LTM: “How would you describe yourself as a millennial?”

XM: “As a millennial I would love to describe myself as a person who is open-minded, who is willing to learn, acquire knowledge and information from other people and life experiences. As a young person in South Africa, I am conscious about the influences that surround me such as the environment, cultures and diversity (of South Africa, Africa, and globally at large). I get inspired and motivated when I see other people become successful in life and I’m always willing to help other people to achieve their goals. I enjoy being part activities and organizations that grow me to be a better leader and a good follower to those who lead me. I enjoy working with people who are driven to prosperity, who choose to not give up until they achieve what they believe in and have envisioned.

As a millennial I am moved by the issues and challenges we face in Africa. As an African, I strongly believe in our capabilities, humanity and in our resources. I am determined to do everything that I can to help develop my community and other communities in South Africa and Africa in particular. I am an advocate for Strategic Development Goals (SDG’s) with a dedicated focus on quality education. I certainly believe in education and Its ability to address issues and challenges that we face in Africa and only if we transform the education system itself. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) distracting every industry, I am surely interested in how the new technologies can be utilized to help develop people’s lives, such as developing health care and job creation in Africa.

I always believe that anything is possible as long as we put our minds to it and the effort (the hours) that is required to achieve the objective(s) in mind. With the unlimited amount of information available today, I strongly believe that an individual can be anything in life given that, that individual adopts the culture of learning and working unitedly so with others to achieve individual goals, which are part of a bigger and common shared vision.

LTM: “How would you describe your journey from start to end of your academics?”

XM: The best way for me to describe my academical journey is to share some of the moments that I’ve faced both good and bad. My academic journey began in high school (Fumana Comprehensive School) when I was completing my grade 11 in 2011. I failed this grade in a very disappointing way. I got four level 1’s (0-29%), two level 2’s and one level 3. Amongst the modules I failed with level 1 was Life Orientation and Home Language (and these are the subjects that almost everyone in South Africa in high school always do well/pass). This failure led me to self-introspect, leading me to figure out what I needed to change to get a better outcome in my life. I had to question my position in life so as to discover if the current direction I was moving in was the right one for the future I envisioned for myself.

Regardless of the challenges I faced in high school I advanced to Grade 12 (Matric) in 2013. This was the year I began to take my studies severely seriously and worked harder and smarter on my schoolwork. My grades improved, resulting in me being award for outstanding performance in Mathematical Literacy in Grade 12. I always enjoyed Life Sciences classes, this was my favorite subject, and little did I know that my love for this subject will transform me in the future.

I passed my matric with a bachelor’s degree but unfortunately, was unable to further my studies or even work because of issues with my Identity Document (ID). I was forced to take a gap year until I fixed my ID problem. During this year I was forced to find something to do because I didn’t want to stay home doing nothing. A friend of mine then asked me to tutor him Life Sciences and by the end of the year (2014) the tutorial program grew to over 250 students in more than ten high schools. I ended up resolving my ID problem and enrolled in a National Diploma in Management Services under the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) in 2015 at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)

I went to the University with only the registration fee and no funds for residence, tuition and books even fees to look after myself but fortunately through God’s mercy I was awarded a bursary by Wholesale & Retail SETA (W&R SETA). Settling in to the University was not easy at all, but I managed to survive and do well in my studies. I was awarded a certificate indicating that I was 2015’s First Year Top Achiever at UJ.

With the road to completing my first year being smooth, my second year was bumpier as during the first six months (2nd Year) I did not have funding, and this was a challenge because my parents and siblings were all unemployed and couldn’t have supported me financially. I had to decide if whether I would drop out of school or stay in school. With the only way of staying in school being surviving under harsh circumstances, which meant having the lecture halls at UJ DFC campus being where I would lay my head to rest every night on the floor with no blankets and having  two meals a day from gift of givers an NGO created to feed students who were without. With all these challenges I was pleased to achieve my academic goals and I was awarded by the Dean of FEBE for being a Top Academic Achiever in the Faculty of Engineering. In the same year for the first time I was invited and awarded as a member of Ujenius Club. Ujenius Club is a society that only recognizes the top 1% academic excelling students at UJ.

My academic performance remained excellent through to my final year and I graduated top of my class with suma cum laude. with the most rewarding event being appointed as a tutor for Cost and Estimating Accounting in the same year. This was a wonderful experience since tutoring, mentoring and educating others are part of the things that bring me peace. As a tutor for this module I was awarded best tutor for the year 2018. I then enrolled for B-Tech in Quality at UJ in 2018 and I completed this qualification with Distinction. In 2019 I was selected to participate as an exchange student in the United States of America, Appalachian State University where I completed an MBA in Supply Chain Management. Currently I am completing my first Masters in Operations Management at UJ

LTM: “What kind of lessons did you learn from your academic journey?”

XM: Throughout my studies I have learnt that patience is a necessity. In many cases we always want to reach certain thresholds in a specific time frame which is not always the result. There will always be challenges that will shake our journeys to progress. Education taught me that, it is a tool I can utilize to transform my entire life. That giving up on such an informative tool would be wasting my sponge like brain. There were times where I would fail term test’s, but I made sure I bounced back up and did better, because the only way I was willing to move was forward. I learnt that focus is forward and forward is focus, it didn’t and shouldn’t matter how you get there, just as long as you get there.

Through academics I got to understand the importance of time and how to manage my time effectively. I got to realize that any hard work or work in general can be measured in terms of time. This is the reason why for me when I say a person is a hard worker that means the person invest more time on his/her craft. School taught me that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from because at the end of the day, we all have 24 hours and the difference in us is how we spend these hours.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my journey is the importance of the people we surround ourselves with. One of the contributing factors for me to fail my grade 11 was due to the company that I was keeping at the time. When I started to study at UJ I ensured that I surrounded myself with people who were really working hard towards achieving and completing their academic responsibilities. However, I also realized that in order for me to be surround by people who would add value and aid me in personal growth, self-introspection and full and complete acknowledgement of my purpose was required. Failure to do so would have caused me to be surrounded by the wrong people at the wrong time.

LTM: “What motivated you to pursue your academic interests in Engineering?”

XM: I actually grew very interested in computer sciences.  When I initially applied at UJ I wanted to study computer sciences and informatics or information technology. And was not admitted for both my first and second choice, therefore I had to do a late application for any available programs that I qualify for. This led me to a National Diploma in Management Services offered in the Department of Quality and Operations Management under the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at UJ.

At first, I told myself that I would change this course the following year, but ended up enjoying it and realized the importance of this program for any business or organization. Through Management Service I was introduced to organizational management and leadership. I relished doing this program because it educated the need for understanding any business processes, identifying problems and developing corrective actions that would aid the business/organization to improve its productivity, profitability, efficiency and effectiveness. Just like my former lecturer Ms. Takalani Nemarumane used to say, “Management Services Practitioners are the Doctors of Organizations”).

LTM: “What kind of impact would you like to have within the engineering industry globally?”

XM: Firstly, as a South African I would like to be involved in transforming the policies used in the Engineering and Built Environment to support and promote young black entrepreneurs in engineering more especially in the built environment sector such as the construction industry. Many small businesses in engineering tend to lose out business mainly because the currently used policies do not fully focus on involving young black engineering professionals in entrepreneurship as key players in our economy. It is mostly those big established companies that get tenders and contracts to execute most projects in the Built Environment.

As an African and as a young engineer I would be pleased to participate or come up with programs and projects that will raise more awareness and call for African leaders to start investing greatly on improving education and health facilities in Africa. Through strong investments in education as Africans we will be able to conduct research that focuses on efficient ways for Africans to extract African resources and minerals. With strong investments in education in Africa we can develop the most effective and advance technologies that will ensure that African resources are processed and converted into final products that are proudly made in Africa. As an African I would be excited to bring together African expert engineers who will focus on how to ensure that Africans work together for the betterment of our people.

LTM: “What gives you drive in giving your time in being a Golden Key mentor?”

XM: Being a Golden Key member has always been my dream before I became a student at UJ. I knew about Golden Key while I was doing Grade 12 through the former SRC president from my high school who went to study at the University of Pretoria and he became a Golden Key member. I did my research about the organization and from that point I wanted to be a member of this honorary society.

Golden Key is the largest international honour society that focuses on unlocking the potential of its members through academics, leadership and community service. In 2018 I was identified amongst the top 15% students in the University of Johannesburg. during the awards ceremony I got informed that if I had any interests in being part of the executive committee  of Golden Key UJ I had to participate in interviews of which I did, which led to me being appointed as the Campus and Community Outreach Director for the chapter for the year 2019. Later in 2019 I was appointed as the Co-Vice President for the year 2020.

Being in Golden allows me to be active in the university and it also allows be to develop my leadership skills. Through Golden Key I have created a powerful network with other members where we always support each other in terms of our academics and other leadership issues. One of the greatest things that gives me the courage to remain active as a Golden Key member is the fact that Golden Key is a lifetime membership filled with endless opportunities both nationally and globally. I enjoy working with people and serving communities. Golden Key with a network of over 400 chapter and more than two million members worldwide gives me the platform to continue following my passion anywhere throughout the world.

LTM: “What kind of hope would you like to bring to your family and community as a black man?”

XM: “As a black man and the older brother to my siblings, I want them to see me as a good example of unquestionable character and sheer will to accomplish any trial bestowed upon me. I want them to clearly see the garrison in me to defend their futures and my own. I want my siblings to draw inspiration from my story which is very near and also dear to them. Through me I want all individuals who come into contact with me to be impacted positively by me whether it be financially, emotionally or mentally. I want them to always be encouraged to work hard with the knowledge that all things are possible, and that if they can be thought of in our minds and seen through our intelligent eyes then they can become reality.

Growing up in a very poor community impacted by  high unemployment which mostly affecting young people in South Africa, With the vision to renew hope in my community I and a young lady by the name of Gontse Dikobe introduced a nonprofit organization recently that aims at rectifying the wrongs that are being implanted in the minds of our community members. We want to help equip young and old members of the community with the correct information that would lead into them taking charge of their own lives through education and health. The name of the NGO is South African Renewers of Hope (SARH).

SA Renewers of Hope is a vision driven Non-Profit Organization which focuses on enhancing the lives of underprivileged communities through its seven pillars of success. The mission of this society is to improve the lives of Africans both socially and professionally through community development, education, health care, mentoring and coaching, entrepreneurship, and motivational speaking. The Organization is mission and vision driven, value obsessed, and demographics driven. SARH aims at achieving its goals by effectively collaborating with universities and colleges, public and private companies, NGO’s and profit-making entities, government, hospitals and other health centers throughout the globe.

LTM: “What do you appreciate about being a black man?”

XM: As a black African man, I appreciate our cultures, traditions and diversity of life. In the center of being an African black man, I appreciate our sense of humanity (Ubuntu) and brotherhood. Irrespective of our diversity, as a black man in South Africa I appreciate the fact that I am a product of all the different cultures and tribes. Because I was born a black male child, I receive the opportunity immediately to learn, understand and overall speak 9 official languages of South Africa, which gives me the advantage to communicate with people from diverse tribes or traditions.

Above it all I have embraced and clothed myself with Black Consciousness. I am a proud black man and I am unapologetic about being an African. Unlike our ancestors, my skin color does not make me feel any inferior or oppressed by any form of racism or segregation. I strongly believe that I have the same opportunities as a white man. I am proud of being born in adversity, I believe that adversity is the best way to prove how worthy you are of success and that being born with inherited privileges only limits your true potential. I am very proud that Africans in general never initiated evil acts such as slavery and apartheid which was championed by whites in order to oppress others and positioning while whites race as “superior”.  As a black man I’m very proud to be from Africa, the richest continent on earth.

LTM: “What kind of positive message would you like to give to fellow black men who may feel alienated by either personal or professional issues.”

XM: Violence has never been a solution to any nation’s problems. I would like to call upon every black man to stop resolving personal issues through the act of violence against women and children. As younger and older black men, we should care for, protect and invest in our women and children. We should refrain from man on man violence with the excuse of trying to put a plate of food on the table. As men we should not be intimidated by our women and should allow them to flourish because they have proven to have the same capabilities to accomplish the same amount of work any man can accomplish.

It is important that as black men we must equip ourselves with relevant skills and expertise that are essential to cope with 4IR and exploiting the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution. It is important for us black man to be part of the future of work. Failure to do so will lead to increased unemployment and poverty in our communities. It is our responsibility (including women) to always go back to our underdeveloped communities and give back in order to uplift other fellow black people.

The government can only do so much in order to help develop our communities with the current challenges that we are facing. The answer and the solution to high unemployment In South Africa is entrepreneurship. It is about time we build our own empires (businesses) that support each other instead of competing and dragging each other. We can learn more from how the Indian society support one another in terms of business and sharing wealth. With us (Blacks) being the majority in South Africa we have the opportunity to join forces and ensure that we are in charge and have equal share of our country’s riches and economy.

LTM: “Your social media handles?”

Instagram     : xolani_mzileni

LinkedIn        : xolani mzileni

Facebook      : xolani mzileni

Twitter            : xolani__mzileni