NELSON Mandela Metropolitan University students and staff members were treated to a “Women in IT” breakfast last week, a celebratory event where one of South Africa’s movers and shakers in Information Technology (IT) Dr Sibongiseni Tunzelana encouraged women to stay true to their dreams.
A DJ, vocalist, computer programmer, award-winning social entrepreneur, University of Cape Town (UCT) PhD graduate in computer science, founder and managing member of FlavaLite Innovations and LoveOlution, among others, at only 35 years old, Tunzelana has so many titles to her name and so prefers to be called “Simply Sybz”.
Tunzelana is described by her friends as “truthful, faithful, generous and grateful”, and with her witty personality she kept the women captivated and “alive” during the talk. Despite its title, the function was not only limited to IT specialists.
Born in rural Umkhangiso, a village in Mount Coke, in the King William’s Town region of the Eastern Cape, she said she had stumbled upon IT in protest against studying medicine.
“You know how everyone who comes from a rural area wants to become a doctor, but I didn’t want to be one. I wanted to take a gap year but my strict mother would not hear of it and she forced me to apply to every university in the country. I was accepted at Tshwane University of Technology (then Pretoria Technikon) and UCT for medicine. So IT was the easier way out, I had thought,” she said.
Needless to say, programming gave her the biggest surprise of her life.
“You miss just a semicolon in programming – you have made a mistake and all is ruined. So I worked extra hard and asked people who were getting better marks to help me. I tried to always be as close as possible to a 100%.
“For my 21st birthday, instead of having a party, I asked my mother to buy me a computer, so I could practise more.”
As Tunzelana’s interest in and love for IT grew, her break came when the Technikon gave her a chance to do her in-service training in Holland, an opportunity which helped her to realise that life was limitless.
“I reviewed and revised my dreams. I started to create my own vision boards, learning more languages, became more determined and learnt that with the help of people and coaches in life you can be anything you want to be,” she said.
“I realised it is possible to enjoy all the various options that are there – you can go to Hanover and Euro Disney. You can go everywhere. Don’t limit yourself by choosing one; you can enjoy all the experiences life has to offer.”
Hanover – one of Germany’s largest cities – and Euro Disney – located in the centre of Paris – are two of the most visited attractions in Europe.
“Be true to your dreams! Your biggest competition is yourself, so create your own story board and listen to your own sound … your own heart. Your actions must be aligned to whatever you want to do so that you’re the best of who you are. Create options for yourself by setting yourself apart from the rest; always aim to add value.”
The Cape Town-based businesswoman also advised women to join credible bodies within their fields and get award-winning mentors to guide and help nurture their careers. “I subscribe to a lot of women and tech groups. I go to conferences aligned to my field. Don’t shy away from criticism – it is never personal.”
As a young black woman in an industry dominated by white older men, she said: “I have been subjected to a lot of challenges, being doubted if I can actually do the job – people don’t expect much of you. If you’re an academic they think you can’t implement.”
Time was also a factor. “I am not married and have no children yet because I found that all the things I had set out to achieve required all of me and, being a Xhosa woman, to marry too soon would come with certain expectations.” – Balisa Ntloko