Goodness Nhlapho overcame adversity on her MBA journey

One of the first recipients of the Henley Dean’s Scholarship, and recent Henley Africa Flexible Executive MBA graduate, Goodness (Nokulunga) Nhlapho exhibited courage, determination and strength of character on her potholed road to academic success.

Goodness graduated at the end of 2021 and for her the MBA is about more than being the recipient of a respected qualification, it’s a symbol for how she has overcome adversity, triumphed over depression and reclaimed her self-worth despite the limited circumstance that a stultifyingly patriarchal culture have tried to impose on her – and on her mother – over the years.

This is her story.

Goodness was raised in Swaziland by her mother Nomsa Mtsweni, [now] a qualified nurse and the ‘black sheep’ of her family back in South Africa. “My mother always followed her own path, much to the dismay of the rest of the family, because she defied tradition over and over again,” says Goodness.

Nomsa and four of her siblings were all offered the same educational opportunities at a Catholic boarding school, but she was the only one who chose to go to college after school instead of getting married and having children immediately, which was the accepted path for women to take, explains Goodness.

Some years later Nomsa and Goodness’s father moved their family to Swaziland, which further weakened ties with her family in South Africa. And when Nomsa chose to divorce her husband and move back to South Africa with their children rather than put up with his infidelities, her South African family was horrified and, in accordance with tradition, the now fatherless family was not welcome in the community in Bethel, Mpumalanga.

Undeterred, Nomsa and her children settled in Ermelo, some 50km away, where she registered at UNISA to study nursing (later graduating cum laude) and made sure Goodness finished school, readying her to pursue a career.

And so, some months later, clasping her matric certificate in one hand and the telephone directory in the other – this was the late 1990s after all – Goodness set about writing letters of application to every Standard Bank branch in the Mpumalanga region, until she was finally granted an interview, and was subsequently offered the role of manager’s secretary in Barberton.

“At the time I didn’t understand a word of Afrikaans, nor did I know a debit from a credit, but I was a fast learner,” she says.

In 2002 while still working for Standard Bank and following a particularly traumatic divorce from her attorney husband, Goodness was admitted to Mulbarton Hospital in Johannesburg, where she was diagnosed with depression, a condition she would battle for years to come.

Goodness was now a single mother with a family to support and once the depression was under control, she remembered the importance her mother had always placed on education and the example Nomsa had set for her children, despite the societal constricts she had faced.

“In my culture if a woman is not permanently attached to a man you are considered to have very little value in society, regardless of how educated you are or what you have accomplished in your own right. My family applied the same rules to me as they had to my mom for all those years, and that made me determined to take back my power – as a woman, and as a member of society.”

Standard Bank offered Goodness the opportunity to do a certificate in Money Laundering at the [then] Rand Afrikaans University, and the study bug bit.

Goodness proved to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and over the ensuing years she completed programme after programme, growing her 22-year career in the banking sector – and five years in local government – from secretary to senior management professional. Criminal justice, forensic investigation, advanced banking law, compliance law, business analysis and financial management are some of the subjects she devoured before the idea of doing an MBA dawned.

Goodness was working as a Payment Strategy Manager at Standard Bank when one of her colleagues told her about the Henley Africa Flexible Executive MBA. Intrigued, she immediately went online, applied, and was accepted. She was also one of the first recipients of the Henley Dean’s Scholarship, which is granted on merit to eligible candidates by Henley Africa Dean and Director, Jon Foster-Pedley, and which covers the full cost of tuition for the programme.

“My MBA journey with Henley began in 2015,” says Goodness. “I was at home sick in bed when I received the call from Prof Jon, asking me to come in for an interview. “During the interview we talked about how big a problem teenage pregnancy was in my community at the time and I told him that I wanted to give back by educating young girls.

“We also talked openly about my struggle with depression, and I remember the Prof expressing his concern that the programme could trigger my condition. I stubbornly assured him that I was healthy and did not foresee any problems ... but I was wrong.”

Goodness switched employers while doing the MBA and her new manager was not as supportive of her studies as she had anticipated. “My request for permission to attend block classes at Henley was denied and I started falling behind on my coursework. This caused my stress levels to skyrocket.”

She was hospitalised for depression and put back on antidepressants, but when her private life fell apart too, her psychiatrist suggested she be admitted to a facility in Alberton for depression sufferers. Goodness reluctantly relented. “I was supposed to be there for longer than 14 days, but I was falling so far behind on my MBA work, and my work in general, that I insisted on being discharged after 14 days,” she remembers.

On returning to work Goodness tried to pick up her studies but, at that time, she was simply not in the right frame of mind to do so. “Henley really came through for me and I was given the opportunity to put my MBA on hold and focus on my mental health. When they say the MBA is flexible, they really mean it.”

In 2021 she was finally well enough to pick up the books and, yet again, she says, the school came through for her. “I was assigned a UK-based tutor to help me complete my Stage 2 and Stage 3 assignments, as well as a wonderful South African tutor, Manfree Maake, who was extremely supportive and from whom I learned so much,” she says.

“My MBA journey was gruelling, but I couldn’t have done it without the unwavering support of the Henley team,” she says. “There were times when I sat with my programme administrator and cried, but at no point did Henley give up on me. I was constantly encouraged to push, to come back from rock bottom, and I did!”

Goodness graduated at the end of 2021 and is now ready to pay her good fortune forward.

Teenage pregnancy is no longer the scourge it once was but, as the mother of two boys with dyslexia, Goodness is keenly aware of the lack of support these children have in South Africa. “Dyslexia is not an easily identified condition, even though it’s one of the most common learning difficulties, and affects about 10% of the population,” she explains.

Mainstream South African schools, she says, simply don’t cater for dyslexic children who often become frustrated or are teased mercilessly about their condition. “Both my sons are dyslexic, and I have first-hand experience of the challenges faced by these children and their parents.”

“My dream is to open a skills-development centre catering to the needs of young people with dyslexia. I’m living proof that you should not let your life circumstances define you, and if I can pass that message on to young people and help them become the best versions of themselves that they can be then I will have accomplished my mission.”

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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