Welcome to the second instalment of our series, which is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and inspiring individuals who are the heart of the Bulungula Incubator. This series shares stories and offers a glimpse into our rich Xhosa culture and the profound sense of Ubuntu that binds our remote, rural community together. Save this link to follow all Bulungula Stories. 

We employ 130 permanent staff members, 85% of whom are from our community. Importantly, 100% of our staff lives and works in the community. Each staff member has a unique story that deserves to be told, and today, we are proud to share the journey of Lihle Mbikwana, our (indeed vibrant) Vibrant Villages Manager.

Lihle’s Story

Lihle was raised by a single mother in Xhorha Mouth Administrative Area, where the BI is located. Like many at the time, Lihle’s mother had only studied until grade 3, severely limiting her employment opportunities. She found work with the government’s public works programme (CWP) and relied on child support grants and migrant wage remittances her father sent from the Free State. During his early years, Lihle embraced the traditional responsibility of caring for the family’s livestock, a role considered more important for a boy than formal education.

Although Lihle’s mother had not completed primary school, she recognised the importance of education and sent him to the Free State to finish his senior primary education. Living alone, Lihle managed his own cooking and studying. His mother worked hard to send as much money as she could, but it was tight. Lihle often faced hunger, and by month’s end, he struggled with limited electricity and only had enough food for one meal a day. At school, Lihle realised he was significantly behind — he could not read or write. Despite failing grades 8 and 9, the support from educators and his strong determination to make his mother proud kept him going.

“I thought sometimes, this school thing is not for me. I thought many times I wanted to drop out. At the age of 16, I am trying to learn to read… I felt it was too late for me.”

Lihle Mbikwana

Yet, Lihle persevered. At 22, he became the first in his family to graduate from high school. Later, he returned to the Eastern Cape with a dream of contributing to his community and being a positive role model for young people going through challenging times.

A Natural Educator and Leader

Lihle’s professional journey with Bulungula Incubator began when he was hired as a facilitator for the iiTablet Tshomiz programme, our tablet-based maths and literacy project at local government schools. His strong teaching ability shone through, and soon, he was promoted to manage the new iiTablet Tshomiz site at the primary school he once attended. His natural talent was so notable that once, a teacher at the school asked him which university he studied education.

In 2022, Lihle was promoted again as manager for our Vibrant Villages programme. In this role, Lihle engages with youth to promote arts, sports, and culture through radio and fun events. As a young role model, Lihle proudly maintains a sober lifestyle and is deeply passionate about positively influencing youth.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Lihle’s influence extends beyond his job, however. His sister Winnie is now following in his footsteps, studying at Bulungula College, determined to become the second person in their family to graduate from high school.

Thank you, Lihle, for all that you do and all that you are. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories that showcase the dedication, resilience, and spirit of Bulungula.

Lihle with his younger sister, Winnie, who is now studying at Bulungula College in grade 10.
Lihle with his mother, Ntombizini Mbikwana.