Ozias Mbatha, a collateral controller at Sasfin, grew up in Mahlabatini, a small under-developed town in KwaZulu-Natal. His family was extremely poor and his parents separated when he was just 12, leaving him to look after his siblings. He managed to go to school by working for a couple who didn’t have children: “They wanted someone who would clean for them and do errands and, in return, they would send me to school. I grabbed that opportunity.”
He never had a pair of school shoes and walked to school barefoot. Only when he reached high school did he receive a pair of shoes to call his own – they were a gift from his grandfather.
When his church came up with the idea of collecting school shoes for underprivileged children four years ago, Ozias jumped at the opportunity to contribute. Knowing the impact a new pair of school shoes can have on a child, he quickly became the biggest contributor, leading the initiative.
“When I was given this position, I knew this was something I could do for people who are growing up like I did. It felt good to give back.”
The first year, Ozias collected 47 pairs of shoes, and when he came back from delivering them to a school in Swaziland, Sasfin gave him another 47 pairs to give to his choice of school in Gauteng.
He calls Sasfin his second home. It was his first job when he moved to Johannesburg after school and he’s been at the company for 28 years. Sasfin, he says, jumped at the opportunity to help him when he first shared the school shoes initiative. “I came to Sasfin and they took it and ran away with it. They’ve become champions for it.”
This year, Sasfin donated 72 pairs, but Ozias’ goal is to hit 1 000 pairs a year. “It’s not enough,” he says. “When you go to these schools, you see how much is needed.” He personally goes to the schools to distribute shoes in the morning before classes start and immediately sees what a difference it makes. “The kids are so overwhelmed and grateful, they can’t believe it.”
He knows what that feeling is like. “I believe that if children are dressed smartly, they will have better self-confidence and walk into class proudly and learn better,” he says, reflecting on how he felt walking into school for the first time with a new uniform and shoes.
“I believe that if children are dressed smartly, they will have better self-confidence and walk into class proudly and learn better.”
The message he shares with these children and with his own children and grandchildren is a two-part message. One: never take anything for granted and don’t think the world owes you anything. Two: if you get the opportunity to go to school, grab it. “Education is the best tool, it’s the key to everything.”
Ozias believes we all have the responsibility to give back and help the next generation: “The greatest ministry is to be able to do good for others.”