Defend Truth


‘Tintswalo’s’ story is the story of multitudes of South Africans reaping the dividends of democracy


Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri serves as a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee and holds the position of national spokesperson.

I have seen enough people declaring themselves to be a Tintswalo to have written this story. Journey with me here into a story of possibility and potential realised.

The story of Tintswalo, the fictional character created in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, has caught the imagination of South Africans. There are the usual naysayers – the opposition, some in the media – who dispute the Tintswalo story of real-life change for millions since 1994, but I have seen enough people declaring themselves to be a Tintswalo to have written this story.

I imagined and created a composite journey of the life of one young woman that becomes the story of an everywoman. Journey with me here into a story of possibility and potential realised.

Born into violence

Tintswalo was born on 16 June 1994 in Shobashobane, near Port Shepstone amid the sprawling hills and valleys of KwaZulu-Natal. This vibrant and diverse region, celebrated for its remarkable blend of natural beauty, rich history and cultural diversity, has attracted tourists since its “discovery” by colonialists. The village on the hill had no running water, electricity or proper roads.

At just one year and six months old, Tintswalo’s birthplace was attacked by more than 600 heavily armed Inkatha impis at 8am on Christmas Day in 1995. The ANC and IFP had been engaged in a war which had intensified in the dying days of apartheid when the state used the old IFP to fight its proxy battles against the coming freedoms.

In the aftermath, 19 of Tintswalo’s neighbours were killed, and her father’s house was razed in what became known as the worst attack of the period: The Kwa-Shobashobane Massacre.

Life changes with an RDP house

Her father relocated the family from KwaShobabane to Dobsonville, settling with relatives in the sprawling Soweto township. In 1997, Tintswalo’s family moved into an RDP house designed by the ANC-led government to aid the poorest in the area. The ANC government has built millions of RDP homes and given 4.8 million “housing opportunities” to people since 1994. 

By 2019, the Department of Human Settlements had built 3,459,965 new homes, calculated from annual reports up to December 2018 and including subsequent years. The RDP house comes standard with electricity, an indoor toilet and running water. Don’t believe me? Africa Check, the continent’s largest fact-checking organisation, has green-ticked it.

Free education and a hot meal at school

At the age of seven, our Tintswalo began her education at Hector Peterson Primary School in Dobsonville in 2001, supported by her father, who secured a job as a rock driller at Anglo American Corporation.

She benefited from a hot, nutritious meal at school, a part of the pro-poor policy inspired by the then president Nelson Mandela, known as the National School Nutrition Programme. Today, this programme stands as a beacon of hope, serving nearly 10 million children with nutritious meals daily, or 3.6 billion meals annually. As a fundamental part of our fight against hunger and malnutrition, the programme extends its reach to every corner of our country.

When she began high school in 2008, Tintswalo moved back to KwaZulu-Natal. She attended the no-fee Dr John Langalibalele Dube High School in KwaMashu, north of Durban, staying with relatives. She matriculated in 2012, achieving a bachelor pass with distinctions in mathematics and English. This accomplishment resonated with the broader trend of rising success in South African education.

Over the past decade, National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rates have surged from 60% in 2009 to more than 80% in recent years. Notably, the Class of 2023 achieved an impressive 82.9% pass, the second-highest in NSC history and a significant improvement on the previous year. Tintswalo’s individual success mirrored the positive trajectory of South Africa’s educational landscape.

By 2023, of the 6,898 schools writing the Grade 12 exams, 4,945 were no-fee schools. By 2024, about 80% of pupils in the country attended these schools, embodying the Freedom Charter’s principle of opening the doors of learning to all. The share of bachelor passes in no-fee schools improved from 55% in 2019 to 64% in 2022.

The Funza Lushaka programme has impacted South Africa’s landscape, with 52,099 teachers successfully completing their training and a remarkable 82% already making a difference in classrooms. This impressive statistic underscores the programme’s success in empowering educators and transforming the basic education landscape.

Tintswalo goes to college and into a great job

Tintswalo’s academic achievements fuelled her ambition for higher education. Choosing her top pick, tourism, she joined Lovedale Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in the Eastern Cape, one of 50 such institutions across South Africa.

Her journey wasn’t bootstrapped by her working-class family. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), launched in 1996 by Mandela, provided support and eased the financial burden. Excelling in her studies, she earned a scholarship, which converted 60% of her debt to aid. It was a testament to her dedication and also to Africa’s largest state-funded post-schooling bursary scheme.

In 2021, R43-billion went to public universities, R11.3-billion to TVET colleges like Lovedale, and R2.1-billion to community education and training colleges. These allocations, coupled with initiatives like NSFAS, the National Research Foundation’s postgraduate bursary scheme, and the National Skills Fund, have fuelled the expansion of the post-school education and training (PSET) system.

Over the 10 years from 2011 to 2020, funding from NSFAS increased by R31.1-billion, with the most significant increase observed for public historically disadvantaged institutions, amounting to R26-billion. In 2023, NSFAS supported a staggering 1.3 million students, highlighting the programme’s growing impact.

We continue Tintswalo’s journey from her college into work. She returned to Johannesburg. In 2016, Tintswalo found employment at Sakhumzi Restaurant on vibrant Vilakazi Street in Soweto’s Orlando West.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tintswalo and balloons take centre stage amid the weird, the curious and the contradictory debates

Three years later, she saved enough to take her parents on their first holiday to the Drakensberg. This trip was a significant milestone, allowing her family to enjoy the serene beauty and majesty of one of South Africa’s most scenic locations and staying at a notable establishment in the area, showcasing her gratitude and success.

Today, tourism is the new gold of South Africa. In 2023 there was a remarkable resurgence in tourism, with a 48.9% increase in international arrivals compared with 2022. More than 8.5 million people visited Mzansi in 2023, injecting billions into the economy while creating and sustaining more than a million jobs. 

Of those visitors, 6.4 million, or 75.6%, were from other African countries. The 2023 forecast for the tourism sector’s contribution to GDP is about 6.8%, or about R459-billion.

A promotion and a VW Polo

In 2022, Tintswalo was promoted as head of stakeholder relations for Sakhumzi’s parent company and also fulfilled the owner’s employment equity target for women’s advancement.

Today, cruising through streets like Winnie Mandela Drive in Johannesburg in her proudly South African-assembled VW Polo, she is a vision of democracy’s child.

I know there aren’t enough and that too many Tintswalos are still suffering without opportunities, but we also know, through the numbers, that this ANC government has made the life journey of many young Tintswalos different to that of their parents and their grandparents. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ron McGregor says:

    There are indeed many successful Tintswalo’s, but they number thousands amongst the millions who are not successful. I am sure that we would have had many times more successful Tintswalos had our voters rejected the corruption and incompetence of the ANC before it was too late.
    The successful Tintswalos are the exception, not the rule, and we should not believe any propaganda that it’s the other way round.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Thanks for the Friday laugh, good start for the weekend

  • Charles Edelstein says:

    There are indeed many Tintswalo’s but this is in spite of and not because of the ANC. The average standard of living as doubled around the world in the 20 years preceding covid. Go do your homework! This happens to be true for South Africans as well but with all our riches and resources we lag like-for-like countries by most metrics.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Pity it’s fiction.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Millions are losing out the only ones living the good life are the corrupt criminals and there is a govt full of them. The writer obviously lives on another planet to use seeing poverty, unemployment, lack of electricity and now water.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I am trying to decide which is worse:

    1. Mahlengi knows that most of the claims are rubbish but pushes the lies.

    2. Mahlengi does not know that most of the claims are rubbish.

    • Gerhard Vermaak says:

      It’s called “Illusory truth effect” describes how when we hear the same false information repeatedly, we often come to believe that it’s true, this even happens when people should know better knowing that the misinformation is false…………. So the anc spins and keeps spinning till the false information is believed to be the truth.

  • L T. says:

    There are 4 beggars at every robot as I go about my daily business in Johannesburg. I think I’ll read this to a few of them and see how they feel about this fairy tale.

  • Rodney Weidemann says:

    Lets add an aura of authenticity to Tinstswalo’s story:

    In 1997, her parents moved to an RDP Dobsonville – fortunately, it was not an RDP house in Marikana, or they might also have been victim to the worst excesses of the ANC-led police force, that shot dozens of miners in the back, killing 35 in total.

    Tinstswalo went to primary school in 2001 and, like most students, was presumably unable to read for meaning at age 12. Once in high school, she probably only had scarce access to the electricity that ‘came standard with the RDP house’, thanks to loadshedding becoming a reality in Grade 8 – and getting worse over the following 16 years.

    She was fortunate enough to get an NSFAS bursary for university – fortunate, because those who run the show have been siphoning off billions in student aid (there’s a shock!). She then obtained a job – something 65% of her fellow graduates are unable to do, thanks to stifling ANC business policies.

    As someone now working in the tourism department, I wonder if she too feels as if Home Affairs is doing everything it possibly can to drive tourists away from our beautiful country, with ridiculous visa rules, or if instead – having realised the only way to get ahead in a country where those in charge don’t ‘govern’, but instead ‘rule’ – she has embraced the government that gave her everything, and played a role in trying to splurge a billion rand of our hard earned taxes on a ridiculous sponsorship of an English Premier League team?

  • Andile Ntuli says:

    Lol, this really is a fictional story.
    Why the f**k would a baby born in KZN be named Tinswalo? The average Zulu person doesn’t even know what that name means.
    Nice try though, selling dreams and all. Unfortunately for the ANC, South African voters live in the real world:
    The one without clean running water and daily, hours-long electricity blackouts with no end in sight.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    @Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the title of this article. But I see that you are a high flying ANC member so I know immediately that you are a citizen of that parallel universe where lies = truth, fiction = reality, and where its ok for corrupt ANC politicians lie and steal and live in mansions while our people starve. I can only assume you are being paid so much that you don’t mind helping the ANC destroy our country for all of our people – including your own family and loved ones. Shame.

  • John P says:

    Was this written by Enid Blyton or maybe a Mills and Boone ghostwriter ? It certainly has little basis in fact.

  • EK SÊ says:

    In 1994 a baby was born in a shack just after her mother voted for the ANC. It’s 2024 and she’s still living in a shack but now with her daughter & granddaughter, reading this and
    applauding you?

  • ST ST says:

    Yes the are a few success stories…far too few to boast about at a village level, let alone national level. Yes at an individual level, some have made it. Well done, keep going, bring others!

    My take is it has been a combination of luck (e.g., if your RDP was ever started or finished or liveable). It was also wit, determination and resilience of a lot of individuals, families, and communities. Schools improvements are down to the hardworking teachers and students.

    Some good starts were made by the ANC, but mostly they’ve shamelessly corrupted and robbed the poor to death. Some of the poor have been brainwashed to celebrate the 350 that really should be thousands of proudly earned money and contributions to society. Meanwhile ANC lives in mansions, their kids millionaires.

    If it was a matter of incompetence due to initial lack of experience/expertise, it would’ve been understandable, at first. As long as there was clear plan to improve. But the extent of corruption, ignorance, arrogance, and no real desire to change is unforgivable. They’ve set us back decades in terms of infrastructure and public services. Even the education is mostly not fit for the labour market.

    So no, success is mostly inspite of the ANC. The so called ANC success is minuscule to account for 30 years. Tintswalo, if you’ve not already learnt, no respectable employer will celebrate poor performance like in the ANC. So don’t take a leaf from their book!

  • Alan Oswald says:

    This is the dream, but remains fantasy for many, including the so called privileged, of all races.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    The point is not if any have benefited but the millions who haven’t. And even those who have benefited somewhat have not benefited enough, if you compare our dismal growth with for instance East European countries which came out of Soviet slavery at the same time.

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    The Alcoholics are in charge of the bar in South Africa !

    Vote DA its all we have

  • drew barrimore says:

    What a hilarious little piece, obviously designed to give a chuckle. No bearing on reality, but nicely decoupled from the stark horror of South Africa under the ANC. Crumbs for the people, first class flights and hotels for the political stomachs which grow by the minute. Perhaps this author’s President can open another tap soon? If there are cameras.

  • Jabu Mhlanga says:

    No matter what you say Mahlengi…the perception that ANC leaders are self- centered and self seeking lingers. Tinstwalo if anything, is only getting crumbs because so much money is getting lost through the cracks; corruptions and maladministration. So much money has been pumped for social relieve programs and little for economic growth and development. It is unsustainable approach to socio-economic development.

  • Bhekisisa Mncube says:

    Wonderful story. Keep up the good work. I am Tintswalo.

  • Bhekisisa Mncube says:

    Beautiful writing. Wonderful story of SA @30.

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