College of Human Sciences

Psychology graduate soars above challenges

Thembelihle Tshabalala and her mother attending the Nelspruit graduation ceremony

Thembelihle Tshabalala graduated recently in Nelspruit with a Unisa Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Psychology following years of academic stormy roads where she had to modify her career journey. In 2009, Tshabalala obtained a BSc Biomedicine degree from Midrand Graduate Institute and thereafter she was accepted to study medicine at the Walter Sisulu University (WSU).

In 2011, during her third year of medical studies, Tshabalala suffered a major injury to her spinal cord. The accident left Tshabalala quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound, and she was forced to discontinue her medical studies at WSU. Tshabalala did not let the situation discourage her. Instead, she was inspired to register with Unisa to improve her prospects of becoming self-employed and run an independent private practice as an aspiring clinical psychologist.

From an early age Tshabalala has always desired a career in healthcare. Though the injuries made her goal of being a doctor more difficult, they did not prevent Tshabalala to pursue a career in healthcare. In 2019, Tshabalala earned a BA in Psychological Counselling. She says, ‘Unisa is the best university in terms of catering for people living with disabilities, as you can study at home and at your own pace.’ In addition, Tshabalala says the degree is a stepping stone towards her goal of launching a clinical practice in the near future. She intends helping individuals with mental health conditions and psychological traumas among many other issues people are faced with nationwide.

Born and bred in Mpumalanga’s Elukwatini, Tshabalala was raised by a single parent. She started her primary schooling in D & C Comprehensive Primary School and finished her matric at Highveld Secondary School. Speaking about unemployment, Tshabalala also demystifies the misconceptions written on job advertisements regarding positions targeting people living with disabilities. ‘Even though companies state on their job advertisements that people living with disabilities should apply,’ she says, ‘this is merely to create an image of inclusivity and to tick boxes. Testimony to this is that I have been applying for multiple positions, yet am still unemployed.’ She further notes that the jobs given to people living with disabilities are not for graduates or matriculants, but are suitable for those with an education of grade ten and below. ‘We keep on sending CV’s and nothing happens.’

Finding employment during her studies has been a challenge and Tshabalala was bolstered by the assistance of a family friend and close relatives. The other challenge affecting Tshabalala was the application procedure for special needs assistance. However, she also points out the assistance provided by the university and says that she finds it helpful that students living with disabilities are allowed to apply for special needs assistance as well as extra time during examinations. This would entail interventions such as an invigilator coming to her place of residence. ‘Each year I was able to apply to have an invigilator to come to my home so I could write exams without any hassles, and I could also request for extra time because I write slowly due to my fingers not functioning fully as a result of my disability,’ she explains. Tshabalala adds that it is a tedious process because a new application needs to be submitted on annual basis which requires students to get a fresh doctor’s note on an annual basis.

Tshabalala acknowledges that there is still a long way ahead of her as she has not reached all her goals. She plans to study further and acquire more knowledge on her field of study. Asked to give a message to fellow students, Tshabalala tells students to read up on all the services provided by Unisa especially for students living with disabilities. She encourages students to never give up on their dreams no matter how many difficult situations they are facing.

In conclusion, Tshabalala says she hopes that her story will assist the community at large to realise that no challenge is insurmountable. 

*By Lesego Chiloane-Ravhudzulo, Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/05/09