Nonkululeko Gobodo’s ‘Awakened’ – This is what makes this book so amazing!

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Nonkululeko Gobodo’s ‘Awakened’ – This is what makes this book so amazing!

Jan 31, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Nonkululeko Gobodo was the first black woman to qualify as a chartered accountant in South Africa. This was in 1987, many decades since the first white woman qualified for the same in 1917. In her professional and leadership career, she has had a great impact as a mentor to many black people and has initiated many programmes geared towards the development of black community as well as South Africa as a rainbow nation. Owing to her tremendous contribution, she has received many awards in recognition of her excellent service.

Nonkululeko Gobodo’s AWAKENED TO MY TRUE SELF falls within the creative works classified as committed literature in literary pedagogy. The writers in this discourse view themselves as having a mission to accomplish. Our writer here states clearly that she wanted to make a difference in her people’s lives. However, she did not want to go the route of activism, but rather she wanted to encourage black people (especially black women), to confront racism and negative myths about black people’s inferiority using the tool of self-discovery. The author’s journey of finding her true self can therefore be understood in this context. Hence the autobiography is a demonstration of how black people could liberate themselves from the myths and stereotypes that the propagators of apartheid (as well as slavery and colonialism) utilised as weapons of our subjugation.

The author does not regret having had to contend with challenges during her childhood. Her psychological understanding of how she handled them reveals the extent to which these hurdles prepared her for leadership in apartheid South Africa and even during the era following the attainment of democratic rule. While still a school girl, she confronted bullies who used to terrorise her and her friends to and from school. Later in life when she worked as a book-keeper at Eyethu Body Works which her father had acquired, she had the strength and courage to confront white bullies who resisted her occupation of that position. This was indeed a significant landmark, preparing her for her future career as a black woman accountant in a racist society and in a field that was male dominated. 

Self-discovery

Boundaries are crucial in the journey towards self-discovery. This is a factor whose importance Nonkululeko emphasizes that she had to handle during her training period leading to her success in becoming a chartered accountant. At the start of her lectureship in the Department of Accounting, the then Acting Head asked her to file some papers which were lying on the floor of his office simply because she was a woman. She reminded him that now she was his colleague and not a student. Her approach of demanding to be accorded the respect due to a colleague was very important at this stage, considering that she was training to enter a male dominated profession.

Apart from confronting male chauvinism, she also had to deal with racism. In her second year of articles at KPMG she was promoted to the position of supervisor, a level which is usually for those who have completed articles. As the lead auditor of the Bank of Transkei, she went to introduce herself to the bank manager. The white bank manager twice ordered her to go away claiming that he was busy, while in fact he was irked by the possibility of being audited by a black person. Our writer recounts her decision to confront the racism head on in her own capacity instead of reporting the matter to her bosses at KPMG. Hence the firm manner in which she confronted the said bank manager the third time round shocked him into the realisation that Nonkululeko knew who she was and therefore he had no alternative but to cooperate.

Getting pregnant and subsequently becoming a wife and mother at seventeen is traumatic for any teenage girl. It is certainly not that Nonkululeko took it lightly. However, when this happened to her, she decided to use what should have been an obstacle into a stepping stone for climbing into greater heights. Instead of taking this challenging situation as an end to her education and future career, she opted to go back to school. After failing her matric examination due to the pressures of combining motherhood with studies, she not only retook the examination and passed, but went on to  the University of Transkei to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree in preparation for her vision of becoming a chartered accountant.

Dealing with boundaries

The third and last issue of boundaries that the writer had to deal with lay deep within herself. She needed to address her reticence in order to be inducted fully into the profession of chartered accountants. She found that it was important for her to have her voice heard particularly at meetings and therefore she approached the problem of being an introvert with great determination. Indeed, she overcame this obstacle with tremendous success as evidenced by the mammoth projects she initiated and her outstanding leadership in steering various enterprises in her field once she became a chartered accountant.

Nonkululeko, as the subject or protagonist of AWAKENED TO MY TRUE SELF, can be viewed as what is known in literary criticism as a “rounded character”. In this regard, our author examines herself not only in her professional life but also at the home front. The readers are allowed to walk with her in her journey as a wife and mother while she progressed in her professional life. As mentioned above, she did not ignore the challenges of raising her family while pursuing her dream of becoming a chartered accountant. She tried her best to carry her husband and children along. She even encouraged her husband to pursue a career in the legal profession because she saw his talent in this field. It was excellent that he took the opportunity and became a brilliant lawyer.

However, Nonkululeko had to examine their relationship as a couple and as parents critically. They had married when she was 17 and he was 22. Yet, as they progressed on their parenting journey, she noticed that he was behaving like a bachelor boy. Her initial response was to take over the financial and parenting leadership position; hence erecting boundaries at the home front. Eventually she had to divorce her husband after 16 years of marriage. She now took over the whole responsibility of raising their three children as a single parent. Commenting on the divorce, the writer avoids the blame game that many people play when a marriage fails. She admits that she had married for the wrong reason of assuming that she was in love. In addition, taking stock of the marriage, she realised that she had always been unhappy and there were no signs that the relationship would improve. Divorce was a very brave decision, considering that most of us African women remain in unhappy marriages for the sake of pleasing the society.

Divorce and business leadership

What is in a name? The English sages of old tell us that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” Our own African woman sage Nonkululeko Gobodo would beg to differ. After the divorce, she dropped the surname Filtane and went back to her maiden name Gobodo. Later, when her elder son Gcina dropped his surname Filtane and adopted the surname of Gobodo because he was raised by the Gobodo family, our sage took the opportunity to change her other two children’s surname to Gobodo. She tells us that she saw no sense in having two surnames in one family. Only a reader who cannot think outside the box would not agree with this analogy.

Being a professional, a leader and a public figure can often detract from one’s responsibility as a parent. Nonkululeko was careful not to let this happen. The way she has cared for her children and propelled them to success is commendable. We cannot afford to ignore her contribution to dismantling male chauvinistic practices that demeaned women. She went as far as getting her elder son to report to the parents of the girl he had made pregnant rather than waiting for them to come to his parents, as was the tradition.

It is refreshing to see a leader who is so philanthropic and patriotic that she can “lend” her name free of charge to an enterprise. When Nonkululeko left Gobodo Inc. to continue with her journey of self- discovery, she did not carry her name with her but left it to be used as a light to illuminate the company. Thanks to this altruistic gesture, she found it alive and ready to be steered into her envisioned medium-size black accounting firm when she came back 11 years later. It should be noted here that her absence gave her an opportunity to reflect further on what type of medium-size black accounting firm would contribute effectively to the rainbow nation that South Africa had now become. Subsequently under Nonkululeko Gobodo’s leadership, Gobodo Inc. became a role model of a true South African firm representing the rainbow nation.

Nonkululeko Gobodo’s AWAKENED TO MY TRUE SELF is an autobiography that should be read by everyone who is committed to addressing the issues that mitigate against the realisation of full potential at individual or society level.

By Ciarunji Chesaina 

Professor of Literature &

Second Ambassador of Kenya to the Republic of South Africa

 

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