Zoleka Mandela has finally graduated with a BA Psychology degree. This achievement comes an incredible 17 years after she dropped out of university!
The granddaughter to South Africa's former president the late Nelson Mandela, took her Instagram followers through the nervous yet exciting journey of preparing for the big day.
"Yesterday, on the day we all celebrated International Women's Day, my Bachelor's degree in Psychology was conferred to me - I finally graduated after 17yrs since I dropped out of university due to my alcohol, sex and drug addiction," she revealed on her social media account.
In the past two decades, Mandela's life has been marked by tragedy and hardship. She became addicted to cocaine and battled with sex and alcohol addiction. Then, she lost her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani, who was killed in a car accident on the eve of the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening match.
In her book When Hope Whispers she details how she was hospitalised for depression 10 days after her daughter's funeral.
"Once I was discharged, my drinking only worsened: this time I was downing beer, wine or whiskey with my prescription pills, ignoring that it is disrespectful to drink at a time of mourning. I just didn’t want to feel – not if feeling meant having to lose Zenani over and over and over again," she wrote.
Last year, Mandela decided that while she couldn't change the past, she could begin to create a better future. So she enrolled at the UNISA (University of South Africa).
It is never too late to rewrite your life story.
For the graduation ceremony, she chose one special person to accompany her -grandmother Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The two have always had a close relationship.
"As a grandmother, I have been with Zoleka throughout the darkest days of her life, together with the family that reached out to her and embraced her with unconditional love. She is a brave survivor of the greatest test in any woman's life because of her strength of character and resolve," Madikizela-Mandela wrote in her forward for Zoleka's book. These words written five years ago could just as easily apply on this momentous occasion.
Zoleka's been able to turn her life around through education, and has also recently triumphantly battled with a breast cancer diagnosis. Reflecting on her graduation, she dedicated the achievement to other women who've overcome hardship.
"This is for women like me who have survived years of physical and sexual abuse, breast Cancer, the tragic loss of their child or children, women like me who abused alcohol, sex and drugs for decades ... Women like me who are reminders of how our pasts need not determine our present or future. Women like me who continue to thrive beyond the unimaginable and use their lives to remind other women of their own ability to change the world around them. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO REWRITE YOUR LIFE STORY."