing with engineers and architects on site, attending site meetings with the professional team, building a complicated design, one he has the experience and skill to build has shown him, “there is more…. so much more!” He says, the foundation work was challenging and inspiring at the same time. The design clearly challenged him but it also forced him to focus differently to a design that was not as straightforward as the foundation work he has done in the past. He also mentions, working on a social responsibility project with a non-profit as the client, presented challenges with scheduling, performance, communication, community interface around unforeseen issues, and many more, too numerous to list.
Building lives and building a campus brings tears to his eyes. Even I was overwhelmed to see how emotional he was. He believes these projects will change how people interact with one another in their respective communities, bringing a sense of solidarity amongst so many different African groups, and to teach how communities themselves can build and improve their infrastructure and the community facilities desperately needed, long after Growing Up Africa has gone. This is what Growing Up Africa’s model speaks to, our definition of sustainability. Mabisto emphasizes EDUCATION is the key and he is happy he is a part of building an education campus, one that will emphasize the importance of education in every community and village in South Africa.
This project took his skills to another level of awareness, a level he could not initially comprehend and with this said, there is a happy ending to Mabisto’s story.
Mabisto plans to speak to Group Five HR, looking for assistance to complete his matric. He will then be able to look at other opportunities within Group Five. He has made it clear that he will continue with social responsibility projects, even after retirement, offering his services as a volunteer on Growing Up Africa’s professional team. He is has earned a place as a founding member of the Growing Up Africa professional volunteer registry.
As our founder, Deborah Terhune reported, not only is Mabisto listed in the registry, he has been back to site, visiting on a Saturday when GUA is training or working overtime, bringing with him his family and young children, proud to show off his work. Deborah shares a poignant moment: “….as I watched Mabisto walk with his family, around the outside of the property, the local children came running after him……it was as if I was watching the “pied-piper.” He is respected and loved by everyone who worked with him and those who got to know Mabisto and not just the foreman.
This is why we do what we do…