Collectively, and only collectively, will South Africa be able to turn the current dire economic situation in the country around, Dr Muriel Serfontein-Jordaan, alumna and UP lecturer, believes. “The responsibility does not rest with one centralised institution or entity, but instead with each individual South African, by keeping true to the spirit of Ubuntu – I am because [we] are,” she stresses. Read more about this esteemed alumna’s sterling academic career, her advice for current students, her source of inspiration and her future goals.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I commenced my studies at the University of Pretoria (UP) in 2011 – exactly ten years ago. Undergraduate, I studied BCom Communication Management. I then went on to complete my BCom Honours in Communication Management (with distinction) at the end of 2015. I immediately continued with my MCom in Communication Management and completed it (with distinction) at the end of 2016. In 2017, I commenced my PhD journey, which I successfully completed in August 2020 – all at UP.
I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in academia. Upon completing my undergraduate degree, I started working as an assistant lecturer in the then Department of Communication Management in 2015. Long story short, seven years later I am now a lecturer in the Department of Business Management and I am more convinced than ever before that a career in academia is what I want.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: As you can gather from my answer to the above question, UP is not only the foundation on which my career is built, but in fact my career itself. The wonderful people at UP, whom I have had the privilege to learn from and be mentored by throughout my ten years of study, have had an immense influence on my desire to pursue a career in academia.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Do not fall behind. Constantly work hard (consistency is key). Use the resources at your disposal (your lecturers really do want to help you to succeed).
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: AUTHENTICITY! I believe that the key to success in most things in life is being authentic. People have an instinctive desire for authenticity, especially in difficult times.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: I am a very inquisitive and curious person; therefore, I really enjoy reading about anything and everything, novel and interesting, both related to business and not. However, a big favourite that forms part of my daily life is listening to The Money Show presented by Bruce Whitfield, with my husband while we prepare dinner.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I feel as if there is so much that I would like to share that it would be too much for one story.
Of the top of my head, the following things just came up immediately:
Particularly with regard to my studies: The motto of the primary school I attended (Middelburg Primary School), was "Knowledge Conquers All". This is something that I have found to hold true ever since.
Knowledge imparts on us a sense of freedom. This might sound like a cliché, but I believe that every individual owes it to him- or herself to pursue all the knowledge possible. This, in turn, will set them free – free from the comfort of the conventional, free from the confines of societal thought, free to truly make a difference.
Relating to personal motivation: From a young age, my parents taught me to always, firstly, place my trust in my Creator, and secondly, to believe in myself. It is first and foremost your responsibility to believe in yourself and your own potential. Unfortunately, if you do not believe in yourself, the world will have no reason to believe in you. Never let the naysayers deter you from pursuing the goal for which you were created.
Q: What is your ‘golden guideline’ in life, in other words, what keeps you on track?
A: Make the most of every day and every opportunity. Regret is something that always comes too late and will continue to haunt you forever. And then of course, I wish to reiterate what I said in the last part of my response to the previous question: From a young age my parents taught me to always, firstly; place my trust in my Creator, and secondly; to believe in myself. It is first and foremost your responsibility to believe in yourself and your own potential. Unfortunately, if you do not believe in yourself, the world will have no reason to believe in you. Never let the naysayers deter you from pursuing the goal for which you were created.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: This must be the most difficult question... My answer to this will definitely change daily, considering that there are so many incredibly inspiring individuals just in South Africa.
There are so many people who inspire me; people who I would love to meet. However, I am going to go with the individual who I have wanted to meet for the longest time: Warren Buffet. (When I asked my husband who he thought I would want to meet, this was also the person he immediately referred to).
The most pertinent thing that I would want to ask him is what keeps him going, what motivates him at the age of almost 91 years, to get up every morning and to keep showing up? And, of course, I would want to know if he is planning on ever retiring.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: To me, academia holds a beckoning few others can relate to. Knowledge and the inquisitive exploration thereof excite me, and ever since I can remember I have wanted to do nothing but gain knowledge to share with others.
This said, I hope to further my academic career, to become a well-rounded academic and perhaps one day an esteemed scholar in my field. However, for now I just believe that it is an honour and a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to impart knowledge to my students and hopefully in some sense inspire them.
Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned and continues to turn the world upside down. In your opinion, how can South Africa best overcome its current economic woes and increasing joblessness?
A: I believe that the solution lies with every individual, making a small difference in his/her unique way. Keeping true to the spirit of Ubuntu – "I am because [we] are". Collectively, and only collectively, can we turn around this dire situation. The responsibility does not rest with one centralised institution or entity, but instead with each individual South African.