by Nadia Gamieldien

Lead the way in SA

Supporting high-impact leaders to transform SA's social fabric

Suzie Nkambule: President of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Association
Suzie Nkambule JPEG.jpg

In an exclusive interview with 24-year-old SuzieNkambule, we uncovered how she inspires youth to transcend their circumstances – however dire – by challenging the norms and understanding the different contexts and barriers in society in order to become the leaders South Africa desperately needs.

Nkambule is a qualified civil engineer and part of the executive management team of South Africa’s largest construction group. She is also the president of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Association.

What do you regard as the three biggest challenges young people face when entering the job market?

It depends on the industry, but the most common one is adapting to cultural dynamics. Other issues are the lack of well-structured graduate development programmes and having to deal with discriminatory practices in some industries, which mostly result in a much slower growth curve.

You wish to create awareness among South Africa’s youth, regarding the importance of education and the necessity of the ‘self-starter’ mindset – instead of adopting one of entitlement. Please explain how and why?

For the majority of our youth, structured learning is only available through the schooling system. It’s not news to anyone that our education system has its failures and this only makes the chances of ‘success’ for the average youth in our country very slim, but being a passive student only worsens your position. 

Building up assertive thinking should start there: taking an active part in your education, exploiting every resource available to learn. 

Assertive people are more likely to become entrepreneurs and industrialists … who are exactly what our region needs. If more of our youth moved away from the paradoxically comforting mentality of dependency and victimisation, we may have a better shot at turning our generation’s story around. It’s not easy, but there are more cases that prove it’s possible.


Today we have more people taking up mentorship roles than in the past. How can mentors aid South Africa’s development, and where are they most needed?

Having a mentor early in your career is great because this person embodies a version of what you are working toward; the mentor therefore ‘humanises’ the goal and brings a sense of feasibility to the idea, constantly renewing your commitment – just like a coach would to the team. 

What we don’t have in our country is free access to such mentors for every young person. We need more mentors in previously disadvantaged areas – not necessarily to just present motivational talks, but to allow aspiring young people to connect to positive thinking and access better role models.


How do you see your role as a mentor? 

To inspire and keep my mentee focused … Kids hear enough of why they can’t do, when we should be finding ways to keep the wonder and hope about life’s possibilities alive. So I try to connect early.

The start of high school is the best time. For most of us, that’s when we either make or break ourselves.

I provide guidance and information where required and a sense of realism where necessary. Understanding the circumstances of a mentee is the most important factor in determining the success of the collaboration. 


Why do you think South Africa is having such a difficult time in solving unemployment issues?

That problem is a little layered, but there are two main factors. We have an economy structured in a way that we have sizeable job creation in areas that require a high level set of requisite skills, mainly our services sectors. 

We don’t have job-creating growth in areas that could absorb our fast-growing unskilled masses. Those would be sectors in the primary and secondary stages, such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture, where we need more artisanal type requisite skills. Neither do we have enough good quality and easy access trade schools.

Why is it important for young people to be steadfast in their pursuit of success, and what do you regard as true success? 

Whatever your measure of success is, by design there will be a group of people who come along on the journey with you – be they family, friends or your whole community. 

For your success, a few lives will be better off. So if for no other reason than that, stay committed to the pursuit and work hard. There are many great things that come with success, such as respect, affluence, influence and potential to build a legacy. 

Africa has no hope without its young people stepping up and taking the lead – not an easy one to achieve when we seem to have so little of the influence at this point, but that will and must change.

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