Belardina Zunguza graduated from the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) with a BCom Economics degree two days before her 23rd birthday. She remembers feeling tired and her feet aching thanks to the high shoes she was wearing for the occasion.
But when her name was announced the pain in her feet instantly disappeared. Smiling as she strutted across the hall, she realised how fortunate she was to be walking, in that precise moment, to collect the degree she had worked so hard for.
Belardina attended school near Rustenburg in the North West province, first at St Michael’s Primary School and then St Gerard Majela Middle School, from grades 7 to 9. They were both Catholic public schools and shared a fence.
“I was fortunate to have lived on the primary school premises with my family as the caretakers, so I could not miss a day of school. Luckily for me, I loved going to school so it was never a problem,” says Belardina.
She was initially indecisive about which career she would eventually pursue after school. She wanted to be a dentist one day, a lawyer the next, and an accountant on yet another. When she was eventually introduced to accounting and didn’t take to the subject, she knew she could cross one possible profession off her shortlist.
In Grade 10, Belardina was awarded an academic scholarship to attend a private school, Lebone II – College of the Royal Bafokeng in Phokeng, North West. She says the subjects she chose once there – drama, life sciences and physical sciences – reflected her uncertainty about what she wanted to do. But when Belardina got to Grade 11 she took geography as an extra subject. “That is when I realised that I wanted to study something in the social sciences that still had a scientific and quantitative aspect to it,” says Belardina, “and so the idea of studying economics was born.”
Hailing from Kanana, outside Rustenburg, Belardina was already set to go to North West University when she found out that she had been awarded a Moshal Scholarship to study economics at Wits, in Johannesburg.
“My whole family was elated. Everyone came together to get me to Wits as soon as possible to make sure that I did not miss the registration date,” she says.
It took Belardina time to adjust to being alone in a new city as a university student. “For a while, it was a very lonely place to be,” she explains. In an attempt to curb her loneliness, Belardina joined the choir in her first year at Wits. “It enabled me to make great friends and have a community that felt like a second family,” she says.
Up until the end of Belardina’s honours year at Wits, she was still unsure about the career path she should take. “I wanted to be in corporate but in a space where I could touch as many lives as possible,” she says. She decided that the fast-moving consumable goods industry, which deals with the everyday products that consumers buy from retailers, would allow her to do this.
And so it was that before Belardina graduated with her honours degree in 2017 she had found work in customer development at Unilever South Africa. She says she owes this success to her team of mentors, one of whom is Mayleen Kyster, the founder of Africa Steel Holdings, whom she met through the Moshal program’s mentorship initiative. Throughout high school and university Belardina had assembled groups around her to give her guidance along the way. “I use a rule that a mentor made me aware of, which is that at any given point in my life, I should be able to count at least five mentors,” she says.
While Belardina is still in training at Unilever, which involves a month-long stint in retail, she will soon start strategic work. She intends to maximise the opportunities she is given by the company -- which sees social impact as an integral part of how it does business -- to make a positive impact on the lives of girls. In the future, she would like to use all the skills and experience she accumulates to start her own consultancy.
Belardina believes her eagerness to seize all the opportunities that come her way is what has made her stand out from her peers. “Whenever there was something new that could contribute to me being a more holistic person, my hand was always up,” she says. “I would like to believe that I am still that way today.”