Musa Ndlovu grew up in Limpopo, a province more often in the headlines for protests than feel good stories. But occasionally someone comes along who beats the odds. Ndlovu has risen above his personal circumstances to make his hometown and family proud.
He has always scored high marks for mathematics. Only one in twenty children who start school score over 50% for maths. The reasons range from a legacy of sub-standard Apartheid education system to poor subject choices, and the fact that only 50% of those who start school even write matric.
Ndlovu’s story is a tribute to how far determination can carry a person. It also illustrates the life-changing consequences of extending a helping hand when help is needed most. A gifted mathematician, Ndlovu hasn’t had it easy. A disability in his fingers makes it difficult to write, but this hasn’t deterred him from developing his full potential.
“Life gets real at high school,” says Ndlovu. “I couldn’t play sport, because of my disability, so I concentrated on my school work instead.” He writes slower than usual. In matric his teachers wouldn’t give him extra time to complete his exam paper – but he still achieved a credible 78% for mathematics.
Ndlovu was proving the usefulness of his mathematics ability as a budding entrepreneur. His most successful venture was selling pre-paid electricity, airtime and cold drinks, enabling him to pay the deposit for his first year university fees with his earnings.
While some people with disabilities begin to believe they aren’t as worthy as their able bodied counterparts, Ndlovu is disproving this. Many learners have the same self-limiting beliefs about mathematics. It is seen as a subject to be feared. “This attitude is their disability. I was lucky. I was always good at maths,” Ndlovu says.
His perceptive parents encouraged his logical leaning. Realising their son would benefit from the best schooling possible, in grade 9 they moved him to Khanyisa Education School , in Giyani, Limpopo.
“My parents sacrificed a lot for me to get a private school education,” says Ndlovu. In grade 11 Ndlovu registered for the South African Maths Olympiad training and submitted weekly assignments online. His hard work paid off – he entered and reached the second round of the Maths Olympiad and was awarded Best African Learner in the Maths Olympiad in 2011, his matric year.
“The value of participating in any Olympiad is to promote that subject,” says Ellie Olivier, Operations Manager at the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF), “getting the message across to learners that mathematics is important and that it can open doors for you. The mathematics competitions are primarily to identify talent. The next step is developing talent.” Fortunately for Ndlovu, Olivier recognised his talent.
“The Maths Olympiad for grades 8 to 12 is one of our flagship programmes and is co-sponsored by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA),” says Olivier. In 2012 Ndlovu enrolled for an undergraduate degree at the University of Pretoria. “Because of my maths marks I was accepted into the Actuarial Studies programme and also into the BCom Accounting stream. But my parents couldn’t afford university fees,” he says.
Despite good academic results Ndlovu didn’t qualify for a bursary from the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). “I was in the missing middle – the majority of students whose parents are considered rich in terms of NFSAS – yet who cannot afford to send their kids to university,” he comments.
Ndlovu struggled to obtain funding so he called the person who represented his last hope. “By this time I had written my National Benchmark Test (NBT) and had performed well. I sent my results to Ellie who introduced me to the Thuthuka representatives at SAICA.”.
“Ellie could only help me apply for a Thuthuka Bursary Fund in Accounting as the Actuarial Society had closed its applications. I’m grateful I was selected for this bursary because I think Thuthuka is the best programme. It doesn’t just support the cost of your studies. You get mentored from day one. There is nothing to worry about as Thuthuka pays for food and things like books and calculators, so you can focus on your studies.”
The aspiring chartered accountant completed his undergraduate degree in record time, and in 2015 completed his honours degree at the University of Johannesburg. “Musa did very well. I am very proud of him,” says Olivier.
“I think I can change people’s mind-sets about how they perceive people with disabilities and inspire many people academically,” Ndlovu reflects. He is currently a trainee accountant at Nexia SAB&T Chartered Accountants in Centurion. Ndlovu is receiving in-house training and appreciates the open door policy which he enjoys with all directors. All trainees are allocated to mentors from their first day of training.
Ndlovu’s next hurdle is writing his SAICA professional exam in November 2017. He plans to complete his training and build his career from there. Ndlovu would ultimately like to return to Gigale in Limpopo to be with his family and become a role model in his community.
Ndlovu counts himself as lucky. “I have gained supporters as I have progressed in life.” He has extended an invitation to Thuthuka that he is available for talks at schools to inspire learners that they can become anything they want to become. All it takes is determination, hard work, besides encouragement and support from other. The rest is up to them!
Willie Coates, Senior Executive: Brand at SAICA says, “I am glad that both our SAICA sponsorship of the Maths Olympiad and our valued partnership with SAMF has paved the way for Musa’s success. His determination to achieve success is a beacon of light to all who aspire to be leaders. SAICA is committed to transforming the profession and to promoting the CA(SA) designation to the youth in the country. SAICA’s Thuthuka programme is also yielding the desired results.”
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