Being the first of anything may always feel like an honor but there is a different sort of pressure that comes with that label. Just ask Nonkululeko Gobodo, who in 1987, became the first black female chartered accountant in South Africa.
“So, when I completed my studies, I was really protesting,” Gobodo tells FORBES AFRICA. “I was saying, no, I did this for myself, I don’t need all this attention. I’m a shy girl from the Transkei, please just leave me alone.”
But it was a journalist from the national public broadcaster SABC who allowed her to come to terms with all this attention and allowed her to “awaken” to her full potential.
“He told me that it’s not about me and that I am a role model to other women, to young children. And, and then I realized from that time that I have to succeed not just for myself, now I have to succeed for all these people who are now looking up to me,” Gobodo says.
From the racism and sexism that came from becoming a chartered accountant in the 1980s, to the myriad complexities that came with building one of the country’s biggest accounting firms, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, now known as SNG Grant Thornton, Gobodo now highlights all her trials, tribulations and triumphs in her new autobiography, Awakened … To My True Self.
“Being a black woman gave me purpose,” she explains. “I made it my life’s mission to prove to myself and others that there was nothing I could not do or be. There is a need to strive towards a more just and equitable society and the reality is that we are all different personality types and each one of us comes with our own traits and strengths. When we make an effort to understand each other instead of categorizing people into stereotypes we will see more collaboration and creativity in the world.”
Gobodo believes this story is long overdue as you get to know what the “cost of firsts is, the challenges of being a pioneer, finding one’s purpose and doing whatever it takes to bring it fruition”.
“Because I grew up in Mthatha, and at that time was sort of independent, and we didn’t have the [same] harsh conditions that the rest of South Africa had at the time,” Gobodo explains “so when I was growing up, I was very naive about this whole issue of racism, or sexism, or believing that I won’t be able to make it in life because I’m a black woman, it’s something that never occurred to me when I was growing up. Because my parents were in business, and my mother was an equal partner with my father in the business,” says Gobodo.
“The whole theme of the book is around my journey of ups and downs, making mistakes, dealing with my mental illness and how I overcame that. And, how I dealt with sexism and racism in my life by refusing to accept those people’s opinions around me.”
For Gobodo, when it comes to oppression, the main reason people are oppressed is because of lack of knowledge and a belief that they are bound by oppressive systems of the world, be it politics, economic systems, religion, or by other people who may seem to have more power.
“But my theme in the book is that black people and women have to awaken to who they truly are, because they are not defined by the myths that have been said about them in society.”
Gobodo featured on the cover of the August 2019 issue of FORBES AFRICA.