By Mzukona Mantshontsho
Webber Wentzel has over 150 years of experience and industry knowledge. The firm believes in making a positive contribution to the communities in which they work in and proud to be home to one of South Africa’s most long-standing, dedicated pro-bono practices.
Spoke to Partner at Webber Wentzel Ziningi Hlophe about her personal career journey.
Tell us about your early life!
I remember being in Grade 8 back in Durban, my home town, and being asked by my father, if I knew yet what I wanted to be when I grow up. By that time, I had watched enough American television shows and movies to confidently answer “lawyer”. I remember that my dad laughed, as was his way, and told me “Of course, Ngan ‘Yami” and went about the rest of his morning.
At that time, I had no clue what a lawyer actually did and I had no idea of what it would take to be one – all I knew is that it looked cool, it sounded powerful and had the ability to change people’s lives; so, I wanted a piece of that. So, the voice of my dream that morning back in 2003, coupled by my father’s instant (though joking) affirmation, marked the beginning of my passion to peruse a career in law and has stayed being an important foundation of what would be my journey in law.
What do you say to young people in high school about career goals?
I would encourage you to share your career goals with the closest people in your life and with trusted teachers or mentors, even if you haven’t got all the details sorted out.
This makes you accountable to your dreams. The people you entrust with your goals are the ones that will encourage and help you when you want to give up and will remind you of the reason for your goals so that you can keep pushing towards it especially when it gets hard – because it will be.
These people can assist you with getting the right information to set you up for your chosen career and, with their experiences and guidance and networks, can assist you in getting the right information in front of you so you make informed decisions. Because I had shared my dream of being a lawyer with my teachers, they were able to help me pick the right subjects and maintain the right grades to enable me to get into university. They were even able to steer me to extra mural activities and opportunities such as public speaking which have been priceless in my legal journey.
How did you navigate your way past tertiary education?
I studied law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It was there I learnt to find the fun in working hard and I learnt the art of working smart. It is easy to get distracted by the temptations of campus life; the freedom, the parties, the independence and the lack of a schedule that you left behind in high school. All these seem to be way more fun than studying your text books and attending lectures and can, if not done in moderation, lead you astray.
So, try what I did, by learning to find the fun in working hard. If you are social person, get a study group together and learn as team so you can still get through your studies and be social all at once. Page through your text books while listening to your favorite Gqom or Yanos track (trust me you put some music to those cases will liven them up) so you can get your groove on without falling behind with school. Grab lunch in the sun with friends and chat through the latest series and how they remind you of the latest chapter you were studying so you can keep your studies relevant. I tried to mix as many of the things I loved with my studies, so I always felt like I was having fun. Find the fun in working hard.
But also learn the art of working smart. The work load in university can get overwhelming and you may find that you have more work than you have time for; no matter how hardworking you are. You also need to balance and make time for play, time with family and all other priorities in your life in addition to studying. In those cases, its best to familiarize yourself with the resources you have available and use them. Consult with tutors, get to know your librarians and ask for tips from other students. All these people carry with them knowledge on how to tackle your work load in smart and efficient way but still learning all you can; this I know from personal experience. My personal pro tip for all law students? The Annual Survey of South African Law is your best friend. Trust me.
Once you get through university you will enter what is probably the toughest yet rewarding part of your legal career, articles and practicing as a lawyer. No matter how much you think you know nothing really prepares you for actually working in a law firm. The hours will be long, the work and the people complicated and complex and, if you’re anything like me, the whole experience may be overwhelming and frankly quite scary.
Some of my key learnings that have guided me to where I am in my legal journey today:
- Learn to be comfortable with saying no to the voices that say you can’t succeed. Throughout high school, university and work life, I came across people who told me I cannot succeed and would never make it because I stutter, I wasn’t smart enough or good enough or connected enough and my skin was too brown. I learnt to humbly say no to those voices and focus on achieving my dreams; no matter how hard it was. Every day I went to work, worked hard and did well was an act of rebellion against those who said I could never to this. I have learnt to be comfortable with that and this has pushed me to work hard and achieve successes along the way.
- Find your voice and use it wisely. When I entered to corporate world, the whole experience was overwhelming and scary. In my fear, I accepted a lot of things that I should have stood up for and lost my voice. However, once I found my voice again and learnt to speak up and the wisdom of when to do so, I began to enjoy my legal career a lot more. And who knows, you may find that your unique voice is just what your organization needs to make it better.
- Always choose kindness. Relationships are key to your success in the legal profession, and these are often formed through acts of kindness and respect with all those you interact with. For all you know the person you were kind to today can be your client tomorrow. So always choose kindness.
I wish you every success in your future and even more happiness and fun along the way. May you always work hard towards achieving your goals and even harder to keep them once achieve.
Mzukona Mantshontsho is the founder of Nyakaza Media Solutions. Nyakaza Media Solutions is an organisation that was established to help community organisations, business entities, and schools to research, write, document, report, analyse, edit, publish newsletters or bulletins in hard-copy, on-line and maintain websites with the relevant content as per the editorial policy of that organisation, school or entity.
Nyakaza Media Solutions has a vision to promote and bring dialogue to communities, businesses and schools about issues that affect them.
Nyakaza Media Solutions is on a mission to develop and encourage communities, businesses and learners to celebrate the good, applaud excellence, welcome growth, strive to be better individuals, businesses and communities, want more knowledge, discourage bad and counter-productive behaviour as well as communities, businesses and learners that want to be great SOUTH AFRICANS.
Nyakaza Media Solutions is making use of Yo School Magazine as a platform that learners in all schools to make use of to write their stories.