”One day I want to be able to take my grandmother to a hotel like that, so she can experience what it is like to eat nicely and be served.”
When Kudzanai Shambambeva walked through the doors at KPMG in January 2016 it heralded his overcoming the toughest obstacle he has faced in his 25 years.
Zimbabwean-born Kudzi (as he is known) had completed a BCom, passed his first board exam and was scheduled to begin his articles early in 2015 when he was refused a work permit.
Only then did he find out the immigration laws had changed the previous year. “The Department of Labour had to investigate whether a suitable South African could take the job and if someone could, I supposedly had no chance,” he says.
Ironically, Kudzi was conceived in South Africa, while his Zimbabwean mother was working there. His late father was a South African, but things didn’t work out between the couple and his mother returned home to give birth.
She later married a soldier and they had a little girl. Life was fairly good until 1999, when his stepfather suffered brain damage in a car accident in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
His stay-at-home mother had to become the family breadwinner and got a job as a domestic worker in Botswana.
Kudzi, who was nine at the time, became responsible for looking after the family, especially his stepfather. He had to feed the family on the 100 pula a month his mother sent home, at a time when Zimbabwe’s economy was disintegrating.
“We queued for hours outside shops to get the few things on the shelves, which were way overpriced,” Kudzi says. He grew mielies to grind into meal, and other vegetables so they could eat.
“We weren’t unusual and the community all helped each other. When we didn’t have food we would ask a friend for help.”
Kudzi found his academic strengths were in maths and physical science and chose them for his A-levels.
In 2009 he went to live with his paternal grandmother, whom he had never met, in Soweto. They developed a close bond. “It was as if I had known her all my life. She is wonderful and has given me such moral support.”
She insisted the 17-year-old finish school. “I expected to go into matric but the headmaster insisted I would not pass isiZulu and then I would fail the year. This wasn’t true because I speak Ndebele, and it is similar, but I wasn’t going to argue.”
He was put into Grade 11. “There was a lot of violence in my school. It was not unheard of for someone to scale the school wall and come and stab someone in class. I was not used to this.”
Kudzi’s maths teacher saw his potential and sent him to the Kutlwanong weekend school set up by private business to help students strong in maths, science and accounting. He attended every weekend and was rewarded for his hard work and high marks. One reward was a holiday at a hotel in Durban – the only real holiday Kudzi has ever had. “One day I want to be able to take my grandmother to a hotel like that, so she can experience what it is like to eat nicely and be served,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye.
At Kutlwanong he was encouraged to do a BCom and the school tried to find him a sponsor. This shouldn’t have been too difficult considering that he passed matric with 100% for maths, 98% for physics, two other distinctions and the rest of his marks between 70% and 75%.
But student loans and most bursaries were only for South Africans.
Kudzi did phenomenally in his first year, finishing the year in the top 15% of the commerce faculty, with five As.
And his financial woes evaporated when he was brought to the attention of the Moshal Scholarship Program, which provides funding for tenacious students who cannot afford university studies. He moved into res from his second year and was able to concentrate on his studies until he graduated.
In a third-year financial accounting project sponsored by KPMG, Kudzi’s group’s work was so exceptional that the company offered all of them training contracts. “I was so pleased I wouldn’t have to worry about a job when my degree was finished.”
That wasn’t the case.
He was unable to do his articles until he got a work permit and he couldn’t sit his second board exam, to qualify as a CA, because he was required to have done 20 months of training at a company accredited by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.
KPMG applied and motivated for a waiver of the legal requirement that was blocking him getting a work permit. “I am so grateful to them. The other non-South African-born students in my class have had their contracts cancelled outright.”
For a year Kudzi did odd jobs to sustain himself. During that time he wrote to the minister of home affairs telling him that his South Africa-specific degree was effectively useless in any other country but he was being prevented from contributing in South Africa.
He asked for a review of the new laws.
Whether or not his letter made a difference, Kudzi’s waiver was eventually granted. On 17 December 2015 he was following up on his work permit when Home Affairs told him they would issue it there and then.
“I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to start work in January.” And now, Kudzi is working hard and loving every moment of living his dream.