IT is a long way from the classrooms of Khwezi Lomso High School in Port Elizabeth to the judge’s bench in the High Court of the Western Cape, but acting justice Nolwazi Boqwana believes a lot more young women can make the same journey – and go further.
“Perhaps there are things you have been told you couldn’t do because of where you come from. But you can. Break through the glass ceiling,” the legal dynamo told her audience at Nangoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton on Saturday night.
Judge-in-waiting Boqwana was visiting Port Elizabeth as the keynote speaker at Beyond the Balance Sheet women’s awards dinner. The Judicial Service Commission interviewed Boqwana and three other women for a vacancy on the Western Cape High Court bench last month, with Boqwana the recommended candidate. Now she is waiting for President Jacob Zuma to confirm in writing her new position.
“I was just here in my little corner in Port Elizabeth but I was found. You don’t need to bribe or manipulate anyone or twist arms – your purpose will find you,” she said.
“You can be a Port Elizabeth girl, a Peddie person, from wherever or whatever family, but God anoints you for a specific purpose.
“I am proud to be from the Eastern Cape. The last time I was in Cape Town, they described me as a lawyer from Gauteng but I am not, I am from the Eastern Cape,” she said.
Her diverse work experience over more than 10 years includes private and public service, with a spell as an acting judge of the Labour Court of South Africa and positions on a number of boards as a trustee. Before this most recent accolade she was director at Thipa Incorporated Attorneys in Johannesburg.
However, despite her high profile career, Boqwana took part in Vision4 Women’s Grade 12 mentorship programme last year – its pilot year – and is passionate about developing young talent.
Humansdorp born, Boqwana grew up in Adelaide before attending Khwezi Lomso in Zwide.
“I wanted to be a lawyer and we didn’t have the money but I did it anyway,” she related. Her father’s employers lent him R5 000 “which is nothing if you know the cost of tertiary education”.
She applied for bursaries and was repeatedly ignored or given rejection letters. She even applied to the United Nations, but never heard back from the international body.
“I went through this first year not knowing where the money would come from.”
Undeterred, she worked hard at her studies and then – when she went to the fees office to let them know about her financial predicament – was told “no, you do not owe us anything”.
The UN had paid for her fees in full, “and they didn’t answer me for the whole year!”
“I am sharing this for you to believe, if you take a leap of faith, it will follow. When what is happening in your life is craziness, behind the scenes it can be fruitful, and it is orchestrated, it does not happen by chance.”
She also warned her audience, however, not to neglect the basics: “Don’t wait for the government to help you. Some people are more successful because they wake up earlier than others, they work later than others to perfect their skills.”