Posted on December 11, 2017
'Don't let your background determine your future. You should dream big and not be scared to venture into new territories.' These are the inspirational words of Miss Fhatuwani Nemakhavhani (26) who recently became the first black female actuary from the University of Pretoria (UP).
Fhatuwani is a strong and courageous young lady who hails from the Tswinga village about 8km from Thohoyandou in the Limpopo province. In 2009, as a young matriculant, she travelled on her own by bus to enrol for her studies in Actuarial Science at the University of Pretoria (UP).
She smiles when she explaines that this was less frightening than when she had to go for her bursary interview with the South African Actuaries Development Programme (SAADP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in her matric year, where she had to find her way to Wits from Johannesburg Park Station. 'That really toughened me up.'
Fhatuwani really fell in love with Mathematics when she was afforded an opportunity to do Grade 9 and 10 at Allen Glen High School in Johannesburg. She was temporarily fostered by her mother's employer who lived in Gauteng at that time. 'I had to adapt to be taught all my subjects in English – it was a big cultural and language change. But once I grasped Mathematics, I realised that I don't need to know the language perfectly to excel in Mathematics. I was doing well in Mathematics, and in Grade 10 I came second in Mathematics in my grade. I realised that I loved Mathematics so much that I could make a career of it
'In Grade 11, I went back to my former high school, Marude Secondary School, in Venda to complete my high-school education and was now a top achiever in Mathematics. From the first quarter in grade 11 until I matriculated, I achieved first position in my class. Matric was a challenging year for me because I did not know what I was going to study at varsity, let alone if I would have an opportunity to pursue tertiary education at all. My mother, being a domestic worker, was in no position to pay for my tertiary education, which meant I needed to find other means to fund my studies. This encouraged me to study hard and focus on my books with the hope of obtaining good enough marks in order to be awarded a bursary.'
'I was fortunate when I got invited to attend the Limpopo matric summer camp organised by the Thuthuka Programme and the Department of Science and Technology. It was at this camp that I obtained two very important documents that would go on to change my life for the better. The first one was a bursary application form from SAADP to study Actuarial Sciences. At that stage, I didn't even know what Actuarial Sciences was all about, all I knew was that you needed to be good in Maths and must obtain good grades in English in order to do the course. During the camp I also met a senior student advisor from UP, Mr Fred Ratshisevhe, who supplied me with the UP's admission application form which turned out to be the only university I ended up applying for. At the end of 2009, I made history in my high school by becoming the first student in my school's history to pass Mathematics with 100%. I also got invited to the provincial matric awards function in Polokwane.'
Despite her excellent matric results, Fhatuwani was unfortunately not awarded the SAADP bursary. This was devastating news for the 17-year-old, but it did not deter her from coming to study at UP. 'I felt let down, I was about to give up on my dreams of going to university because I had no funding'. But then she received an important call from Mr Ratshisevhe, while she was still at home. He gave her the good news that she had been accepted to study Actuarial Sciences at UP. This was not the good news she had hoped for, but when Mr Ratshisevhe learned that she had not been awarded a bursary, he became a beacon of hope for her and through his encouragement and assistance she was placed in Asterhof Residence and also received a loan from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). 'I promised myself that I would work hard and prove everybody wrong and earn a spot in SAADP. After the first semester I got four distinctions out of my seven subjects and then SAADP awarded me a full bursary for my tuition and residence'
In her second year, Fhatuwani also became a Golden Key member and was selected to be a member of UP SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise – now known as Enactus) whose aim is to find solutions for problems experienced by students on campus. During her undergraduate studies, she also received an award for passing all her Statistics modules from first year to third year with distinction. She completed her bachelor's degree at the end of 2011 and was the only black South African in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences to obtain her degree with distinction (cum laude).
'In 2012 I enrolled for my honours degree in Actuarial Sciences. During my honours year, I was tutoring other SAADP students as well as being an assistant lecturer in Statistics. I was also the deputy president of the student society of the Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals (ASABA), and treasurer for the Campus Crusade for Christ.'
'I am grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to study at UP, and for my friends' support and mentorship. I was very selective with the choice of friends I made, because I had to focus on my studies and keep my bursary. One of my best friends was Emily Ngu (Mbatu), a lady from Cameroon, who is very smart and had a similar background to my own and we really got along well. The library became our second home during our varsity time,' she admitted.
Fhatuwani also acknowledged the role of Ms Refilwe Lehobo from UP SAADP, who played an important part both in her academic and her personal life.
After completing her honours degree, she started as an actuarial analyst at Liberty Life in 2013. She was then promoted to senior actuarial analyst in 2015 and after that she assumed the role of specialist actuarial auditor. In July 2017, at the age of 25, Fhatuwani passed her final actuarial board exam to obtain a double qualification namely: FASSA (Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South African) and CERA (Certified Enterprise Risk Management Actuary). She currently works for ABSA Life in the Capital and Balance Sheet Management team.
'I always knew that there was something greater inside me, despite the odds that were stacked against me,' Fhatuwani explained when asked about her success at such a young age. 'I knew that God had a master plan for me, and I had to trust in Him fully for my future. My faith has always given me strength and God has never forsaken me.'
Fhatuwani reiterates a message of hope for young people: 'I believe in using opportunities, but you have to be prepared when opportunities come. Don't be scared to dream, but be willing to work hard – there is no substitute for hard work. It is also important to have mentors; they played a very big role in my life. Also use technology to your advantage – information is power. And remember where there is a will there is a way.'
*The South African Actuaries Development Programme (SAADP) is an independent, non-profit company that was established with the backing of Sasria SOC Ltd. The Programme seeks to actively address the problem of the acute shortage of actuarial skills in the black community.
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