Ndzondelelo Payi  

If life has elements of a game of chess, then Ndzondelelo ‘Ndzo’ Payi is making some seriously strategic moves.

One of the Port Elizabeth-born IT student’s earliest mentors, co-founder and executive director of the Masinyusane organisation, Jim McKeown, introduced Ndzo to the game of chess, which quickly became a passion.

Ndzo went on to win chess tournaments for his high school (Cowan High School in New Brighton), then represented Eastern Province three times. He now plays for the Nelson Mandela University chess team and has been on chess tours playing against other South African universities.

“Jim helped me so much throughout high school. When I joined his program, I received help with academics. I was doing badly at school. We were moving around and we had no money. I had no food. He helped me with school and at home, providing the basic things like food and clothing,” he says.

Ndzo’s mother died when he was five years old and he and his younger brother were raised by her brother and his girlfriend. After his uncle became unemployed, he moved the brothers around between townships, as he did not have a steady job. But Ndzo’s grandfather was skilled at fixing electronics such as microwaves and TVs, and he had passed those skills on to his family. This meant Ndzo’s uncle was able to earn some money doing electronic repairs.

When he was 16, he and his brother went to live with a kind neighbour who had offered to take them in. She was a teacher at a local school. “Landezwa became like a mother to me and my brother. I still stay with her now. When I go back home, it is to her home,” he says.

A leader in the making

Ndzo participates in NMU’s Beyond the Classroom (BtC), a voluntary self-development leadership program that introduces students to the requirements of leadership in a practical and creative manner. “I’m really enjoying learning to develop effective leadership skills like conflict resolution, communication, problem solving and decision making,” he says

“These days, most people only care about themselves. What I like about leadership is that it’s not about being self-centred and selfish, but it’s about taking responsibility for looking after yourself and others,” he adds.

Ndzo is currently studying towards a qualification in IT (Software Development) at NMU, after which he would like to gain work experience in an IT company. He loves the programming module of his course. “It’s practical and so when you do something, you get to see the results,” he says.

Life on campus has opened his mind to learning about different people from varying backgrounds and cultures and that this has changed his perception. “Learning about people has made me see beyond the stereotypes,” he says.

Ndzo says Jim McKeown is his biggest inspiration, leaving a successful career on Wall Street to found Masinyusane in Port Elizabeth, in order to support and uplift disadvantaged children with the opportunity to get an education, to develop their talents and to reach their potential in life.

Inspiring opportunities

Jim’s passion for caring for others has given Ndzo a strong desire to give back – and being a part of the Moshal community has enforced this. “Without Moshal, I would not have been able to attend university. So many of the kids where I come from end up doing drugs, getting involved in crime and living in a cycle of poverty, with no opportunities to improve their lives,” he says.

Although he didn’t grow up in a family environment, being part of the Moshal family has taught Ndzo how to be more accommodating, tolerant and supportive of others. He is greatly inspired by Martin Moshal, who he feels is “changing the world through changing people’s lives”. Ndzo says the Moshal values influence the way he leads his life and he is now focused on giving back. “I help my fellow classmates with their course work in areas that I’m doing well in, but they are struggling,” he says. He also volunteers at the rehab centre in his home town during the holidays.

Ndzo’s long-term goal is to uplift the community he grew up in. “I want to support my own community. I would like to open a learning academy in my community that will help school kids learn the skills they need to do well in life and to get into university. I’d like to make afternoon classes available, such as art lessons and driving lessons, and have different people teaching different types of skills,” he says.

Taking care of his younger brother keeps him motivated, especially during challenging times. “I want him to do well with his studies and to have the opportunity to go to university and do well in life,” he says.