THE GRACE OF BEING THANKFUL
Bradwin Sitzer, 29, grew up in Mitchells Plain, with his parents and an older sister. ‘My mom was a teacher and my father was an electrician,’ he says. ‘We were a close and loving family. My parents were firm and strict with me as they were afraid I would be influenced by my surroundings.’
Mitchells Plain is one of South Africa’s largest townships. Conceived as a model township by the apartheid government, today it has an estimated population of more than 305,000 people. It is notorious for gangsterism and the abuse of ‘tik’ (methamphetamine). Some of Bradwin’s friends were doing drugs and selling them as that was the norm in their community, and there were many times that they tried to persuade him to join in.
‘Every time I felt tempted, I thought about my parents,’ says Bradwin. ‘Knowing that I’d break their hearts and disappoint them was enough to motivate me to say no.’
When asked about the difficulties of growing up, Bradwin says, ‘apart from the “normal” stuff, being robbed two times – the first time at gun point and the second time by three gangsters with knives holding me down in broad day light, and having few burglaries in our house – all was good. I was always thankful that on each of those occasions, I was unharmed.’
Following the example of his parents’ hard work, Bradwin excelled academically, as well as in football and cricket. In matric, he decided that he would like to further his education in Electrical Engineering. ‘Even though my parents were working, they couldn’t afford my university education,’ he explains. ‘To become an engineer was going to be expensive. I was thankful for everything they had already provided for me and I could not expect more. So I decided to do something on my own. I wrote more than 30 letters to companies that offered bursaries for engineering.’
He received only one positive answer. A globally recognized company replied and invited Bradwin to enter their recruitment process. ‘I participated in more than four interviews with psychometric and IQ tests. I vividly remember my last interview: there was a panel of 10 people asking me questions.’ The upshot was that Bradwin was offered a full bursary for the duration of his studies. In 2003 he enrolled at the University of Cape Town to start his degree.
‘I was in my second year, aged 19, when my father accidentally knocked down a child who ran into the road. It was later found out that someone was chasing the child into the road with a dog. The boy ran into the path of my dad’s car and died instantly. The community was in panic; the child was the son of a gang leader. The rumour at the time was that the gang would want “a son for a son”. The police advised my family that we should leave our home because they would not be able to protect us. We left Mitchell’s Plain and rented an apartment in Durbanville, where we lived for the next six months.
‘This was probably the toughest time of my life. I was afraid for my father’s safety and I was distressed to see how hard the experience was for him. He took it very badly. When we finally returned to our home, we were still afraid. A few months went by, and then one evening the gang leader knocked on our door, my dad went to open.
The man told my father that he knew what had happened and did not blame my father for the accident. His child had been running away from other gang members when he jumped in front of my dad’s car. He also disclosed that during his child’s funeral he realised that his life had become meaningless. He had left the gang and turned to God.’
Despite the trauma and stress of this experience, Bradwin finished his following academic year and made it on to the Dean’s merit list. He completed his degree in 2006, aged 21, and when the company that had sponsored him offered him a job in Port Elizabeth, he accepted it.
‘For the first time in my life I was by myself, without family and friends around me,’ he says. ‘I felt extremely lonely, so I started using my time to read and do a lot of reflection. Spending time by myself helped me to assess what was important. Growing up, I did not have a relationship with God, but in Port Elizabeth I felt that something was missing in my life. I became a more mindful person, searching to know God better and reading about people who had influenced the world positively.’
After two years Bradwin was promoted and returned to Cape Town. Four years later he was retrenched when his position was made redundant. ‘My colleagues were upset by the company’s decision but I told them, ‘I am at peace. This company made my degree possible and I’ve had six wonderful years working for them. I can only feel gratitude.’ Bradwin continued working hard and giving his best until his last working day.
Bradwin trusted that there was a reason for this change and soon joined a smaller company where he has much more freedom. ‘I’m happier in my job,’ he says. ‘Through the good times and the bad, you just need to keep the faith and continue working towards your goals.’
Since returning to Cape Town, Bradwin has also pursued his passion of empowering youth, ‘I mentor three youth and in the past I have coached junior cricket teams in my free time. I also tutor Maths and Science as often as my schedule allows me. Adding these activities to my job makes me feel complete.’
When asked for an advice, Bradwin said, ‘keep being grateful for what you have and life will continue to bless you.’
Bradwin is a Leaders’ Quest mentor, and intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.