Three years ago, at age 23, Dr Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe (MDS) became the youngest PhD holder in Africa.
She is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Last week Youth Interactions (YI) reached out to her, to share the contributory factors that have been instrumental in determining her spectacular achievements.
YI: What factors, do you believe, contributed to determining the course of your life?
MDS: My huge sense of duty towards God and my community has always kept me going.
I was raised to believe that each of us has a gift or set of gifts which is meant to benefit those with whom our paths collide and when we do not harness or utilise those gifts, we rob others of the existential benefit we have been positioned to offer mankind.
This has greatly influenced the decisions that have propelled me thus far.
YI: What driving force propelled you through such a stellar academic career?
MDS: Growing up in a household where both my parents have a vocational background entrenched in education/ teaching, a superior level of commitment was always required of my siblings and I, pertaining any learning activities. I was also very fortunate to encounter a unique handful of educators along my years of schooling, who identified something special in me and played a significant role in propelling me to the academic heights that I have been fortunate to achieve.
One of the remarkable teachers that has always stood out in the earlier part of my journey is Mrs Taderera, who facilitated my promotion from Grade II to Grade IV, after having me in her Grade III class for one term and realising that I was being “unnecessarily held back” by material that wasn’t challenging enough for my high levels of energy and inquisitiveness.
Later on in my schooling journey, which ultimately culminated in my present academic career, I also had the privilege of having a postgraduate research supervisor, Professor N Barkhuizen, who had identified me as what she refers to as “one of her bright students” during one of my undergraduate courses which she facilitated.
She encouraged me into pursuing a master’s and subsequently, a doctoral degree, also riveting me into completing these qualifications in the minimum time possible. This led to me completing both qualifications in outstanding record time of two and a half years.
YI: In all your endeavours what helps you to be more efficient, productive?
MDS: I am fundamentally driven by my sense of purpose and my responsibility to God who created me with that purpose. I believe that each day is a mile traversed in my pursuit of self-mastery, a journey that we all pursue yet may never actually arrive at a specific destination because it is a process rather than an event.
Each day for me is redirection in the path I believe was predestined for me and my zeal comes from knowing and accepting that my journey is a significant thread in the greater tapestry of life.
YI: How was it possible to manage the balance between your academics and play?
MDS: My aggressive pursuit of greatness has entailed a great element of sacrifice. I often had to temporarily forfeit (and still sometimes do) the many pleasures that my peers typically relish. I always knew that if I were to accomplish something distinguishable, I could never achieve this by percolating the crowd.
As a result, I have often gone from working so hard that I had no time for play, which is often succeeded by a bout of hard play as well, once I have achieved whatever milestone.
My personality has never really allowed me to work and play at the same time so my family and friends have accepted that there are seasons in my life when I zone in and focus so much that I become mostly “anti-social”.
YI: Inside and outside your immediate circles, how are you impacting society?
MDS: I have had the privilege of accruing an audience, particularly among the youth, which has given me the platform to encourage other young people (sometimes also those much more senior to me), within my sphere of influence, to aspire to use their strengths and talents to fulfil what each of them has been uniquely predestined for.
I am also currently an Ambassador of the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute (an Institute focused on girl/young women empowerment through various initiatives) since October 2017. I am also involved with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Youth Association, representing the South African delegation, among many other strategic and community leadership roles.
These roles have afforded me the opportunity to interact with other brilliant young minds globally and serve as a mouthpiece for the local community that I represent.
YI: How can your experiences inspire young people pursuing their dreams?
MDS: Coming from a household where my parents have had to make so many sacrifices to ensure that my siblings and I got a better start to life has always compelled me to thrive as much as I can in all my endeavours. It is always important to remember that though pursuing success often entails significant struggle, if you commit to pushing through the barriers, it will only be temporary.
When we relent in pursuing our dreams, the struggle becomes perpetual and the envisaged better outcome becomes unattainable. Knowing that my parents can look back and not consider any of the amenities they forfeited in order to throttle me further as a squandered sacrifice, gives me great satisfaction.
We don’t choose the families we are born into but the choice is ours to strive to make the opportunities life presents us with worthwhile, no matter how seemingly menial. I hope to convey a similar work ethic to my children, the youth in my community and all else who look up to me, which is what makes me perpetually aspire to achieve even greater.
YI: Who have been your greatest mentors, and why?
MDS: My greatest mentors have definitely been my parents.
In a world that continues to become increasingly degenerate, they have invested all they ever had, heart, mind, body, soul, resource, and more, to ensure that I had the best launching pad necessary to establish me on my distinct trajectory, a reality they largely actuated through honing my self-perceptions and interpersonal interaction acumens.
A wise person once said “sometimes it’s not about what you’ve accomplished in your life but who you raise”. I have found that to be so true with the way my parents channeled all their energy towards making my siblings and I the best that we could ever be, which has indeed been their greatest accomplishment.
YI: If there is any life-defining advice you could impart to young people uncertain about the trajectory their lives must take, what would it be?
MDS: I come from a humble background, similar to most black African youth. My father is a teacher by profession and we can all attest that this is not the most financially lucrative profession, particularly in Africa. My mother left formal employment after the birth of my younger brother and resorted to part-time vocations, thus, there was one steady income to sustain our family.
Since I could not secure a bursary or alternative funding to study at undergraduate level, my parents had to shoulder the responsibility of putting me through tertiary education.
By the time my older brother was in his final year of study, I was beginning my first, which meant a huge weight on my parents but by God’s Grace (u-Musa-we-Nkosi — my name which has truly epitomised my life thus far) my parents made it work somehow.
My mother worked several part-time jobs and she and my father sold several assets to pay for our fees but even then, sometimes I would run out of essential resources. I was always reluctant to tell my parents when I lacked something crucial because I knew how much of a sacrifice taking me through tertiary from their own salary was.
I also knew that they would end up overworking themselves trying to meet all my needs so I had a choice to either endure, or find other unscrupulous means of acquiring these necessities. I believe this is a circumstance that many young Africans like myself, especially females who sometimes fall prey to fiendish men who offer riveting amenities in exchange for sexual acquiescence, face at one point or another during their pursuit of success.
My parents always taught me that in life, when pursuing success, you can either take the elevator or you can take the stairs. I chose the stairs and I’m still continuing to climb that staircase, no matter how hard or heavy it gets. I promised myself to never stop, nor look for the nearest elevator.
I’ve always refused to piggy-back off of the hard-earned success of others. I’m adamant to work my own way up. Even though I have not yet reached the pinnacles of success that I know I am destined for, today I glean satisfaction in that I’ve superseded the standard of living which my parents worked arduously to provide me with and I sleep very peacefully at night knowing that it is my own blood, sweat and tears that got me to where I am.
My prayer and wish is for other young Africans, especially women, to leverage whatever opportunities and sincere strengths they have to make an honest living for themselves. I hope that we learn as young Africans, not to be afraid of hard work and not to take shortcuts in life because they often end in a premature demise.
YI: Has there been space for relaxation in your journey?
MDS: My definition of un-winding or “fun”, is often considered unorthodox or different from that of many of my peers.
As a child, I particularly took keen interest in music. My parents tell me that I began to hum to songs I heard at home long before I even started to speak. This musical giftedness has followed me into my adult life and I am often invited to sing at various occasions. This is an outlet and release for me, from the various kinds of pressures life sometimes brings.
I also enjoy outdoor activities that are invigorating, for example, amusement parks. I also love reading thought-provoking literature, listening to motivational podcasts, volunteering and community service.
I also really love travelling. So far I’ve been to six African countries, four European countries, one Euro-Asian country, one North and one South-American country, and one Asian country because I love learning about different cultures and exploring.
I look forward to getting back at it once the Covid-19 pandemic abates. I also love engaging in constructive conversation with other bright minds. If you look at my circle of friends and associates, those I actually ever spend my time with, it comprises people who are making some kind of difference in their sphere of influence.
YI: In Zimbabwe, where do you call home?
MDS: I originate from Mutare, Manicaland, specifically Chimanimani. My parents, however, have their home in Norton, which is where we all go when we visit Zimbabwe so that’s where I call home in Zimbabwe.
YI: What is your next horizon?
MDS: I often avoid such questions. This owing to the path I have traversed thus far having made me realise that most of what I had imagined my life to be, did not materialise precisely the way I had envisaged.
It is for this reason that I have resolved on the premise of the little wisdom I have acquired so far, to allow life to run its course.
I have come to appreciate the importance of being diligent and precise in whatever it is that my hands find to do, meaning I will give my all in every opportunities that collide with me along my journey.
It is in this manner that every deliberate and rigorous work we do, becomes a building block towards the supreme plan and design for our lives.
All I can say is in the months and years to come, I’ll be better than I am today.