ASA’s graduation crush: Nomzamo Mbatha and Njabulo Ntombela

Hi ASA fam

I decided it was the perfect timing in light of all the controversy around the University of Florida‘s incidents with black students during their graduation ceremony (here). It’s important to understand that graduation for Africans is NEVER a small thing! Not only because we all have a good dose of #Wakandamagic in us, but also it remains an achievement for our ourselves and families esp. if we put things in perspective and look at the stats of people with tertiary education in Sub-saharan Africa. Today’s post is inspired by Nomzamo Mbatha (South African actress) and Njabulo Ntombela (a graduate of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal‘s faculty of Law) ‘s graduations. Everything about it was amazing, here’s why:

Their story

Nomzamo dropped out of the University of Cape Town (UCT) to pursue a career in acting after she lost close people in her family, which forced her to pursue her dream. Fast forward a few years later, she is 27 and definitely one of the top actresses in South Africa with a few international brands endorsements such as Neutrogena. This is #goals because despite her success, she decided to come back to finish what she started, her degree-a Bachelor in Commerce (BCom) in Accounting.

Njabulo comes from Nkandla (Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa) and was raised by his great-grandmother after both his parents and grandmother passed, in his interviews with News24 he says “he’ll live to honor her”.

Honoring their loved ones

Her dress had pictures of the loved ones she lost (one of whom she lost to suicide), and the depression & suicide helpline for South Africa. In her own words, “I wanted the pictures of my late baby sister, Carla, late older sister, Matu, my late father, Nicholas Nxumalo and the greatest love of my life, the woman who named me Nomzamo, my late grandmother, MamJoli. The many tragedies I had to survive.”

Nomzamo Mbatha in her Vanessa Gouden dress (a South African designer)


On the other hand, not only did Njabulo decided to wear his traditional attire to represent his cultural heritage; but he also decided to take his great-grandmother to the podium with him to be capped. His picture was a hit on social media and gave South Africa #thefeelsfordays! What a beautiful act of reverence to honor the person who supported him!  I must admit that I regret not doing this for my parents, and hope to make this up in future (guess I’d better get working on that Ph.D. and/or MBA,lol!).

Njuabulo walking with his great-grandmother to be capped (SowetanLive)

Honoring Ma’ Winnie Mandela

Nomzamo had mentioned in a previous interview that her icon was her namesake Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela (former ex-wife of late president Nelson Mandela) affectionately referred to as “the mother of the nation” by South Africans for her contribution and keeping the fight against apartheid alive while her then-husband was incarcerated. Her graduation happened to be at the same time of Ma’ Winnie’s passing and she chose to honor her during her ceremony. She shouted the very popular ” Amandla Awethu!” which means “power to us”-the slogan of the fight against apartheid. In Nomzamo’s own words, ” This was your dream…You fought for the marginalized and was immensely instrumental in the defeat of the brutal apartheid regime. Your resilience ensured that today, we, your children could walk on a graduation stage built off the backs of our fallen people… we assure you that we receive the BATON…”

Africa well represented i.e. Ululations on fleek

You can hear Nomzamo’s loved ones scream at the top of their lungs as she makes her way to the podium in this video (here). If you are African and/or have ever attended an African celebration ceremony, you will be familiar with ululations (those coordinated sounds/screams you hear people make…#thefeels). While these have variations depending on which part of the continent you are from…The fact remains the happier we are, the stronger we ululate!


I hope you enjoyed this post. I would love to hear from you about how you and family celebrated your graduation or are planning to celebrate your graduation this year. My own mother did not disappoint for my graduation when it came to ululating…she came VERY prepared with tools (so extra…lol!) but that’s a story for another day :).

Stay awesome until my next post


Overcoming the odds: The story of Christy Shakuyungwa #NamibianQueen

Hi ASA fam

I hope you are all doing well in your respective corners of the world, happy International Women’s Day to all our female readers. I decided to start a new series called #ASAHallofFame to introduce people who have/continue to inspire me throughout their journey either as students and/or professionals. I know that as a student abroad you will face MANY challenges, hopefully these stories help you realise that whatever you are going through is temporary because other people have faced similar challenges and overcame them. Today is about a very close friend of mine, and I could not think of anyone else on this #InternationalWomensDay: Christy Shakuyungwa-her story is nothing short of inspirational.

My friend aka #ASAHallofFame Christy Shakuyungwa

I honestly cannot remember how I met Christy,  it may have been through a group assignment of Technical Drawing in first year…we have remained friends for over a decade through laughing at the failed tests, many MANY very long sleepless nights before an exam, boy’s stories, running a few races and wine-filled evenings. When I started ASA, I knew that I wanted to share her story as someone I completely admire for beating the odds, and thankfully she agreed to  it.

Christy first started her studies in Namibia at the University of Namibia (UNAM), where she started a degree in in Marine Biology. Halfway through it, she realised that she really did not enjoy it and convinced her family to allow her to study Chemical Engineering in South Africa. She applied at the University of Cape Town (UCT), got accepted and thankfully secured a scholarship from a mining company.  Unfortunately, despite spending 80-90% of her time studying, she did not achieve the minimum required grades and faced academic exclusion from UCT. She then decided to register through the University of South Africa (UNISA) to complete Maths and Physics which would then allow her to come back to UCT-this was an option allowed by UCT at the time. With very difficult finances (and unable to have her own accommodation), she managed to do just that and came back to UCT for the 2nd year. During that time, she was also dealing with an emotionally abusive  and manipulative partner (and only revealed this much later before they broke up). As a result she was diagnosed with depression, and was on medication for a period of time… Unfortunately, she was excluded again from UCT in her 3rd year due to low academic grades and lost her scholarship. In between, she went home and told her family what she had been going through. She then came back and  registered with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to finish her Chemical Engineering degree as Technologist. She lived on a shoestring budget but that never stopped her from smiling, she has always been one of the most resourceful people I know. Things seemed to be getting better for her: she was studying again and only had 2 years left, she also got out of the abusive relationship painful and went on to meet a wonderful man. He was such a wonderful angel who was unfortunately diagnosed with leukemia and passed away a few months after. After much pain and still battling depression, she graduated from CPUT and went back to Namibia to find work. With a limited job market and tough economy, she secured a job only 1 year later which was tough emotionally as there were moments when the depression seemed to win over. She always wanted to be an entrepreneur and decided to resign and pursue her entrepreneurial dream full time after a year or two into her job. She started a doll company (Taati & friends) as well as a linen company (Lipitua Linen). Due to a slow start and limited income being generated, she decided to go back to full time employment while pursuing her dream of becoming an entrepreneur as side hustle.

Taati & friends
A picture of the African doll she has created: Taati & friends with traditional Namibian attire

Fast forward a few years, she is now a full time chemical engineer and owns not one but two businesses in her beautiful country Namibia. My biggest lesson from Christy’s journey is that of perseverance and self belief. She had so many reasons to be discouraged, and give up but she never quite did. We always joke with her and say that things can only get better for her as she has gone through drama of a lifetime in a short and intense period of time in her 20s. By the looks of things, it is indeed true. Her dolls business is picking up and she won the first US embassy in Namibia’s bootcamp for social entrepreneurship and represented her country at the African Women Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP). She was also selected as part of the first lady of Namibia group of women for a study tour. Oh as if it was not enough, she continues to push the linen business while on a full time job.

Christy winning her prize from the bootcamp

I hope this inspires you. Whatever you might be going through, get yourself a good support system and believe in yourself. Why? Well, there is really only one of you in this planet: if this is not motivation, not sure what else it could be. I hope you enjoyed this post.


The untold story of the (immigrant) security guard… Part 2

Hi ASA fam

Today’s post is a follow-up from my previous post about security guards based on some of the comments I often hear (here). I decided to share the stories of five security guards who were/are students and decided to overcome the odds under challenging circumstances.


Currently working as a security guard for a church. He comes from one of the best public schools in Kinshasa and was top of his class in Maths. Alpha approached me as he wanted to study but was unable to access online lessons without a laptop (which he received from a generous soul!). Through a combination of various support, he enrolled with Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and later decided that studying via correspondence through the University of South Africa (UNISA) was a better option.  Especially because it allows him to keep his day job as a security guard. He is now in his 2nd year of a BSc in Maths (after passing his first year with flying colours).


I met him as he used to work for a car dealership close to our flat. He came from the DRC, had worked as a volunteer for one of the UN agencies and saved up the money for his tertiary studies. Based on our conversations, he came from a middle-upper income family back home, and was staying with his uncle to save up on rent. His uncle encouraged him to work as a security guard as he would need additional income and could save up. He had decided to enrol for a degree in Economics with a private university Varisty College (after a year). I advised him to rather apply for CPUT and/or a university as their fees were a fraction of what private universities charged. We lost touch when I stopped seeing by…I imagine that he started school and changed jobs and/or decided to focus on studying.


I met him through our department on campus. He was a masters student and I was still undergraduate studies. We were not close, so I heard about his story through a common friend. He had studied metallurgy back home and came as a refugee (with his wife) to get his masters. Without much funds to sustain themselves, he decided to work as a security guard until he finally managed to secure his masters’ admission into University of Cape Town (UCT) without a scholarship. He used to come to campus during the day and work as a guard at night for a few months until his supervisor helped him secure a scholarship. I lost touch with him, when he secured a job with one of the biggest mining companies in South Africa (to support their DRC operations).

The Dr

He used to work at a grocery store (Spar) close to my place. He was probably in his late 40s and/or early 50s, I later discovered that he was my friend’s uncle. He was a registered Phd student in Humanities at UCT. He completed his Phd two years later, and I lost touch with him when I stopped seeing him. I assume that he changed jobs shortly thereafter.


He used to work for our church before. He was quiet and I did not know him personally other than the odd greetings and encounter at one/two Congolese gatherings. He was studying engineering via UNISA and returned back home once he secured a good job with one of the big mining companies in the DRCongo.


I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I wrote this mainly to celebrate these brave humans, who decided to study under very challenging circumstances. But most importantly to inspire those who might look at their current financial situation as a dead end. Be inspired, be brave & courageous. If they overcame the odds, you too can.


P.S: Please note that names have been changed to respect their privacy


Maxicash: THE hottest money transfer app for the diaspora

Hi Everyone!

I hope all of you are doing fabulously well and are preparing to #finish2017strong. Today’s topic is something VERY relevant for all African students recalling from my own experience: money transfers. This probably has caused MANY headaches, screams and sometimes tears for many. The struggles of sending/receiving money home affordably, quickly and reliably were SUPER real especially for Africans-so you can imagine my joy when I found out about Maxicash.


When I left Congo 13 years ago, the country was in a bad shape and very few people had a local bank accounts (my parents included). Just like everyone else, hard cash was mostly how we went about our business… So when I first came to SA, I travelled with enough cash to last me about 1 year (school fees, rent and pocket money) and you can imagine the stress I had knowing very well that if I lost that money and/or it got stolen I would be screwed literally!

Fast forward a few years, Money Gram (through Standard Bank in South Africa) and/or Western Union made it easier to send money abroad. However, besides the fact that the transaction fees are relatively high-I can count on my one hand out of the MANY times I received money, when it was a pleasant experience…bleh! Their approach is very simple: everyone is a suspect of fraud and they make sure you run around for your own damn money (or your parents’: Same difference, we are Africans…lol!).

Picture credit-The African Exponent
Picture credit-The African Exponent

One thing that almost ALWAYS got me was the fact that most Congolese people have 3 names (I actually have 4) and you needed to ensure that the first and last name were the same… And if for some reason the person who helped your parents back home got it wrong (bear in mind French vs. English): abeg, you were screwed! I remembered this one time my dad had to go back to the Money Gram agency 3 times on the same day! Courtesy of a not so great till clerk at Standard Bank.  Fast forward a few years, things got easier when the DRC Goverment made it mandatory for everyone to be paid electronically. After that, my parents started transfering money from their Congolese accounts. While this became the cheapest option, it came with its own challenges as it requires a 3-7 days delay (and the money has sometimes gone awol in the system a few times, lol!) .

The good news is that this needs not be the case for you anymore in you are  a Congolese in South Africa: you almost NEVER have to go through that again. How? Well, Maxicash MAxicash-Phoneis a mobile transfer money app developed by a group of Congolese techpreneurs that facilitate transfers between South Africa and DRCongo. All you have to do is download the app  (available in your app store) and register your bank account. Even sweeter is the fact that they cap their transaction fees at R70 (plus a minor commission, ~$5) regardless of the amount of monies sent. I might be wrong, but you simply cannot beat these rates currently esp. since the money is available immediately and it is all VERY discreet (super important for us Congolese folks…lol!).

So what yáll waiting for? Call up your folks, let them know about Maxicash and let the download begin!



I hope you found this useful & stay awesome until my next post 🙂


Running my first 21km, the #OMTOM2017 !

Hi everyone

Today’s post is something I am VERY proud of: running my very first 21km last month (insert happy dance)!!!!  I got to run the half marathon of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) and finished in 02h53 min before cut-off time. See more details below

About the #OMTOM2017

If you are South African (or African for that matter), you will know that this race is very famous and often referred to as one of the most beautiful races because it quite scenic and connects two oceans (i.e. Indian and Atlantic). It happens annually on Easter weekend: he fun runs (i.e. 5 and 10 km) happen on Good Friday; while the long distance races (i.e. 21 and 56 km) happen on Easter Saturday. If you are a runner, you know this race is ALWAYS oversubscribed and therefore application does not guarantee being selected. In fact, they run a mini lottery and only a selected few that apply get to run the race. After a decade in Cape Town, I decided it was time I try my luck: I applied in November 2016 and entered the lottery… To my surprise, I was selected in December to run on the 27th of April 2017 🙂 !!!

A picture of the crowd of runners before starting: 27,000 people


You will recall from my post about what 2016 taught me especially the line about setting up ambitious goals I learnt from Terri Savelle Foy (here). Many of my Congolese friends and even my own mother just did not get why I was doing this especially since I suffer from Lymphoedema (a pre-existing condition I have to live with and manage). Well, running 21km was one of my goals, in fact the very first on my list. For me, ticking that box was crucial because it would also give me the confidence to believe that I can reach/achieve the others with God’s grace, self-belief, hard work and discipline.


I had such a brilliant plan all worked out in my head: I was to run 2-3 times per week in February & would get to running 10 km comfortably and later in March would move to 15 km. The last few weeks would simply involve maintaining my stamina and muscles… such lies I told myself, lol!  The reality is that I must have trained a maximum of ~10-15 times: only 5-7 of those were 10 km run, and I only managed to run 15 km for the first time the weekend before the race…lol! I only did one in-between 10 km race which was uphill (the Monster run in Pretoria)


Motivation-Truth is there was MANY times I thought I should rather give up (e.g. I just moved cities, was adjusting to a demanding job with deadlines close to financial year end,etc). However, luckily for me I already purchased the return ticket to Cape Town and simply could not get myself to go to Cape Town and not run. I decided giving up was no longer an option.

Mama bear’s visit-No training happened the week before the race sadly as my mother came to visit me that week. While I absolutely loved having her (my mother really has become very close to my best friend), the main challenge was that I did not have much time outside of work, hence we would spend the evenings together (she also felt very strongly against me running “on the road” and/participating to the 21km for that matter).

Lymphoedema-I was diagnosed with lymphoedema in 2001 and have learnt to accept/live with it since then. What it means for me on a daily basis is that I walk with a swollen foot, I can’t always buy any pair of shoes I want, long flights without compression socks are horrible and I need to watch out for very hot weather conditions and too harsh exercise as it exacerbates the swelling and can lead to fibrosis. I had to train taking into account the fact that I needed to listen to my legs and work with them.

Wearing my compression stocking on the day of the race


I am actually the couch potato in my family…lol! Both my brothers are quite active, play sports and both ran the #OMTOM before, so they helped me with my nutrition (i.e. carbo loading the night before), have electrolyte solutions, how I should pace myself, etc. This gave me the moral comfort to believe in myself despite my limited training. I decided to run relying on a combination of God, a kick-ass play list full of Congolese rumbas and the spirit of the race to carry me, lol!


Final touch-up with my brother as he was helping me attach my race number


My African parents lived up to their expectation and off course did not allow me to leave the house without quite a lengthy prayer (what we would do without our generous parents?…lol!).  Sadly, this meant we left later than we should have and were speeding to the race starting to make it in time…bleh!

Runners (and friends/family) after the finish line

I must command #CapeTown and its people for the incredible support during the race: families came out to cheer and applaud for runners IN MASSES: we definitely felt the love 🙂 !

Me post the finish line despite the many cramps I had, with my hard-earned medal after (2h53 min)
A picture of the finish line which was at The University of Cape Town, Upper Campus


Well, running was a mini goal to help me on route to shedding 10 kg and back to size 12 (never have aspired to be skinny and never will). So my fitness journey continues (although I must admit to having slacked with the start of winter in South Africa and a bit of a high post completing the #OMTOM2017…lol!). I am keen to run 15-30km per month and do a second 21 km maybe in the 3rd quarter of this year: let’s see.


I hope you enjoyed this post and, it has at the very least inspired you to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself in whatever area of your life.


Other links you might enjoy

  • Training for the first marathon by Lymphoedema runner (here)
  • Tips for your first half marathon by Runners World (here)
  • 7 training tips for your first half marathon (here)
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