From drug addict to graduate, Liyabona Waka shares his journey of recovery to success

Former drug addict Liyabona Waka, 22, defy the odds and graduates from Nelson Mandela University. Photo: Supplied

Former drug addict Liyabona Waka, 22, defy the odds and graduates from Nelson Mandela University. Photo: Supplied

Published Apr 30, 2024


From weed, tik, meth and cocaine, this 22-year-old has been hooked on some highly addictive drugs, yet, he has endured, cleaned himself up and graduated from the Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha.

“I am a victim of peer pressure because I wanted to fit in with friend groups with hopes of being seen as a cool person, earning respect, but ultimately found myself falling into using drugs," said Liyabona Waka, who recently graduated in Public Relations Management, explaining how his journey into drugs started.

The Gqeberha-born man from Motherwell township explained that his life took a drastic turn when he fell into a life of drugs.

He recounts that he was in Grade 6, in 2013, when he started smoking.

"I began smoking weed, to cigarettes, glue, and petrol," he said.

Liyabona mentioned that he was later introduced to crystal meth, known as Tik and later became addicted to it.

“Then in 2016, I began smoking cocaine and methaqualone (mandrax)”

He then started to lose interest in the things he loved most, including going to church and playing football.

“I started to lose focus on my school work, though I was doing exceptionally well and even got suspended multiple times from school,” said Waka.

He, then started stealing laptops, phones and clothes from those closest to him to fund his drug habit.

In 2018, he acknowledged the severity of his addiction and started on a journey to recovery.

However, his efforts did not go as anticipated.

"I attempted to abstain from drugs for six months, but unfortunately, I relapsed and went back to my old habits.“

He vividly recalls when he was in Grade 12, in 2019, and stole his father’s expensive watch.

“I sold it, bought a gram of Tik worth R250. I took it in my room and later collapsed. My mother came to my room to check me, and she found me collapsed on the bedside floor with drugs.”

He was rushed to the hospital and was placed in a coma.

"After waking up, I was told that two of my friends were killed by the community, and the other two was arrested for crime, after committing a home invasion.“

It was during his matric farewell, when a motivational speaker shared a touching story about his battle with drug addiction and he found himself deeply moved by the speaker's story to change.

Watching videos on the internet of former drug addicts explaining how they overcome drug addiction aided him.

“I did a lot of research on how to stop using drugs,”

He added with a smile on his face: "I started to notice positive changes, and started to focus on my work, and ended up getting high grades.“

Despite enduring numerous challenges, after matriculation, he pursued further studies in 2020.

"I chose Public Relations Management owing to my deep passion for media and communication, and I am so elated that I have graduated despite the obstacles I encountered.“

“My deepest gratitude goes to my family and friends for their unwavering support throughout this journey.”

Waka advises those struggling with addiction to seek assistance and surround themselves with people with a positive influence.

"There are no benefits to drug use, it can lead to death or imprisonment. My advice is, don’t listen to people who claim that quitting is impossible. It's ultimately a matter of determination and mindset," he emphasised.