Inspiration Session: Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu Chancellor of the University of Pretoria

At our recent Inspiration Session, we heard from Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, Chancellor of the University of Pretoria and former Chairman of Rothschild SA, amongst many other achievements. The session, hosted by Allan Gray, afforded Professor Nkuhlu an opportunity to share some interesting insights with us about his personal journey, as well as the importance of living a life of purpose:

Take inspiration from global events: In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the ambitious goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. Whilst this dream seemed foolish to many, it was realised in 1969 when the first man landed on the moon. Professor Nkuhlu, a teen at the time, was extremely fascinated by this, saying that it represented not only incredible advances in technology but that it served as a symbol for unlimited human achievement. He encouraged us to be inspired by global events, and not to become insulated in our thinking.

Dreams serve as beacons on your journey through life: Professor Nkuhlu reminded us of the importance of dreaming big. Born into a society of repression and marginalisation of black South Africans, Professor Nkuhlu could not have lived through a more difficult time. Having been detained for his political beliefs during his school years, he started his career as an ex-convict, without a matric certificate. However, driven by an unshakeable desire to make a positive difference, and with the dream of eventually becoming Africa’s chief economist, his dreams propelled him through valleys and over mountains and eventually saw him become the first black African to qualify as a chartered accountant (CA) in South Africa.

Take ownership and responsibility for your life: Professor Nkuhlu was 19 years old when he was imprisoned by the apartheid government and sent to Robben Island. He knew that upon his release from prison, and with two younger siblings, his parents would not be able to finance his education. With dreams of becoming the chief economist for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Professor Nkuhlu found a job at Lorraine gold-mine as a kitchen clerk and obtained his matric certificate through correspondence. Professor Nkuhlu believes that taking ownership and responsibility for his own journey was key to his eventual success.

Be proud of who you are: Professor Nkuhlu urged young professionals to be proud of themselves and to be proudly African. He said that we should let our detractors serve as our motivation and inspiration, and he encouraged us not to allow others to impose their limitations on us. Never motivated by salary and personal benefit, Professor Nkuhlu shared with us that he was always driven by an intense desire to effect positive change and make a difference beyond his own life.

Make time for honest self-reflection: “What motivates you? Where do you want to go? Where are you now and have you strayed from your chosen path?” A firm believer in the value of self-reflection, Professor Nkuhlu said that a very important part of personal growth and development is taking the time to look inward. When you don’t have clarity about your life’s path, it is easy to get distracted and confused. Professor Nkuhlu believes that clarity of ambition allows for strong choices, discipline, and most importantly, holding oneself responsible.

In closing, Professor Nkuhlu said that we need to tackle mediocrity and embrace excellence, prioritising science and technology in order to close the gap between Africa and other countries.

The evening ended with a lively discussion amongst the young professionals who were inspired by Professor Nkuhlu’s personal journey and the insights he shared. We are looking forward to our next Inspiration Session in Q4 – please continue to visit our website for further details around our guest speaker.

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