Friends & Fiction: Victory over adversity offers us a ray of hope

Muzi Kuzwayo
Muzi Kuzwayo

Stutterheim is a small town past Queenstown on your way to East London.

I have driven through it many times, but its image refuses to stay in my mind, like that woman who tells you that she went to school with you, but you just can’t remember her – you know her friends and she knows yours, you remember all the events she describes, but you just can’t place her.

I remember the blandness of Berlin, the sleepiness of Frankfort and the spookiness of Komga, also a small town in the Eastern Cape I once stopped in to get a packet of sweets while Randy Crawford (“I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me”) played in my car.

Stutterheim may not be paradise, but it has produced a warm ray of light that shines through selected boardrooms around the country.

Her name is Nolitha Fakude. The name is Xhosa and means “ray of light”, and she has shed light on diversity and inclusion programmes in South African business.

Few people know what it means to be a change agent – to stand nose to nose on high heels against those who resist change.

We know from life that often the change agents are themselves altered by their experiences – they become blunt, like a knife that has chopped too many onions.

Change, they say, is inevitable, but growth is optional. You can choose to remain at the bottom, battered and dwarfed by the miseries of life, or you can choose to rise above it all, and become the ray that gives light to others.

Nolitha chose to grow.

I first met her more than 20 years ago, at a mass meeting of black white-collar workers in Cape Town.

The room was packed and noisy as everyone was trying to make sense of looming democracy and the role black executives were going to play.

It was Nolitha’s quiet assertiveness that drew a lot of us to her, and she was elected secretary of the Claremont branch of the Black Management Forum.

At a time when people with integrity have become an endangered species, and short cuts bring the most rewards, it feels good to see good things happen to good people.

People like Nolitha show us mere mortals that hard work never goes out of fashion.

She joined Woolworths straight from university as a graduate trainee manager, and worked as a buyer for 10 years. She moved to human resources, among other positions, where she dealt with developing people first-hand.

Her wit and wisdom were the secret wings that helped her fly through the knee-low glass ceiling that keeps black women in subjugation.

Johannesburg called, and she answered. She convinced her employer to second her and cover her salary as managing director of the Black Management Forum, which helped her formulate policies and strategies for the advancement of black executives.

She joined Sasol and it didn’t take long for her to be scrutinised, and the press splashed in the papers that she had earned more than R11 million in one year, as if she had stolen it, when in fact some of the executives had earned more than her by far.

She was not even among the top 50 executive earners in the country.

‘Grace’ is a word that is used a lot, but I suspect that it is little understood. Nolitha is a practical example of the meaning of grace. Now she has turned the page and left Sasol to start a new chapter in her life.

When we see people triumph over the obstacles of life, stand their ground and rebel against the dictates of fate, our lives become better because a ray of hope strikes through the gloom.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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