Siyabonga from Kwa-Mashu bags a Cum-Laude for his Mathematical Statistics degree

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Siyabonga Mbonambi was born and bred in Kwa-Mashu in Durban. He is the last born of 5 children and was raised by his mother. He holds a Bcom in Economics & Statistics and a Bcom Honours Mathematical Statistics degree both achieved with Cum Laude from the department of Statistics at Nelson Mandela University (NMU). He has been recognised by Allan Gray during the year 2015 and 2016 for being amongst the top 20% in his undergraduate faculty at NMU . Currently he is working within the Retail and Business Bank space at one of the top financial institutions in Johannesburg.  Read more about Siya’s journey through university and get some motivation for your exam preparations below:

Siyabonga Mbonambi graduating at Nelson Mandela University

  1. What does education mean to you?

Education to me is a journey, an unending process which does not only entail the acquisition of knowledge but also the acquisition of skills, values, beliefs, behaviour and the meaning of being alive. Education does not mean school. Education is a mental muscle trainer which is obtained correctly, can assist in one’s daily life and enable one to think holistically rather than one ‘dimensionally’. Education is about critical thinking and encouraging our minds to take something that is being said and to look at it in a different way.

  1. Why did you choose to go into Statistics?

It’s the recognition of my strengths, I believe that I am numerically strong and I enjoy solving problems involving numbers. I enjoyed mathematics and accounting more than other subjects in high school. Another reason which made me choose Statistics was because I wanted to take the “road not taken”. At the time, when I was in high school I did not know anyone that took Mathematics as a career choice and so I wanted to take that route. 

     3.  Seeing that you chose the right course of study for you, do you think it’s possible for someone to be in the wrong field of study?

Yes, the ability of being able to study and finish a course does not necessarily reflect that it is where you should be and that it is what you should have done. I think a metric which could be used to evaluate this is to ask yourself this question – in the absence of monetary benefits of the chosen field of study, would you still pursue it? Some people are studying their family’s chosen course and not theirs. Finding out what it is that you want to study (if you want to study) has to do a lot with finding yourself and answering the question of who am I.

     4. What would you say to that person who is experiencing depressing thoughts because they feel they are in the wrong field of study bearing in mind exams are around the corner? How would you motivate them?

My honest advice if someone feels as if they have taken the wrong course would be to initially stick it out, do not make extreme decisions driven by emotions. It is already towards the end of the semester, hold on to the pressure and go write and pass those exams. During the December vacation, introspect, seek advice from those who have walked in the phase of being at University/College and someone that understands the pressure that the course comes with. You are where you are in your life at this moment for a reason – keep a positive mind-set, it is okay to feel like you have had enough of the course that you do not enjoy. I would advise that the ability of being able to change your perspective (how you view the course) might change the feeling you might have currently. Sometimes you think you hate the course whereas really you hate going to class or don’t like the lecturing style of a certain lecturer- learn to distinguish between those. Seek counselling. You have started already, it’s almost over, hold on. If you enjoy the course and it has been what you have always wanted to do but you are currently failing, do not change. Failure is part of life, it is how we learn from failure that adds value in us growing and making it through life. Life is not a smooth ride. If today was very difficult for you to study, it is okay. Rest, go to bed. Try again, with a positive attitude of “I am going to make it tomorrow”.

       5. There is no smooth academic journey, what are some of the obstacles that you’ve had to overcome? How did you overcome them?

One of the major obstacles which I have had to overcome was to shy away from people who were always complaining about how difficult the course was. That energy was killing my drive. I started associating more with positive friends who were like minded and wanted the same things. I watched motivational videos online to help me keep and maintain focus. In my 1st and 2nd year, food was a major concern, it altered my ability of wanting to study. Fortunately enough for me, my friends were also going through the same and so the gathering of funds as a group really did help us because it meant that we could get an increased amount of food and an improved quality as well. I got to university thinking that I was the big shot, I am smart, because of this, this hindered me in asking for help from either peers or lecturers, which hit me really hard when I would not understand a certain concept. I had a pride issue and I realised that after failing my first semester test in a course that I thought I knew. From there I realised that I cannot do this on my own, I need help and hence the formation of various study groups which really improved my academic performance.

      6. Has your upbringing affected your academic journey in anyway? If you feel it limited you in anyway, how did you move past those boundaries?

My background has been the one sole motivator of where I am today. Coming from a location, like many other locations, characterised by teenage drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, heavy levels of crimes made me fight really hard in getting out of such an environment. My neighbourhood does not have many role models that progressed and became successful in life through by taking the academic route and for me that fueled me. I wanted to change the status quo and inspire the younger guys coming after me to show them that a career choice in a mathematically inclined field is possible.   My struggles growing up in Kwa-Mashu became motivation for me to pursue a better life, a greater life and an improved standard of living for my family and I.


We thank Siyabonga for taking time to talk to us and we wish all the students the best during this exam season. You are more than capable. Breath in and out, take it one day at a time. Share this article and follow us for more motivation on our social media platforms. 

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