There are some who believe that being born in the rural areas is a possible obstacle that could keep you from achieving your dreams and goals.
But not so with Lwazi Ngcungama.
From a young age he has always been a dreamer, even when the odds were heavily stacked against him.
Born 29 years ago in the village of Gcilima near Port Shepstone in the KwaZulu Natal province, Ngcungama did not know what he wanted to do with his life.
He had a lot of love for football, in particular Kaizer Chiefs, something he inherited from his father.
Being far away from Johannesburg, where Amakhosi play most of their matches, Ngcungama could not get anywhere near his beloved Gold and Black side, even on those occasions when Chiefs came to play their matches in Durban – 123,1 km or one hour and 27 minutes’ drive from Port Shepstone, with his village situated a further 30 minutes away.
“I love the game so much, but I knew from an early age that I was not a good player, so I had to find something to keep me interested other than just watching it on television,” said Ngcungama with a chuckle.
The closest he saw the Naturena side was either on television or on the pages of a weekly soccer newspaper that his friend’s uncle often brought with him from the supermarket.
His life would change as he paged through and saw the images of the players on the newspaper. But what was of particular interest to him was the design of the jerseys these players were wearing.
“I don’t know what got to me, but for some reason I just started focussing on the designs – and I thought to myself, how about I change this and see how different I could make them,” he said.
He didn’t think much of it then, but armed with a scrapbook and pencil, he found himself spending more and more time altering the look of every football jersey he came across.
This went on all the way until Grade 9.
“I had to stop because I became some sort of a loner as people saw me as a nerd – just sitting by myself and drawing anything I came across, especially football jerseys. I love music too, so in Grade 10 and 11 I switched and concentrated on that art. In Grade I decided to focus solely on my studies as I wanted get very good marks to get to university,” he added.
And that is exactly what happened. He got one distinction in his matric pass in 2012.
The following year he enrolled for a degree in Environmental Management at the University of KwaZulu Natal, where he could only study for a year and had to drop out before the second year due to lack of funds.
What bothered him more was that he owed the institution some money.
With hopes of completing his studies diminishing, he found himself twiddling his thumbs at home in 2014, not knowing which direction to take.
But Lady luck smiled on him the following year as NSFAS came calling.
“I was so excited that I could fulfil my dream of getting further education, so I went back to resume my studies. I enrolled for a Degree in Environmental Planning and Development Studies at the University of Zululand, and graduated in 2018,” said Ngcungama.
It didn’t end there for him, he went on to study and completed an Honours Degree in Anthropology.
Thanks to the NSFAS funding, he was able to lay his hands on a laptop, in addition he had access to free WI-FI at the institution – so he could continue with his love of designing, and even up the game with the latest resources.
“It was a bit of a culture shock. At high school I used a pencil to draw, but now here I was working on a laptop. This helped me grow my passion and during my spare time I would follow free tutorials on YouTube to learn about Photoshop – all of this on my own, and this made me better at my craft,” he said.
“With all the resources at my disposal, it made things very easy. I would draw and post on twitter with the hope that someone would see and like my work – but nothing happened. Instead my twitter account got blocked and I lost everything.”
The setback did not dampen his determination but gave him some lessons which prepared him better when he opened up another social media account.
It was in 2020 that he got a break following all the hard work he had been putting in.
He was invited by a Johannesburg company to do some designs for them so that they could put him to the test.
He passed with flying colours was offered an internship at their company.
He came to Johannesburg with a small bag of clothes with him, so he had to go back home to KwaZulu-Natal to gather more of belongings and bid everyone in his village farewell as he would be moving to the big city, to start work at the beginning of April 2020.
But he suffered another setback.
“The company was still renovating their offices and we agreed that I should get myself sorted out and return on 1 April. Sadly, in the weeks leading to my travel to commence my internship, the country went into hard lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This hit me real hard and I was devastated as I could not travel, all I could see was my dream evaporating in front of my eyes. I just thought to myself this was the end for me, nothing will ever come right. Losing such a big opportunity was very difficult but I tried to keep hope alive,” he said, remembering the period.
He has spent the last two years at home and unemployed, and couldn’t help his single mother and sister. He kept himself busy with casual work and odd jobs in a bid to help put food on the table.
He also continued to come up with more designs and posted them on social media, and among those was the improved version of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations jersey Bafana Bafana donned when they lifted the title on home soil.
Talk about being at the right place at the right time!
When he made his design in 2021 it was exactly 25 years since South Africa won this trophy and preparations were underway for the Class of 96 Legends to celebrate the milestone with a Golf Day event.
One of the organisers saw Ngcungama’s new design of the jersey and made contact – and as they say, the rest is history.
Fast forward to Tuesday, 29 March 2022 and all the golfers at the Bryanston Country Club are wearing the jersey design that was made by Ngcungama for the MetroWired 96 Legends Golf Day.
He is currently working part time as a Field worker for Census 2022, and only got to see the images on social media when he got back home late in the evening.
“I screamed so loudly that I almost woke everybody up. It was the happiest day of my life. Seeing Neil Tovey, Mark Fish, Dr Danny Jordaan, Marks Maponyane – all these famous guys wearing my design – I never thought a rural boy like me could ever achieve that. It is said that dreams do come true, but you have to work on them so they can materialise. To this day I can’t believe I managed that,” he said with a huge smile.
“This is an indescribable feeling. You know when you do something and you sometimes doubt yourself, but when you see the final product worn by prominent people you just say to yourself it was worth the sacrifice. Sadly, my father is late and he is not here to enjoy the moment with me as he was the one who really encouraged me, not only to continue with the designs but also to register them. I know he is smiling wherever he is.”
His mother was the first person in the family to receive the good news.
He had to call her at work as she had left very early in the morning.
Lwazi believes the best is yet to come.
“To be honest, my parents sacrificed a lot to get me educated, so I would really love to find work for what I have studied, and I know that will change for the better at home. I really want to help my mother who is working alone. But on the other hand this vote of confidence of seeing my design all over the place has given me the courage and determination to continue with my craft of designing. My dream is that I open an agency someday where I can employ people,” he concluded.
“What the MetroWired 96 Legends Golf Day gig did was simply get me closer to my dream. People are now more aware of my work. Previously they would ask me to design something for them but nothing would come out of it – I just hope this has opened bigger doors for me. And this is a lesson to all – it doesn’t matter where you come from, your dreams are valid, hold on to them and keep on believing. The work you put in is important as it will get you somewhere in life, it may take time but it will surely happen.”
For more information, kindly contact Lwazi on:
Mobile: 081 274 9902 – WhatsApp