50 distinctions not out: Celebrating a trailblazing UZ graduate President Mnangagwa congratulates Ivan Tadiwanashe Chuma

Award winner and University of Zimbabwe 2023 actuarial science graduate Ivan Chuma (IC) who got 50 distinctions has paved a path of success and distinction that will be difficult for other students to follow. In this report, Sifelani Tsiko (ST) – Herald Innovations Editor speaks to the resourceful and tenacious student about how he went to great lengths to get himself a higher education despite the numerous challenges he faced.


ST: Ivan, tell us briefly about yourself, where you were born, where you grew up and your primary, secondary education background.

IC: My name is Ivan Tadiwanashe Chuma and I was born on 29 July 1999. I have a unique educational journey marked by resilience and determination. I was born and raised in Kwekwe where I initially attended Emthonjeni Primary School for Grades 1 and 2. In 2008, due to my mother’s illness, I relocated to Bikita and continued my primary education at Muvuti Primary School, completing Grades 3 to 6 by the second term of 2011.

My early exposure to science and mathematics, through my uncle’s O Level materials, sparked my interest in these subjects. Despite concerns from my family about potential harm to my brain, I thrived academically. The family conflicts led to my transfer to Zishumbe Primary School in Masvingo district, where I excelled in mathematics and became the head boy in 2012.

Upon completing Grade 7 with outstanding results, I faced the challenge of finding money to fund my secondary education. Despite financial constraints, I enrolled at Mazare Secondary School, a rural institution, facing additional challenges such as early morning farm work and limited study time.

Despite these hardships, my academic performance improved, leading to my promotion from Form 1 to Form 3 based on the recommendation of senior staff. In Form 3, I developed a passion for actuarial science, adding Commerce, Statistics, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry to my studies in Form 4.

Despite being voted as the head boy for 2015, the school staff appointed another student to the position to ensure my focus remained on academics. The O Level results reflected my dedication, making me the top student at Mazare and in the satellite schools in Masvingo district, with a remarkable number of A passes.

Continuing with A Level studies at Masvingo Christian College in 2017, I faced new challenges, including conflicts between relatives and teachers. Despite interruptions during my second term, I returned to complete my Form 6 studies, commuting long distances, and occasionally walking up to 30km on challenging days. My journey demonstrates my commitment to education despite numerous obstacles.

ST: Can you tell us more about your mum, dad and family background? How they saw you growing up, your interest as a child.

IC: I had a unique and somewhat challenging family background. Unfortunately, my father passed away in 2004 when I was very young and as a result, my memories of him are quite limited. I recall two specific moments: one when he sent me to buy his cigarettes, and the other during his funeral.

These moments are permanently etched in my mind, serving as the only tangible connections I have with him. On the other hand, my mother played a pivotal role in my life. She was an embodiment of patience, kindness, and boundless love. Even during her struggle with serious illness in her final days, she continued to shower me with affection and support.

I cherish the memories of spending time beside her when I was young, and I was there by her side as she drew her last breath. However, the pain of not being able to see her one last time during her body viewing lingers, and I find myself grappling with the fading image of her face in my memory.

Despite this, I am grateful that I was able to fulfil her dying wish. In addition to my immediate family, I have an older brother named Ian, who has been a constant source of motivation throughout my life. Since my early years, he has encouraged me to strive for greatness and has played a significant role in shaping my aspirations and ambitions. Navigating the complexities of loss and memory has undoubtedly shaped my perspective on life. The support and influence of my family, both past and present, have played a crucial role in moulding the person I am today.

ST: Can you tell us a bit about your Grade 7, O’ level and A’ level performance? How many As at O’ level and the points you scored at A’ level?

IC: In Grade 7 at Zishumbe Primary School, I scored 5 units. Moving on to O’ Level at Mazare Secondary School, I achieved an impressive result with 8A’s, 2B’s, and 1C. At A’ Level at Masvingo Christian Secondary School, I scored 18 points. It’s worth noting that both Zishumbe Primary School and Mazare Secondary School are satellite schools located in Masvingo district, and my academic journey reflects a consistent commitment to excellence across different educational levels.

ST: What motivated you to choose actuarial science? It’s a very difficult course. Tell us briefly about this.

IC: Choosing actuarial science was driven by a combination of factors that stemmed from my passion for mathematics and the recognition of a rewarding career path. After completing my A’ Level studies, my uncles and cousin brother played a crucial role in guiding me through the application process.

In Zimbabwe, the prevailing notion for students excelling in mathematics often directed them towards careers as primary or high school teachers. However, my perspective shifted when my brother Ian enlightened me about the potential for a rewarding career in actuarial science, especially for those proficient in mathematics. Motivated by the achievements of historical mathematicians such as Leonhard Euler, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Bernoullis, Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, Dennis Simeone Poisson, and Norbert Wiener, I recognised the significance of applying mathematical skills to address real-world problems.

This realisation fuelled my decision to specialise in Computational Finance and Investments within the field of Actuarial Science.

With a strong background in mathematics and statistics and a keen interest in applying mathematical concepts to solve practical problems, I applied for Actuarial Science programs at both NUST and UZ. Upon receiving the responses, I was offered a place in BSc Chemistry at NUST but was pleased to receive an offer for Actuarial Science at UZ, aligning with my career aspirations.

Consequently, I accepted the offer from UZ and declined the one from NUST. To further immerse myself in the field, one of my uncles assisted me in applying for a bursary to attend the Actuarial Society of Zimbabwe (ASZ) 4th annual convention in 2018 at Meikles Hotel.

Fortunately, I was granted the bursary, providing me with a transformative opportunity to connect with fully and partly qualified actuaries from Zimbabwe and beyond. Meeting industry leaders like Ms Marjorie Ngwenya, Mr Douglas Hoto, and Mr Prosper Matiashe at the ASZ convention provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies and real-world applications of Actuarial Science.

This experience solidified my commitment to pursuing a career in Actuarial Science and affirmed the importance of continuous learning and networking in the field.

ST: Who helped you to pay fees at UZ? Who took care of your upkeep?

IC: During my academic year 1 semester 1 at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), my uncles from my mother’s family provided crucial assistance by covering both tuition and accommodation fees.

Facing family issues during the start of my first year semester 2, I had to temporarily drop out of university and return to my parents’ home in Kwekwe. It was during this challenging time that one of my cousins reached out and offered to help with tuition fees.

Together, we approached the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof Maud Muchuweti, to present my case. With the support of the dean and my cousin, the academic registrar allowed me to resume my studies. Throughout this period, my cousin played a pivotal role in taking care of my financial needs.

As I progressed through my academic journey, I took on the responsibility of my expenses, particularly during my internship at African Actuarial Consultants. During this period, I began to support myself and paid my academic year 3 fees. In early 2023, my cousin, who had been supporting me, kindly suggested that I find my own place. I moved out and started renting in Mabelreign while continuing to work part-time, balancing employment with my final academic year. However, financial challenges persisted, and I faced difficulties commuting long distances—16km—between Mabelreign and UZ. To manage the increased fees in academic year 4 semester 1, I had to wait for the semester break to work and gather the funds to clear my arrears before starting semester 2.

Despite the hardships, I paid my semester 1 arrears in full and achieved outstanding academic results with a total of 9/9 distinctions. Facing financial constraints once again, I started my lectures for semester 2 in mid-March, having paid half of the tuition fees to register and sit for exams. I successfully wrote all my exams and submitted my dissertation by June 9, 2023. At that time, I received a job offer from the managing director of African Actuarial Consultants to work at the head office in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa.

ST: Scoring 50 distinctions at university level is not an easy thing. Can you tell us more about your distinctions and what motivated you to aim so high in your studies?

IC: Achieving 50 distinctions at the university level was indeed a challenging yet immensely rewarding journey, driven by a distinct perspective on tertiary education and a fervent motivation to align my studies with my future aspirations. In tertiary education, the dynamics shift from the competition-based environments of primary and secondary education.

It’s not merely about standing out to secure opportunities or scholarships but rather about honing skills that will contribute meaningfully to the world. The focus at the university level goes beyond passing for the sake of impressing; it becomes a symbol of mastering essential skills that can be applied to develop and add value to the world. Tertiary institutions serve as platforms for students to invent, innovate, and collaboratively solve contemporary problems, whether working with fellow students or alongside lecturers.

My motivation for aiming high with 50 distinctions stemmed from a clear understanding that my university experience wasn’t about being the best student but about customizing my actuarial degree to align with my area of interest and future goals. Upon entering the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), I recognized that traditional notions of competition and learning irrelevant material were outdated.

Instead, I saw the opportunity to shape my education to suit the industry and my aspirations. To achieve this, I meticulously selected additional courses across various faculties that complemented the core actuarial science curriculum. By adding 16 modules to the compulsory 40, I ensured a comprehensive understanding of computational finance and investments, creating a foundation for a cutting-edge dissertation project in Fintech and preparing for my future in the field. This approach was crucial in remaining relevant in the rapidly changing landscape of technology.

The journey towards 50 distinctions was not without its challenges. Overcoming peer pressure, finding a balance between core and additional modules, and working collaboratively with both students and lecturers were essential aspects. The ability to identify my life goals provided clarity and eased the path during my studies. In the end, each distinction represented not just academic achievement but a step toward becoming a well-rounded professional ready to make a meaningful impact in the field of actuarial science.

ST: How do you feel about your achievements? Who can you say inspired you most?

IC: Obtaining 50 distinctions and being offered numerous awards is a deeply humbling experience for me. These distinctions represent not only personal dedication but also the culmination of teamwork, the unwavering support from my relatives, and the blessings from countless individuals who believed in me.

It reflects a synergy of focus, hard work, determination, and the collective efforts of those who contributed to my journey. I draw inspiration from success that goes beyond personal accomplishments and directly adds value to the world, benefiting mankind. One of my primary sources of inspiration is Alfred Nobel, the visionary founder of the Nobel Prize. Nobel’s recognition of the significance of inventions and contributions that positively impact humanity resonates deeply with my own aspirations. Furthermore, I find inspiration in the achievements of fellow Zimbabweans in the fields of mathematics and actuarial science.

Dr Blessing Mudavanhu, a mathematician who ascended to the position of CEO at CBZ, serves as a beacon of inspiration, showcasing the heights that dedication and proficiency can achieve. Similarly, figures like Mr Tavaziva Madzinga, an actuary who has successfully led major companies abroad, and Mr Douglas Hoto, an actuary with a track record of leadership across various organizations, further motivate me.

Their accomplishments not only highlight the potential for personal success but also underscore the capacity of individuals to make significant contributions to their respective fields, creating a positive impact on a broader scale. In their stories, I find the motivation to continue striving for excellence and aspiring to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society through my own achievements and endeavours.

ST: What do your friends and relatives say about your achievements?

IC: If my parents were still alive, they would undoubtedly be the happiest parents on earth to witness and celebrate my achievements. The support and encouragement they provided throughout my journey would have been reflected in their joy for my successes. In the absence of my parents, my relatives, lecturers, and friends have expressed immense happiness and pride in my accomplishments.

They conveyed their congratulatory messages both in person and through mobile phone communications. Their joy was palpable as they shared in the celebration of my achievements, recognizing the dedication, hard work, and determination that contributed to reaching such significant milestones.

The encouragement from my loved ones has been a constant source of motivation, with their messages extending beyond mere congratulations. They have consistently inspired me to continue aiming for great things that life has to offer, reinforcing the belief that my journey is just beginning and there are even greater heights to reach. The shared excitement and support from my family, friends, and mentors have made my achievements even more meaningful, creating a sense of community and shared accomplishment.

ST: What is your message to other students and those that are struggling in their studies?

IC: To fellow students and those facing challenges in their studies, I want to share a message of encouragement, resilience, and the power of determination. I understand that the journey of education is filled with hurdles and moments of self-doubt, but I urge you to persist, keep your eyes on your goals, and remember that success is often born from challenges.

Firstly, embrace the idea that learning is a process, and setbacks are a natural part of that process. Each obstacle is an opportunity to learn, grow, and refine your approach. Don’t be discouraged by temporary setbacks; they are not indicative of your ultimate potential.

Secondly, seek support. Whether it’s from family, friends, teachers, or mentors, surround yourself with a positive and encouraging support system. Share your struggles and victories with those around you. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Furthermore, find your passion and purpose in your studies. Discover what truly motivates you, what makes you excited to learn, and align your studies with your interests and aspirations. This connection will fuel your determination and make the journey more meaningful. Lastly, develop a resilient mindset.

Understand that setbacks do not define you; your response to them does. Stay focused on your long-term goals, and view challenges as opportunities to showcase your strength and perseverance.

ST: What honours were you given by the UZ?

IC: Yes, I am honoured to have received several prestigious awards and honours from the University of Zimbabwe in recognition of my academic achievements. The full list of prizes I received include the Dr Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa Chancellor’s Award for the Overall Best Male Undergraduate Student: This esteemed award acknowledges my outstanding performance as the top male undergraduate student across all disciplines, University of Zimbabwe Special Recognition for the Most Consistent Undergraduate Graduating Student: This recognition highlights the consistency and dedication demonstrated throughout my academic journey, Best Undergraduate Graduating Student in the Faculty of Science: This award specifically acknowledges my excellence within the Faculty of Science, showcasing my commitment to academic achievement in my chosen field, Distinguished Honours Degree with First Class with a Total of 50 Distinctions out of a Possible 56 Modules (Accolade): Achieving a First Class Honours Degree with such an exceptional number of distinctions is a testament to the hard work, focus, and dedication I applied to my studies and the University of Zimbabwe Book Prize: This prize adds to the recognition of my academic achievements and serves as a symbol of scholarly accomplishment.

As a result of these accomplishments, I had the incredible opportunity to meet with the Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe and President Cde Mnangagwa. I was honoured with a congratulations handshake from the President, and we had the privilege of taking a photograph together. These experiences have added an extra layer of significance to my academic journey, and I am grateful for the recognition and opportunities that have come with these achievements.

ST: Any offers from large corporates?

IC: Yes, I have received a few offers from Zimbabwean firms as well as firms based outside Zimbabwe. While some of these offers are still in the processing stage, I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. These offers represent the next chapter in my professional journey, and I am currently evaluating and considering the best fit for my skills, aspirations, and career goals.

I am excited about the prospect of contributing to the corporate world and utilizing the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my academic journey.

ST: Looking ahead, what do you want to do for yourself, the country and Africa?

IC: Looking ahead, my vision encompasses a multifaceted approach aimed at personal growth, national development, and contributing to the advancement of Africa. The following points outline my aspirations: I am committed to continuing my professional growth by transitioning into the corporate world, applying my skills and knowledge in practical settings. In parallel, I plan to pursue actuarial professional exams to deepen my expertise.

Furthermore, I aim to supplement my professional qualification with a Master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in computational mathematical finance. This continuous pursuit of knowledge will ensure that I remain at the forefront of advancements in my field. I aspire to actively contribute to the development and progress of Zimbabwe.

This involves participating in initiatives that focus on education, particularly in STEM fields. By inspiring and empowering the next generation of leaders, I hope to catalyse positive change. Additionally, I plan to leverage my expertise to address economic challenges and create opportunities within the country, aligning with the mantra of “Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo.” On a broader scale, I envision contributing to the advancement of the entire African continent.

This includes involvement in projects addressing socio-economic and financial inclusion issues, promoting sustainable development. Leveraging my skills in actuarial science, risk management, and computational finance, I aim to make meaningful contributions to the financial and technological landscape, fostering progress and innovation.

Given my passion for mentorship, I plan to actively engage in mentorship programs. By sharing my experiences and insights with aspiring students and professionals, I aim to guide them on their journeys. Through this commitment to mentorship, I hope to contribute to the development of a skilled and empowered workforce, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

I am also dedicated to engaging in social responsibility initiatives, contributing to community development and addressing societal challenges. This includes supporting initiatives that focus on healthcare, education, and environmental sustainability, thereby promoting a holistic approach to development. As of now, I am in the process of exploring opportunities and actively seeking scholarships to further advance my career. I am eager to embark on the next phase of my professional journey and continue my commitment to academic and professional development.

ST: What are your hopes like? What is your mind telling you about your future?

IC: My hopes for the future are as vibrant and promising as the journey I’ve undertaken so far. As I reflect on the achievements and challenges discussed in our conversation, my mind is filled with a tapestry of aspirations. I envision a future where my academic and professional pursuits continue to intersect, propelling me further into the realms of actuarial science, computational finance, and mathematical modelling.

The desire to contribute significantly to the development of Zimbabwe and the broader African continent remains a guiding light, pushing me to explore innovative solutions for socio-economic challenges. The prospect of further studies, including actuarial professional exams and advanced degrees in computational mathematical finance, excites me.

I see these educational milestones not just as academic achievements but as stepping stones to becoming a trailblazer in my field, making impactful contributions to the financial and technological landscapes. Mentorship and knowledge sharing, rooted in my passion, form an integral part of my future vision.

I envision a cycle of guidance and empowerment, where experiences and insights are shared to inspire the next generation of leaders and professionals. As I actively seek opportunities and scholarships to advance my career, my hopes are buoyed by the belief that continuous learning, dedication, and a commitment to societal impact will pave the way for a future filled with growth, innovation, and meaningful contributions.

The handshake and the opportunity to have a conversation with the Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe and President Cde Mnangagwa, signify not just recognition but a symbolic handshake with the future I envision—a future where personal success is intricately woven with positive contributions to my country and the continent.

In essence, my mind is telling me that the future holds boundless possibilities. With each achievement and the support of mentors, friends, and family, I am poised to embrace a future that transcends individual success to leave a lasting legacy of impact and inspiration. The journey ahead is filled with excitement, and my hopes are illuminated by the belief that the best is yet to come.

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