Doctoral graduate started working at age 12 to support household Dr Virginia Dlamini–Akintola's story of commitment and perseverance started in the village Ntondozi in the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). She was nine years old when her father died and she had to start to work at the age of 12 to help her mother make ends meet and to pay for her own education.
In those years, she would never have thought that one day she would receive a PhD degree in Philosophy in General Linguistics from Stellenbosch University (SU). “I never thought I would study this far. I ended up studying in Stellenbosch by of the grace of God," she says.
As a young girl, she also experienced what it was like to have only one meal a day or sometimes even no meal. “My mother taught us that hard work helps and education would help us improve our situation in life," says Virginia.
“I was very lucky to grow up in an environment that had a school nearby. It was a mission school. I went there and my faith in God also grew. It helped me through many challenges," she says.
During her childhood years, she also became very fond of reading. She read everything from her schoolbooks, her mother's knitting patterns, magazines in Zulu and English to local newspapers in SiSwati.
“I believe all this reading helped me to create an interest in education and to perform well at school," she says.
“Each time I passed a grade, I wanted to do better in the next grade. Therefore, when I obtained my first degree, I was motivated to study towards the next one. Hence now, by the grace of God, I have been awarded a doctoral degree," says Virginia.
After completing her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Humanities and Post Graduate Certificate in Education at the University of Eswatini, she worked as a teacher for a few years, before applying to do her Master's degree in General Linguistics at SU. After completing this degree, she went on to the next degree, just as she did with all her school grades.
Virginia's family followed the graduation ceremony via the live streaming platform. “My husband is extremely happy and relieved. My children are very happy too. They actually say now I will have more time for them. What makes me sad though, is that my mom passed away last year – she was still motivating me even then."
After completing her MPhil at Stellenbosch in 2003, she was appointed as a part-time lecturer at the University of Eswatini. This position became permanent in 2009.
Her doctoral thesis, which is titled The Discursive Construction of Identity in Young Offenders' Narratives in Swaziland, is anchored in sociolinguistics and discourse studies, which are subfields of linguistics. She has a special interest in psycholinguistics.
While she was doing her research at a juvenile prison in the Kingdom of Eswatini, she became involved with a school at the facility where education was used to curb youth offences. She then realised that the name 'juvenile school' had a negative impact on the youth.
Virginia made the school management aware of the negative impact, basing her arguments on the labelling theory. According to this theory, the self-identity and behaviour of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. The name of the school was consequently changed to the name of the town where the school is located and it became the Malkern Industrial School. It was later changed to Vulamasango School which means “opening opportunities".
This positive school name created a positive perception and many people see it as a school that is not only suitable for convicts but also for other children with behavioural problems. Many parents now enrol their children (with discipline/behavioural problems) at the school to help them focus and complete their education, says Virginia.
She thanks SU and especially the Department of General Linguistics and her supervisors, Dr Marcelyn Oostendorp and Prof Elmarie Constandius, for the excellent training she received.