Azola Nofemela

Completing a BCom information systems degree at UCT, allowed Azola Nofemela to merge her passions for computer science and business, giving her a well-rounded grounding. Now part of a graduate programme at Standard Bank, she credits Moshal with giving her many of the skills she needed to succeed. 

“I was raised by a single mother,” says Azola. “All my life, I knew that I wanted to go to university, but the problem was always funding.” Getting the Moshal scholarship during her first semester at UCT therefore gave her the support she needed to fulfil her dreams and eliminate the financial pressure her mother faced. “For me, that also meant I just had to focus on my work – I was able to have peace of mind knowing I didn’t have to stress about funds.” The emotional support Moshal provided was also invaluable. “For as long as you have the scholarship, you know you have support – you have people you can talk to anytime.”

“Even when my marks dropped in first year because of difficulties at home, Moshal understood and empathised with me,” adds Azola. They not only kept her in the program, they also provided continuous academic and emotional support. “That support meant I knew that I could always call someone for help.” When it came time to apply for honours and for jobs, Moshal was there too. “Before I’d go for interviews, my coordinator would talk me through what I should expect and what I could do to increase my chances of being employed. When I got offers, I sent my contracts to her to check.”

“Moshal’s overall support including workshops developing public speaking and presentation skills, are some of the things that have secured me jobs. Even now at work I’m able to converse with people, regardless of what position they hold in the company, because I’ve been equipped with the necessary skills to think for myself, to speak for myself, to help others where I can and to ask for help when I need it.”

Go-to person

For Azola, her mother has been her one constant even when they didn’t live together. “My early childhood was spent in the Eastern Cape and then when I was going to start grade 3, I moved to Cape Town and lived with my aunt,” she says. “Later on, I lived with my mom again. My biological father was never in the picture so when my mom got married, my stepdad became a father figure to me. My baby sister was born when I was 15. When I was in matric, my stepdad passed away. My mom was always my main person though – she was always my go-to person.”

Azola’s mom also wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s academic ambitions. “My mom is not educated like I am, but she managed to make ends meet for me to go to school. When I was about to start grade 7, I got a scholarship to go to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, which changed my whole outlook. It came about because of my dedication to education, as did Moshal.”

Azola says she always performed well academically and was picked for many opportunities as early as her primary school days, even extending to music and drama. “Since then, I knew I need to keep working hard, that school is where I need to keep focusing – it was bound to take me far. I’ve changed what I wanted to do throughout the years, but I always knew that for me, success would come from education.”

Bouncing back

In terms of the Moshal values, Azola most strongly identifies with perseverance. “The only thing that I feel carried me through the difficulties in my life was my ability to persevere. To understand that even when things weren’t going my way and they were hard, it wasn’t time to cry and hide. Yes, I’m feeling what I’m feeling but life needs to go on and my studies still need to happen. That’s why I think I was able to bounce back from how badly I did in first year and later in fact become the best information systems student in my year. Even when things are difficult, I find a way to make it work. I keep going and just never give up.”

Azola is committed to women’s empowerment, specifically within the IT industry. “A passion of mine is to create and use opportunities to talk to young girls before they start choosing their subjects so they can understand what I do and what opportunities there are in IT. Most people, especially in disadvantaged areas, think IT is coding but even if you don’t like coding, there’s a space for you. Some just see IT as a career for males but we really need more women in the space.”