Contact: 073 777 4434 Email: mzukona@nyakaza.org.za

You’re the master of your destiny, if it is to be, it is up to you!

My very early childhood was spent in the township of Duduza. Most of the memories I have of this time are those shared by my two elder sisters; I personally don’t remember much except for experiences I had with a dear friend named Dudu and her mother. Having a Teacher mother, I was fortunate to start school two years earlier than the usual age. I must have been 8 or 9 when we moved to the township of Tsakane where I spent the rest of my childhood and teenage years. I have good memories of growing up in Tsakane, attending school at Shadrack Mbambo Primary and assisting with administration, as best as a young teenager can, of my dad’s taxi business.

When black children could finally attend Model C schools, my mom was all too happy for me to be the guinea pig. So in the year I was meant to start Standard 4 (now Grade 6), with an English vocabulary limited to greeting and saying thank you, I was sent to Pinegrove Primary where I was reversed back to Standard 2 (Grade 4)! I was not impressed with this; I couldn’t understand why it was necessary when I hadn’t failed and now all my friends at the township school were senior to me. But Mom wouldn’t have it otherwise…and Mom was always right!

Tragedy hit our family during my early high school years when there was an attempt on my dad’s life amidst the taxi violence, causing him to flee into hiding. With both of my sisters graduated, working and living away from home, it was just my mom and I in the house. We managed…it was life unusual having to watch our every steps…and as though that wasn’t enough, my mom suddenly fell ill and passed on within two weeks of falling ill while my dad was away. I was just 16. I remember vividly the family meeting after the funeral where a decision had to be made on who would take care of me…I remember being discussed as though I wasn’t even in the room, without a choice, without a voice. One of my sisters then made the sacrifice to leave her urban life and come back home and take care of me until I at least finished high school.

I naturally matured very fast through that entire process. The aim was not to fail a grade; the aim was to do as well as mom expected when she was alive…and this I did. I excelled in Maths and Science and was considering Medicine as a field of study when my sister convinced me otherwise. She was working at Spoornet at the time as a legal advisor and found the engineers she worked with as quite interesting and passionate she would say. She thought I’d fit that profile better than that of a doctor. And so, just like that, the decision was made to study Civil Engineering without a good knowledge of exactly what it entailed, without a role model or a family member in the field, without job shadowing or take a girl child to work experience…just based on my sister’s recommendation.

 

I naturally passed matric and decided to study at the University of Pretoria (Tuks) where I’d be closer to my other sister for support. In my orientation week I met a fourth-year student who was very negative telling a few of us first years that there’s no way we’d finish our degrees in record time. Telling us, not directly, that we’re not good enough. That’s not something a fresher wants to hear but that’s something that would push me for my entire time at Tuks. Having a no fail attitude made me want to prove him wrong even if it was the last thing I did. And it was tough! One of my biggest challenges having to do technical drawing for the first time ever. I struggled, I ended up at the lecture’s office after every class for further explanation and additional examples…failing was not an option. I made it. And I finished my degree in record time…pity my first-year critic will never know the impact he had on me.

I was fortunate to have a bursary from my first year but in my third year, a lecturer of mine realising my potential introduced me to a company where I could be a better match, where I would be given actual engineering work during vacation work instead of filing. I’ll forever be grateful to him for this. This was the start of my long and current relationship with my current employer Jones & Wagener (J&W). To say I was happy was an understatement; I finally met people I wanted to be like, professionals passionate about their work and continual professional development, working in a casual yet high excellence environment. As soon as I completed all my modules in 2005, I immediately started working for J&W that December.

As a young engineer I was eager to learn, soaking up everything I could, immersing myself in the culture, volunteering where hands were needed…at all time remembering the advice of the same Prof who made the introduction: “You don’t know what you don’t know”! Yes, I had just gone through a rigorous 4-year degree of learning how to think and solve given problems but here I was in an environment where problems need to be both defined and solutions found. I had an amazing boss who managed to throw me in all sorts of deep ends but with great support; giving me ample opportunities to learn. I’ll always remember my initial site visits with him…he had a long stride, and with speed, I was practically jogging after him meanwhile trying to absorb all he said and directed! I had a good laugh earlier this year when one of the young engineers I work with asked why I walked so fast on site…a hint to slow down. I studied further part-time with the support of J&W, registered professionally in one of the fastest times for young engineers in the company and making my ranks up the company at a pace I couldn’t have predicted and that I remain in awe of. Even after 14 years in the industry, I continue to learn. I’m very aware of my developmental needs and constantly strive to find suitable training to address that. I have senior people I look up to and call on for advice and I’m also a mentor to younger engineers whom I also learn a lot from. Albert Einstein once said – “Once you stop learning, you start dying”!

There’s a lot to say but limited space but I trust that through the outline of my journey above you may be encouraged. I didn’t have perfect conditions yet still succeeded in my studies and continue thriving in my profession. Some have made it even with far worse circumstances…you have no excuse! Our parents didn’t mislead us, they’ve always been right; hard work pays off, success is no accident! You’re the master of your destiny, if it is to be, it is up to you! Take responsibility of your learning. Each small step and good decision along the way sums up to great achievement in future. Be involved, be interested and never stop learning. Above all, always do good, always choose the path that is right and pleasing unto God; He shall order all your steps on the path of success giving you hope and a fresh supply of strength and energy for the challenges.

 

 

 

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