Sharon Msiza is a born-again Christian from the dusty roads of Ga-Motla, a small village in the North West province in South Africa. She grew up in female-headed household and has three older brothers.
“Growing up, I was always a loner,” Sharon told The Weight She Carries. “I preferred to be in my bedroom reading a book than to go out and play. But this did not suggest that I did not have any friends nor that I never used to play. One of my brothers made sure I was out and about. ‘Don’t you have any friends, Sharon? Please go play and stop being idle,‘ he would say.”
Sharon said that being a dark-skinned teenager with pimples did not make play time that much fun. The ridicule and bullying she sustained resulted in her withdrawing from peer interaction. This experience was exacerbated when she was accused of witchcraft when she was 17 years old.
“It all started at a local church when the pastor administered [an] exorcism on me, and apparently while I was under the trance, I revealed the secret of the darkness. This obviously scared the congregation who then spread the news in the community.”
The news spread like a veld fire in her community and only became worse when it got to her school.
“Teachers at my school started to question my intelligence. Allegations that I used people’s minds to pass at school started to surface. Pupils at school started to call me a snake and accused me of being protected by baboons. It was unbearable that people did not want to associate with me.”Sharon Msiza
The most painful moment for her was when her friends told her they could no longer be friends with her because of the rumours of her being a witch. Congregants did not want to sit next to her at church. She had a place at the back reserved for her where she could [sit] by herself. It was clear [the community settings] that were supposed to protect her had rejected her.
Sharon explained that she became a playground for prophets and those who aspired to be prophets at the church. They would keep saying God showed them she was at church to kill the pastor and cause harm to the worshipers. She decided to stay in that church because she wanted God to prove all these people wrong.
“God, I want you to clear my name in the same place where it was tainted,” she thought. In an attempt to free her of her “demons,” she was encouraged to go see a certain male pastor to pray for her.
“I travelled to this pastor’s house for a prayer, but to my surprise, I was asked to strip naked because apparently the pastor needed to apply anointing oil on me,” she said. “I took off my top and bra, but refused to take off my underwear. The pastor touched me sexually and I just let it be because I wanted these so-called demons to leave me. What a tragedy.”
Sharon stated that the pastor kept in contact after the visit and would call her at night, asking her what was she wearing and wanting her to speak sexily with him.
“I think he was masturbating on the phone while he was talking to me,” she said.
This pastor went as far as to say, “Before you have sex with anyone, you should come to me first, so I can bless your vagina. I must open doors first before any man can have sex with you.”
She could not confide in anyone because everyone already thought she was the evil one and no one would believe her anyway. “Yes, I was molested by an entire pastor!” she stated.
Sharon told The Weight She Carries that luck smiled on her when she was doing Grade 11 in 2011. Her home language teacher, Mrs. Mkadule, took her in and supported her throughout this process. She took her to her home where she was welcomed by the Mkadule family. They have been inseparable since 2011 and are now a big, happy family. The Mkadules started a healing journey with her and have supported her in both her personal and professional life.
During this whole experience where friends decided to step back, one faithful friend, Siphora Shikoane, stood by her side and literally fought her bullies on her behalf. They are still friends even today and Sharon considers Siphora as her only true friend back at home.
“2011 was not all bad after all. This was the year I decided to pursue law. I was entered into a National Schools Moot Court Competition and met with the Former Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa for the first time. After our brief interaction about the role of the Constitution pertaining to access to quality education for learners in rural areas, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, commented, ‘You’d make a great lawyer one day,’ and I have never looked back since then.”
In 2013, she enrolled for her first year of study towards a Bachelor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University).
Unfortunately, in her first semester of her second year of study, she failed criminal law from assessments, assignments, tutorials and even the June exam. The highest she obtained was 37%. Despite this, she was determined to do better in her second semester. The lowest she obtained in the second semester was 90%, and this led to an overall pass of 62% at the end of the year.
She has always known that a bachelor’s degree was not going to be her highest qualification. While doing her final year at Wits University, she sought mentorship from one of her lecturers, Prof Forere, who advised her to think about pursuing her master’s in niche fields.
She discovered maritime law and applied for admission at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in their postgraduate program. She secured a full scholarship with the National Research Fund to pay for her master’s studies at UCT.
Sharon joined the largest law firm in Africa, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs Inc. Cape Town in 2018 as a candidate attorney in their shipping and logistics department as well as their dispute resolution department.
During this time, she was also busy with her master’s dissertation, which she could not complete due to health issues in 2017. She had to complete her dissertation while preparing for her Attorney’s Board Exams.
“Corporate is not a child’s play; it is indeed the survival of the fittest. The culture is an extreme sport in and of itself. The assimilation therefore is a challenge of its own.”
Sharon struggled quite a lot with the demands of the corporate space and recalled a number of times she thought of quitting and just going home because she just could not comprehend the nature of the corporate world.
“I remembered that if I failed at this, not only would I have failed myself, but [also] my family and all those who come after me. So, I had to push harder.”
The attorney said that while she was still doing her articles, she started seeing a psychologist who referred her to a psychiatrist after three just sessions.
“After a 50-minute consultation with the psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and was subsequently admitted to a mental health facility for two weeks. The psychiatrist had prescribed that I should be hospitalized for four weeks, but I knew I could not stay at the hospital for that long because in terms of the contract of articles, I was not allowed to be away from my principal for more than 30 days.
“I then decided to leave the hospital earlier to avoid being in contravention of the 30-days rule. I continued to see the psychologist and continue to take anti-depressants to avoid another mental breakdown, but I have managed to recover quite well.”
Sharon’s journey to being a lawyer has been a bumpy one. Fortunately, her principal always challenged her to fight for her voice to be heard because as a black female in the maritime industry, it is easy for people to forget about you.
“I chose to specialize in this field following an extensive research which revealed the lack of representation of other racial demographics from previously disadvantaged backgrounds; there are very few black practitioners in this field, let alone women.”
Sharon believes in transformation and is of the opinion that the achievement of transformation is intertwined with the call for women empowerment.
“You cannot achieve transformation without women empowerment; the two concepts co-exist. Women should pursue and occupy positions previously reserved for men.”
She encourages women to capacitate themselves in whatever area they wish to pursue.
“In as much as the call is to give women a seat on the table, it is important that they have the necessary expertise and knowledge to be participating in the breaking of the bread. This is important because the true essence of transformation is not merely inclusivity. It is also to recognize capabilities in those who were deemed not to be capable due to their gender, race and sexual orientation and to create a space for them to participate because they are qualified and capable,” she said.
“My advice to the young women with dreams is that it is important to have a mentor. Unfortunately, I don’t believe in role models. Mentors help with stimulating growth and push you to be the best version of yourself, while role models are people who set a good example to be imitated by others; that is limiting and does not encourage innovation and uniqueness.
“Everyone has a purpose, and often that means your journey will be different from your counterparts’ journey. Hence, it is critical to determine what you want and align yourself with people who are capable enough to assist you to achieve your purpose.”
“It is time that women carve their own destinies and not settle for what is offered to them. If you have not created limits for yourself, do not settle for any limits presented to you, even in a form of opportunities. If it does not advance your purpose, it is a distraction and thus, you need to get rid of it.”
“When opportunities are limited, remember possibilities are limitless.” – Sharon Msiza.
Obtaining her LL.B cum laude
Obtaining a master’s degree in one of the niche fields of law
Being admitted as an Attorney of the High Court of the Republic of South Africa
Social Media Handles
Facebook: Sharon P Msiza
LinkedIn: Sharon Msiza