After losing his eyesight at the age of 26, Sithabiso Zulu never imagined that he would one day be an academic studying towards a PhD qualification.
Zulu (35), born in Msinga, lost his eyesight in 2008 after being injured in a car accident in 2007.
"There were a lot of medical complications. My optic nerve was damaged and I slowly started losing my eyesight to a point where I was totally blind," he said.
Before the accident, Zulu had been working at a restaurant in Johannesburg after attempts to get into university to further his studies had failed.
It took him a year to accept his condition. He recalled how he was sitting at home listening to the radio when he heard Steve Kekana and Babsy Mlangeni, who are both blind South African musicians, talking about how they overcame their obstacles.
"That's when I realised that being blind was not an excuse for me to sit at home and do nothing. Steve and Babsy had lost their eyesight when they were just toddlers but they were able to accomplish so much. Steve even has an LLB qualification.
"After hearing their stories I felt optimistic. I felt that since I already had my matric it was possible for me to study further. I also realised that if my parents were to die I would have no one to depend on."
Zulu contacted a social worker, who was also blind, and asked her to help him pursue his studies. He was referred to the Blind & Deaf Society in Northdale where he studied braille and the braille keyboard in 2012. While there, he attended a disability seminar where universities, local government departments and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) were offering study opportunities to people living with disabilities.
"We were told that the previous year NSFAS had allocated R80 million to fund disabled students but only R30 million was utilised because not many people living with disabilities studied. I decided from there that I wanted to further my studies."
Zulu was accepted to study a Bachelor of Social Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and received a bursary from the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), where he was also offered a 12-month internship after completing his degree.
Zulu went on to do his honours, then his masters and is currently busy with his PhD in sociolinguistics, focusing on language. In 2016 he was awarded the prestigious Golden Key International Honour Society Award for achieving three distinctions out of his four modules of his honours qualification.
Recalling how he felt at his first graduation, Zulu said he could not hold back his tears of joy.
"As unfortunate as losing my eyesight was, I feel like had I not been blind I would have never been able to accomplish half of my achievements. So all in all I think it was God's divine plan to ensure I get to where I am today," said Zulu.
He said some of the challenges he and other people living with disabilities face is finding employment.
"The government always says they accept applications from people living with disabilities but it's strange that we never even get shortlisted for jobs."