Suzie Nkambule was born in a small township in Matsulu, Mpumalanga – the sixth child in a family of seven. It was in Matsulu that Suzie competed her schooling. Suzie’s mother was a kitchen matron at a local prison and her father was foreman at a fabrication family. Although Suzie’s immediate environment could hardly be described as privileged, Suzie enjoyed her childhood and especially Christmas time spent at home together with her family.
Suzie discovered an innate talent for public speaking at an early age. At the age of eleven years –one of the youngest grade six learners in her school – Suzie delivered her first speech in front of the entire school. She recalls being extremely nervous and that her eyes were downcast for most of the presentation, but attributes that speech as the beginning of her journey as a keynote speaker. Suzie went on to win numerous debates and public speaking competitions throughout her high school career. These accolades were significant to her as they asserted the fact that where she came from had little bearing on what she was able to achieve. Today Suzie is renowned as an inspiring and passionate motivational speaker at events all over South Africa.
Although Suzie excelled in her schooling, university was considered a luxury that her family could ill afford and she decided to apply for Fellowship at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. The values of the Foundation resonated with Suzie, as she found the ideology to be unique from any institution she had previously investigated in her quest to obtain the funding necessary to complete her degree. Suzie realised early on in her life that she wanted to be a Civil Engineer; to build and transform cities, transport networks and iconic structures. However, the nature of the questions asked in the application process reminded her of the passions she had prior to burying herself in engineering, and she was thus connected to the Foundation through the discovery of shared beliefs and values.
Suzie’s parents died during her first year in the Fellowship; a terrible and trying time for her. However, she believes that undergoing this ordeal strengthened her and she attributes her unflappable nature and ability to make decisions under extreme pressure to this challenging period.
Suzie completed her degree at Wits University and today – at the age of 24 – is a civil engineer and part of the executive management team for one of the leading construction and engineering groups in South Africa. Suzie is understandably proud of her achievements: “I wanted to be an engineer, entrepreneur, business analyst and a change agent. I have the privilege to be all this in my daily life; my roles at work, within the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, as a mentor and mentee have created a unique setting where I get to wear all those hats every day. It wasn’t easy to create – nor is it easy to sustain – but I am proud of my accomplishments and have never happier.”
Suzie’s long term goal is to make a significant impact on Southern Africa’s ability to localise the mega manufacturing industry, which will assist in solving employment issues, as well as improve access to technology and education.