Student Name: Sithabiso Buthelezi
Program: Virtual Bank Work-Readiness Program
I was born in small town with a very rich history, called Ulundi in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). My parents got divorced when I was still very young and I was raised by my father and my step mother. I am the first born out of five children in our family. My father worked as a clerk at the Mashoningashoni Post Office, about 10 kilometers from Ulundi, and my step mother was an informal trader. We therefore relied mainly on my father’s income for survival.
Unfortunately, in 1995 my father lost his job and found it very difficult to find another job. During this period our family really struggled. Eventually he was able to find a job in Piet Retief. As a result of his new job, our family then had to relocate to Piet Retief. This is a small town in a timber area, near the Swaziland border, within the Mpumalanga province of SA. Here I attended a school called Piet Retief Combined School.
Financially, our family still struggled a lot. Every month the school’s attorney would send my father arrear school fees letters and threatened legal action. However he still would insist that we children still go to school. He was adamant that we should get a good education, no matter what! I must confess that I was not a model student whilst in Grade 12, and I struggled to complete the work assigned to me. Even my school teachers said that I would never pass matric (Grade 12). I believed that my poor performance in high school was as a result of our poor situation at home. Surprisingly enough, I passed matric in 2006, however without an exemption which would allow me entrance to university. I had always wanted to be a Chartered Accountant (CA), simply because I believed that accountants make a lot of money. This would be my way of escaping poverty. My main motivation was money and I saw education as my last chance to escape poverty.
After completing high school I moved to Durban on the coast of KZN and lived with my step-grandmother. Unfortunately, by not attaining a university exemption, I was therefore unable to get into university. Now what about my dream of becoming a CA? So I took a chance and applied to the University of South Africa (Unisa) to study for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting (BCom). I was accepted by them on the condition that I firstly finish their annual bridging course.
I had to find the registration funds very fast, so now I had to find a job to pay for these fees. I found a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in West Street in Durban where I was hired as a casual cooker. My parents gave me some of the money towards my registration fees, and I used my salary to pay the balance. I was now studying and working full time, days and nights. But this soon became very exhausting and KFC were inflexible with regards to working hours and study time. I therefore left KFC and found a job as a waiter at Moyo Restaurant in Durban. When I started, the restaurant was still being built so although we were hired as waiters, we ended up doing other manual tasks such as painting the walls etcetera. Studying and working at the same time was very challenging for me but I had no choice because I had to pay for my studies.
My biggest challenge was managing my time effectively and efficiently. I had to be very disciplined. The migration from High School to a distance learning institution (Unisa) was not an easy one. I didn’t have any lectures to attend, and whenever I didn’t understand something I had to consult my books until I understood. During the course of my studies I decided to change my specialization from Accounting to Economics.
What prompted this change? I was exposed to Economics for the first time at Unisa and I just loved the subject. It addressed poverty, the allocation of resources, and analyses why some people are poor and some are not. It allowed me to understand that life does not start and end in Ulundi or Piet Retief, but there is a whole world out there with resources. Economics changed my outlook to life.
At Unisa, I progressed from a struggling scholar at High School to one of Unisa’s best students. I believe that in life when someone gives you an opportunity you must make them proud and not disappoint them. Unisa gave me an opportunity to study for a degree although I didn’t have a matric exemption, and I made it my goal not to disappoint them. I am proud to say that I managed to get more than twelve distinctions in my degree and I didn’t fail one single module. Not bad for a guy who didn’t get a varsity exemption in High School!
I completed my BCom Degree in record time, and went on further to do my Honours in Economics. It just goes to show what a change in mindset and the environment can do for a person’s future.
It is every graduate’s dream to get a good job. However, as a potential economist, I understood the complexities of the labour market. I knew that getting a job in this tight labour market without experience is very difficult indeed. Every day I used to go to a local library at Umlazi, a township near Durban, and apply for jobs without any success.
Then a friend of mine told me that Guarantee Trust (GT) were looking for graduates that wanted to pursue a career in the Banking and Accounting fields. This programme was sponsored jointly by Bankseta and the Development Bank of South Africa’s Jobs Fund, and I would not be required to pay for any tuition fees.
Now this is the type of training I could afford! I applied at GT and they immediately arranged for a test. Fortunately I passed the test, so they then arranged for an interview and I was accepted onto the programme.
The entire programme was done in a very professional manner. Initially I thought it would be a waste of my time, but as it progressed I started to see the value. The curriculum is designed in such a manner as to accommodate all students, and it is not biased towards those who focused on certain specializations at university level.
The Communication Course was a life changing course for me. To be better at speaking a language you do need to practice that language (English) by speaking it more often. Coming from a distance learning institution, where class discussions are minimal, I rarely got the opportunity to speak English. At Unisa I spent most of my time on my own, studying from my books.
At GT, I realized my communication skills were below par and this course allowed me to air my voice for the first time. I didn’t disappoint them, because very soon I became the most vocal student in the class. I suppose I was intrigued by being among fellow students and to be allowed to express myself vocally. At Unisa, you could only express yourself on paper. The programme also exposed me to people who have affected and influenced my life for good, people like Pearl Nene, who attended this project simultaneously.
My facilitators, Smangele and Jabu, were great leaders and very professional and they adopted an approach that says “we are not only your facilitator, but we are also your friend”. Their presence and input made my life very easy. Mark Arbuckle, who was our Academy Manager, was always helpful and I learnt new things from him every day. The minute he opened his mouth knowledge would come out. The program taught me a lot about being professional and organized and it also enhanced my skills and discipline. I enjoyed the course and learnt new things every day.
The programme definitely achieved its objective of bridging the gap between university and the working environment. It introduced me to the realism of the office environment, and taught me how to effectively use the knowledge gained at university level within the set rules of conduct, that are enforced in the office environment. The Communication Course improved my confidence in speaking English. It gave me the necessary practice and ensured that I was ready to speak proper English in the working world. The programme made me feel that I was already working in the bank, and was gaining experience every working day.
Whilst at GT, I applied for the Graduate Programme with the National Treasury (South African government’s finance department). I was eventually contacted by them to conduct a telephonic interview for their graduate programme. This was a very big deal for me as the National Treasury’s Graduate Programme (NTGP) is regarded as one of the most prestigious graduate programmes in the country. The National Treasury is an institution with an excellent reputation in the country and makes a significant meaningful impact in the lives of South African citizens.
Mark and Miles (who was our placement officer) personally prepared me for this interview by asking me every possible interview question. They also reviewed and refined my answers to make sure that they were excellent and I knew what to expect from the panel. I was interviewed by a panel of four individuals. Even though it was a telephonic interview, I was able to impress the panel, and they appointed me on the NTGP. I thank Mark and Miles for the many hours of preparatory work.
I was then appointed by National Treasury on 25 January 2013, as an intern in the Public Finance Division, for a period of two years. My contract was from January 2013 to January 2015.
At the outset we were informed by the National Treasury’s officials that the Department has no absorption policy, implying that there is no guarantee that any graduate would be absorbed into the department once they had completed their two years’ internship. At the Chief Directorate, where I was placed, I was responsible for assisting the Deputy Director with the monitoring of expenditure, reviewing of budget submissions and making recommendations where applicable. We also reviewed policy submissions made by the National Department of Public Works (DPW). I was assigned to the Public Works’ Portfolio which controlled a budget of R8 billion. I worked there for a year as an intern and I learnt a tremendous amount.
In March 2014, I applied and was appointed as an Assistant Director (ASD), responsible for the Police and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), also with a budget of R70 billion. Yes you read correctly, R70 billion is under my responsibility, working together with my Director and her Deputy Director. I am still responsible for expenditure management of these aforementioned departments. Although my internship was supposed to last for two years, the department decided to absorb me within a year. I was one of the first of 4 interns out of a total of 45 that were absorbed by the National Treasury.
I attribute my success to my GT family who taught me good conduct in the working environment. I continue to do well in the department and have great ambitions and aspirations.
In addition to my work commitments, I am also an e-tutor at Unisa. I facilitate online discussions with students that are studying Economics 1A. I believe I need to give back to fellow students. I am also studying for my Bachelor of Law degree (LLB) with Unisa, in order to expand my knowledge in law.
Despite my slow and difficult start in life, I will always persevere and eventually succeed. Overcoming the tough times has taught me that I can do anything and nothing is impossible for me. Moreover, I have learnt that it does not matter where you are coming from but rather where you are going to.
Unisa gave me an opportunity to study, and I qualified. I did not disappoint them. GT provided me with Life Skills and experience to get employment. I did not disappoint them. National Treasury employed me, and I’m proving to them that they made the right decision. I will not disappoint them.
I have already achieved many of my interim goals in life, and am proud to say that I am well on my way to achieving my ultimate goal which is to be the Governor of the SA Reserve Bank. It is no coincidence that Mark nicknamed me the “Gov” at GT.
Now the question I would like to ask all fellow students: “If GT were to give you an opportunity today to join the programme, would you grasp the opportunity and prove to them that you won’t disappoint them”?