From the village to the boardroom

Newly elected South African Tourism Board member Nqabomzi Haya-Zhanda has come a long way since her childhood in an Eastern Cape village. A seasoned commercial leader in the ICT space and Henley PGDip graduate, Nqabomzi is now on the cusp of finishing her Henley MBA. She speaks here about how Henley has helped her overcome imposter syndrome, grow in confidence as a transformational leader, and even meet her husband! Her story is an inspiration to anyone who may believe their dreams are out of reach.

People often don’t believe me when I tell them I am a village girl. But I was raised in a rural Eastern Cape village and didn’t even know the Internet existed until I was in Standard seven (Grade nine). When I think about it, my life would have been so much easier if I had been able to log onto Zoom instead of walking for miles in all sorts of weather to get to school.

Maths and science were my passion at school but as is true of most children, I went through a phase where I wanted to do anything but study. My late grandmother, who was a teacher, pulled me up when this happened because she believed I had a natural talent for maths. “You are very lazy, but you are also very smart,” she said and promptly arranged for me to see a maths tutor. I’ve kept those words close to my heart ever since. My grandmother helped me embrace a talent that exists within me; a talent that I didn’t even know I had. But once my work ethic kicked in I was unstoppable.

Technology changed my life. When I found out about this thing called the Internet, I was blown away. Suddenly, I was able to shop online and consume masses of information on topics that interested me from my couch. It was overwhelming, exhilarating, transformational, in fact!

When I received my first salary cheque, I went on holiday to Zanzibar. It was my first trip out of the country, although I have travelled extensively since then. My second big spoil was the black Prada handbag of my dreams. I still use it today!

It’s ironic that I work in the tech space even though I grew up without tech! That being said, technology and information technology opened up the world to me. When I finished my BCom Statistics degree at Nelson Mandela University, I moved to Johannesburg, where I worked for MTN and Vodacom before moving to the multinational satellite and telecommunications services company, Intelsat.

My mission is to connect the unconnected, to show children growing up in similar circumstances to me that it’s possible to move way beyond your current reality. And working at Intelsat feeds that mission because satellites bring connectivity to all corners of the world.

Being good at maths is one thing. Being good with human beings is an entirely different story. I genuinely love people – and yes, I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. I am also a highly collaborative person by nature. My studies at Henley – both the PGDip and now the MBA – have taught me how to work with all sorts of people and helped make me the confident, transformational leader I am today.

The Personal Mastery component of the PGDip was initially an uncomfortable process because it forced me to confront my insecurities and the perceived shortcomings that fuelled imposter syndrome within me. But I emerged from the process like a butterfly from a cocoon, and I believe I am a stronger person and a better leader for it.

I am a Pan-Africanist at heart, and I am driven by the prospect of growth and prosperity across the continent. The question is, how do we move forward? Poor leadership, not only in South Africa but continent-wide, is what is holding us back. The time has come for the old guard to step aside because we need a new generation of leaders to drive the country and the continent forward.

I met my husband, Tendai Zhanda, in Sandton in 2019. I wasn’t having the greatest day. I was about to embark on a trip to Hong Kong and I was frantically sending off last-minute emails and counting my Forex when he strolled over to my table with such confidence to introduce himself. I admit that in that moment I was quick to judge him based on his private school accent. Then I remembered one of the many things I had learned at Henley: we may be different, but we can work together.

The prospect of integration and moving forward together – in our personal lives and in our country – is what fuels me. If we could just celebrate our differences and understand that thanks to our divergent skills and abilities, we have so much to learn from one another – we would be in a much better place to create real growth.

South Africa is my home, and I’m not leaving! I have nephews and nieces, and Tendai and I want to have children of our own, but if South Africa continues on its current trajectory, what does that mean for those children? That’s one of the many reasons why I want to make a difference wherever I can. It is also why I want to tell my story and show others who started off in life as I did in that little village that it is possible to rise and thrive if you are able to harness your inner potential.

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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