Aphendula Tilana

Aphendula Tilana

Finding Home Again

Aphendula Tilana lives on his school grounds with no family in Cape Town. At age 19, Aphendule has faced a world that has left him moving home many times and facing many challenges on his own. He tells us how he overcame living alone in the city and still achieving great results at school.

Born in the Eastern Cape, Aphendule is the youngest of seven children three girls and four boys. Growing up his mom divorced his dad, and the family moved in with his granny. Having a big family was great for him. “I always had friends, we always played games. We didn’t have much growing up but we had each other.”

Aphendule’s parents got divorced when he was two years old and to this day he has not had contact with his father.

As he grew up, his mother remarried and his older siblings moved out, leaving him to live with two brothers, mom and stepfather in a one room shack. At the age of ten, Aphedule says that the family had no money for him and his brothers to attend school, so at Grade 4 he dropped out of school, and his brothers were sent to live with their aunt, “during the day, I played and saw other children attend school, but I was happy. I didn’t know better and thinking back my mom tried to teach me things like counting.”

Two years passed and Aphendule’s family situation improved when his stepfather started working, enabling Aphendule to attend school. It is then he faced his first challenge dealing with his age mates who were two grades ahead of him. “I didn’t like that my friends were in higher grades than me, but I think it motivated me to be better and to prove to them that I am like them – not slow.”

Shortly after joining school, the family moved again, this time to a two-bedroom flat and Aphendule had to join a new school in the middle of the year, only able to speak Xhosa he found the school challenging as the medium of instruction was English only. “It was so hard, I remember feeling frustrated by not knowing what anybody was talking about, I started not wanting to go to school, but I knew I had to succeed, I told my mom and she encouraged me to learn English from cartoons on television.”

And so, faced with the challenge of needing to learn English but having no one to teach him, then 14-year-old Aphendule taught himself how to speak and understand English from ‘The Cool Kids’ – a children’s cartoon polular in the early 90’s.

Overcoming challenges became a reality for Aphendule, but in the year that his grandmother passed away he describes it as “the hardest”. “After my granny died my sister passed away too, it was a hard year, I remember feeling very sad but trying to help my mother who took the news very hard.”


Unknown to Aphendule, his granny had been helping the family financially so after her passing the family’s life took a down turn and his mom got very ill, “we lived in what I would call poverty, we moved out of the flat and into a Rondawel in a rural part of the Eastern Cape. We lived mainly on Inkobe (maize), but also went hungry some days. My step-father who was unemployed again would go out and look for work while we cared for my mother. School was my only release in these times – and I also learned how to play the keyboard in church.”

Pastor Derek asked Aphendule if he would like to join him when he opens a revivial church in Cape Town. “He didn’t feel comfortable playing with anyone else, so he asked me because he believed I had a gift. I was unsure about what to do, but my mom was getting better, so I asked her what she thought and she said its all up to me. So I decided to go to Cape Town to get a better education so that I can help my family in the future.”

Aphendule stayed in Gugulethu with the Pastor, his wife and their two children, for the first few months everything went well until Aphendule left to go back to the Eastern Cape for his initiation ceremony*. “The family really welcomed me and I am really grateful, but everything changed when I came back from the ceremony. He never wanted me to go – he wanted to take me when I was older – but for a long time I had planned with my brother and some friends to do the ritual together. I felt like I already missed so much from my life back home, so this was very important for me to do with them.”

This disagreement led them down an unhappy path, “we would argue about everything. I felt like he was picking fights with me and that he was pushing me. I remember a day when he told me I can’t eat of their food and told me that I think I was a man, but I wasn’t. All of this really hurt me, but it motivated me to continue with school. I thought about going back home, but I overcame that and decided to keep on working hard while trying to keep the Pastor happy.”

But one day it all got too much when they had an argument that resulted in the Pastor throwing Aphendule out of the house. “One day he threw me out during the night, I was 17 and I can remember being scared on the streets and not knowing where to go, I have no family in Cape Town so I felt very stuck. Its weird though that in that moment I also felt courageous, I found a moment where I could be strong and it gave me the courage to leave the Pastor’s house and look for a new place to stay.”

When asked how his family reacted to his situation, he said that he never spoke to them about it.

“I didn’t want my mom to worry, I was determined to make it in Cape Town, complete my schooling and improve the lives of my family. I had a dream to become an engineer and I knew that moving back home would stop that dream. So I just kept positive and strong.”

He spoke to one of his friends about his challenges and she said that he should speak to her mother the caretaker of the school, Ms. Futho. After speaking to her and explaining his situation she offered him a place to stay.


“I’ve been living on the school grounds for a while now, sharing a (shipping) container with Ms. Futho’s family. I stay with her, her husband and four other relatives, one of them is their youngest child (2) that calls me boetie (big brother). It is a nice space where we all feel confortable. I am really happy, I believe that I went through it all to be at this place. I feel like I am part of a family again and I will be grateful forever. I am more committed and determined now than ever before to succeed.”

Aphendule ended by saying, “home can be anywhere, where you feel loved and cared for. My second mother ( as he affectionately calls Ms. Futho) taught me the true meaning of ubuntu*. To open your home to help a stranger no matter the little you have.”

Aphendule is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.

*Initiation cerimony – a Xhosa right of passage to manhood
*Ubuntu – a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity