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Fhatuwani Nemakhavhani

Fhatuwani Nemakhavhani

I am who I am today because of the SAADP programme

My Actuarial Journey with SAADP

My Actuarial journey with the South African Actuaries Development Programme (SAADP) was not typical in that it began on a sour note. Despite matriculating as one of the top students, I was unfortunately not able to secure funding towards my Actuarial Sciences studies. During the winter season of 2008, I was fortunate to be selected to attend the Thuthuka Camp in Limpopo, with several other excellent matriculants from disadvantaged families and various low-resourced schools. I met Ms Nokwanda Mkhize for the first time at this camp. She came and presented about the SAADP programme, and at the end, she requested those interested in pursuing a career in Actuarial Sciences to raise their hands as she handed out envelopes containing bursary application forms. I recall raising my hand with an inviting smile, along with a few other matriculants, as everyone in the hall stared, because choosing to study Actuarial Sciences was like committing career suicide at the time, given the perceived difficulty of the subject.

Fast forward to December 2008, and I was over the moon to receive my matric results, which included multiple distinctions and a perfect score (100%) in Mathematics. All of that excitement was short-lived, because I didn’t have funding and coming from a low-income household, raised by a widowed single mother (a domestic worker) and a grandmother, along with my three siblings, working hard was not an option but a MUST to see my family out of poverty. I received an invitation from SAADP for the bursary interview in Johannesburg which I was very grateful for as this was a step closer to reaching my dream. I remember boarding a City-to-City bus in Sibasa Thohoyandou and traveling to Wits University (where the interviews were held) without knowing where Wits was located. I was just told to get off at Park Station and ask for directions to Wits from security guards. For the 17-year old me then, the walk from Park Station to Wits University was the most frightening walk I’d ever taken alone. I was relieved when I finally saw the gates of Wits University, making it in one piece, after traveling for over 8 hours. After settling in at Jubilees Hall, I remember sitting in the foyer with a friend (Mbali) whom I had just met, and like me, had travelled for several hours from the Eastern Cape to Johannesburg. As we sat, we observed other students being dropped off by their parents, something Mbali and I envied after traveling by bus and finding our way to Wits by ourselves.

Of all the questions asked during my interview, the two questions that stuck with me are the following:

  1. “Do you think you got 100% in Mathematics?” Considering that there is a whole professional body (UMALUSI), in charge of not only my results but every student’s results, asking this question discredits one’s achievement, putting doubt on one’s capabilities and competency. Ultimately,  killing their confidence and self-esteem.
  2. “Besides academic books, which other books have you read?”. Coming from Tswinga, a rural village near Thohoyandou, reading books outside of academic books (supplied by government schools for free), was a luxury. I didn’t have a rich aunt/uncle to give me a book on my birthday nor did I have access to a library with books I could borrow. A “development program” asking a disadvantaged student, who had no access to resources, such a question was a sad reality I had to face. I knew then that University was not going to be a walk in the park.

I will never forget the day I got a call from SAADP with the outcome of my bursary interview. I was rejected! I was disheartened, disappointed and hopeless. I began to doubt my own identity. I questioned my entire being. I questioned God! I questioned everything. How much more was I supposed to prove myself worthy to qualify and receive funding? In my view, I had done the BEST I COULD for a student from a disadvantaged government school with limited resources. My results spoke for themselves, yet they were not good enough.

Despite the rejection, by God’s grace, I was able to make it to the University of Pretoria and, with the assistance of a Student Counsellor, Mr Fred Ratshisevhe, managed to secure on-campus residence and was able to stay and eat on credit while I applied for alternative funding. I didn’t have textbooks nor pocket money for the first few weeks of my academic year but I was grateful to receive the NSFAS student loan and was subsequently able to buy textbooks and stationery. Fast forward, using my  rejection as motivation, I worked very hard like my life depended on it and managed to pass my 1st semester in Actuarial Sciences, with 4 distinctions out of 7 modules I took.  It was then that SAADP reconsidered their decision and granted me funding. It was a bittersweet moment for me after all the financial difficulties I had to endure.

With everything that happened, I remain grateful to the programme for all the support I received throughout my studies. The support SAADP gives to students extends beyond paying for tuition, textbooks and meals. They provide students with extra tutorials as well as emotional and psychological support. I remember how, after a tough day on campus or a tough exam, I would go to Mrs Lehobo’s office (The SAADP program manager at Tuks) just to talk to her, sometimes even crying and she would be there listening and encouraging me. Any problems we had, even non-academic or personal, she would be there for us.

With the financial burden removed, I managed to complete my degree in Actuarial Sciences in record time, with distinctions (Cum Laude). I also received the SAADP Chairman’s award which was presented to the top SAADP student across all three universities (Tuks, Wits and UCT),  handed over by the Chairman, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa in 2012. Four years after my Honors graduation, I qualified as an Actuary to become the 1st black female South African Actuary ever produced by the University of Pretoria in its more than 100 years of existence. I was the first Actuary to qualify from the 2009 SAADP cohort of +-20 students that were interviewed with me. This was an excellent testimony and demonstration that one should never be judged based on cracks on their feet. Today, more than a decade after graduating from university, I am the Head of Absa Life Insurance’s Corporate Actuarial team, leading a team of qualified Actuaries and Actuarial Professionals to enable the business to achieve its strategy. I also dedicate time to mentor and help students working towards qualifying as Actuaries. A passion that was ignited by my journey as well as my involvement with the Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals (ASABA) where I served as President in 2016 and 2017. I will forever be grateful to SAADP funding and support. I am who I am today because of the SAADP programme. Indeed: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;” Psalms 118:22.

Ndi nne Fhatuwani Nemakhavhani “Fhatu The Actuary”, holu ndi lwendo lwanga, na ngoho: “maṅa a mutukana a si vhumatshelo hawe”.

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