Popularly known as South Africa’s Top 100, the DHL GradStar Awards is a programme that annually recognises the top 100 university students across all varsities in South Africa based on academics, leadership qualities and readiness for the workplace.
This year, two students from Nelson Mandela University, Bwanika Lawrence Lwanga and Thandokazi Magopheni, made it to the Top 100 list and the MadibazNews blog was more than excited to sit and have a chat with them.
To dream BIG! That should I not succeed, to not give up. To take the failure as a lesson and an opportunity to improve and try again…
… explains Thandokazi Magopheni, fourth-year BCom Rationum Economics & Business Management student when speaking on the most important things she learnt from being a part of the GradStar programme. She works at Madibaz Radio, is a tutor and a food blogger so we decided to speak to her about balancing academics with extra-curricular activities, her dreams of changing the world and her Port Elizabeth restaurant recommendations. She’s goals guys! Enjoy!!
Hey Thando, congratulations on making the GradStar Top 100 list. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi Emi, thank you for the congratulatory message. My name is Thandokazi Babalwa Magopheni. Thandokazi means greatest love while Babalwa means beautiful blessing. I go by Thando which is my first and probably official nickname. Plus, it’s quicker to say. I was born and raised here in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape and went to Alexander Road High School in Newton Park. I’m in my fourth-year, currently studying towards a BCom Rationum Economics & Business Management. Well, since 2016, it has been called the Bachelor of Accounting Sciences in Economics & Business Management.
Why did you choose your course and why did you choose to come to Nelson Mandela University?
I guess I was extra 😂😂 because I could have gone for the BCom Accounting for CAs degree and finished one year earlier (I would be doing Honours now). But I also wanted something that gave me a challenge and would broaden my career horizons/opportunities to other branches as well.
I chose Nelson Mandela University because it was close to home. More importantly, it is the best Accounting university in the country. Well it was. It dropped allegedly – Fees Mus Fall happened 😂😂.
On why you chose to get your degree, you say that you wanted something that gave you a challenge. What is a challenge to you?
A challenge to me is something new and difficult for me to do. But with great determination and effort, it will also help me as it is an opportunity for me to grow and learn the new capabilities that I may have gained from doing it.
Have there been moments where you wish you chose another degree?
Not really but sometimes, I do wish I was a flight attendant because all I want to do is travel around the world and meet new people. However, my weight constrained me so here I am studying accounting. I’m quite passionate about accounting to be honest and it will give me job security and the opportunity to travel.
What have been the most challenging academic and general school life situations thus far? How did you overcome them?
University is academically challenging. I’m pretty sure everyone can say that. For me, it is more of the amount work followed by the content as it always seems impossible to stay on top of it all especially since we are young students coming from a confined social environment such as high school. Also, keeping balance of your social life like spending time with friends and family can be quite challenging. Sometimes you’ve just got to take that breather before everything becomes overwhelming.
When you say, “sometimes you just got to take that breather before everything becomes overwhelming”, what are the essential things you do to take a breather?
I normally explore recipes from magazines or cookbooks that are at home but most times I just binge watch series like NCIS LA, Madam Secretary, Empire, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Two Broke Girls to name a few.
You’re a marketing officer at Madibaz Radio, you tutor Pure maths, Business Studies and Accounting to high school students, you’re an avid bookworm, you volunteer in children’s homes, you’re a full-time student and now a top 100 scholar. What are your secrets to balancing your academics with extra-curricular activities?
To be honest, I’m also not sure what my secret is but I believe it’s because I have a great support system. God first, as always, my mother who is my greatest source of strength and my handful of close friends who are merely there by text or in person when I need them.
Looking back to matric and now, fast forward to 2018, you are one of South Africa’s top 100 graduates. Congratulations once again by the way. What keeps you motivated? What drives you to do what you do?
I am driven by the fact that I want to challenge myself to change the world around me. So, not by making a huge global impact but by taking small steps changing the community around me and inspiring younger people to challenge themselves to change the world around them. You can say it’s a ripple effect of change by inspiration.
You have participated in the Beyond the Classroom (BtC) leadership program and you hold a Duke of Edinburgh gold award of which you were the secretary for the Gold Award Holders’ Port Elizabeth committee. How did your previous leadership positions help become a top 100 scholar?
They have helped me hone the necessary soft skills required at the workplace. The GradStar judges assessed us in terms of soft skills possessed and how work ready and leadership oriented we were amongst other factors.
(Side note, about her response to this next question: Get ready to soak it all in!)
What are the most important things you’ve learnt from the GradStar programme experience?
To dream BIG! That should I not succeed, to not give up. To take the failure as a lesson and an opportunity to improve and try again. Also, to not limit myself to one discipline but also channel others instead of limiting myself to one thing. I mean, the business leaders that spoke to us studied something completely different to what they are doing now which goes to show their versatility.
You dabble in philanthropy by donating to Doctors Without Borders and supporting projects that involve children. You also volunteer at children’s homes and community centers. Given a blank cheque, how would you change the world?
I would like to live by the ethos of Gift of the Givers and MSF. They are exemplary examples of changing the world and providing sustainability.
Since you were born and raised here in Port Elizabeth, and you’ve been learning French since 2017, how do you feel about travelling?
I love travelling! I think I love it not because of the idea of being a tourist but exploring and immersing myself into that country’s culture, languages and people. It is knowing that when I come back home to South Africa that I have changed and have a new part of myself to explore.
(Side note, about her response to this next question: Get a pen and paper and take notes!)
As a food blogger (the lost gourmand on Instagram), where can you recommend us to go eat at here in PE that will never let us down?
There are definitely many places in PE that are unseen hot spots, but it also depends on the kind of person you are. For instance, if you are more of a nightlife person, most of Richmond Hill restaurants may appeal to you such as Asada which is meat oriented, Kindred Kitchen which is vegan, Upstairs or Salt. Although, Salt may have crappy service if you go in the afternoon or evening. Just a disclaimer. And then for a person who enjoys the finer things in life, Two Olives restaurant, The Muse and Ginger restaurant are great places to eat at. Then again, that’s my opinion so it depends on the particular taste you enjoy.
Very much appreciated Thando! Thank you so much for doing the interview.
It’s no problem. Thank you too.
Connect with Thando on Linkedin