Thobela Bixa recalls how his mother once sold chicken feet to support the family. “Her struggles were my motivation,” he says. “I gave my all in school so that no one in my family would ever have to sell chicken feet again.”
During his teenage years in Khayelitsha, Bixa discovered a way to demolish what he sees as “this engraved mentality of ‘I can’t do because I’m from the township’.” He joined a non-governmental organisation called IkamvaYouth, which helps to educate disadvantaged youth for a life outside of poverty. “Through this organisation, I found a purpose in my life,” he says.
Long troubled by the ill health surrounding him, Bixa made it his mission to do something about it. He resolved to study chemistry, so that one day he could return to his needy community with medicines and help to fight this scourge of disease. Now reading his MSc in organic chemistry at the University of Cape Town on a prestigious Potter Scholarship and conducting research at the University of Michigan, it seems Bixa’s plans are on track. His work in the US is particularly bold; his goal is to synthesise a new chemical compound that could be used to fight tumours more effectively than the drugs currently available.
All the while Bixa has been reinvesting in the group that helped to set his course for these great heights. He began tutoring at IkamvaYouth almost as soon as he left. Seven years on, he serves on the organisation’s board and can think of no greater pleasure than watching the “kasi” kids he teaches achieve their goals.
With plans for a long career of research and teaching in the Cape, Bixa will no doubt steer far more than just his family away from the drudgery of selling chicken feet.
— Ian Macleod