“Never Forget Why You Started” – Nomfundo Sinethemba Mzimela

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“Never Forget Why You Started” – Nomfundo Sinethemba Mzimela

“Never Forget Why You Started” – Nomfundo Sinethemba Mzimela

No two postgraduates’ academic journeys are the same. While this is an undeniable fact, it is also true that there are certain factors that cut across the board. These include the road to postgraduate completion being windy, often riddled with uncertainty and requiring a great deal of perseverance.  

The same can be said of the journey Nomfundo Sinethemba Mzimela travelled in pursuance of her master’s in tourism degree at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) in 2021.

The 27-year-old from Ezingwenya reserve area, a rural settlement in Mtunzini, graduated in absentia on Thursday, 9 May 2024. Ill health rendered her unfit to physically celebrate her accomplishment.

Obtaining a master’s degree was not an easy feat for Mzimela who had initially enrolled with the intention of studying whilst also fulfilling her then duties as a school governing body educator at Empangeni High School. Her plan sadly backfired. For the entire 2021, she did not get a chance to draft even one sentence of her proposal. She was teaching a total of six classes and barely had time to rest, let alone focus on her studies. On weekends, she was also involved in extra mural activities at the school. Concerned, her supervisor and co-supervisor, Professor Ikechukwu Ezeuduji and Dr Sibusiso Ntshangase, convened a meeting with Mzimela who explained her predicament. By the end of that meeting, she had made one of the toughest decisions of her life: resigning from her job to become a full-time student.

“This was a challenge because I had my family depending on me financially, I had investments that I had taken and I was quite used to the financial freedom. But because the goal was working towards completing my master’s degree, being an academic doctor one day and a very strong academic, I had no option but to quit my job.

“My family did not support me at first because they did not understand why I had to do what I did. They classified it as ‘stupidity’. The judgement I received from my extended family and friends – I swear the words still ring in my head,” Mzimela recalled.

Fortunately, the graduate secured a bursary which covered her tuition. Through dedication, she silenced the naysayers by excelling in her studies, scoring a distinction for her research. She felt she owed it to her father to perform exceptionally in her master’s studies and proceed to pursue a PhD qualification as his lifelong aspiration is to see one of his children become an academic doctor.

Mzimela master’s research aimed to explore the key push and pull factors influencing tourists to visit protected areas, using Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park as a case study. The findings indicated that tourists are pushed to travel for relaxation and spending time with their families, while they are pulled to visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park for its natural resources, destination resources, learning experience, history and culture. The study discovered a causal relationship between visitation satisfaction, push sub-factors (relaxation, social interaction, family togetherness, and prestige motivations), and pull sub-factors (resources, learning experience, recreational facilities, natural resources, history, and culture). The results further suggested that demographic variables (such as gender, age, nationality, residency, employment status, and visitation satisfaction) have differentiated effects on push and pull sub-dimensions and overall push and pull travel motivation factors.

Mzimela’s research contributes to the sustainable use of protected areas, nature conservation and the local community development as well as the enhancement of visitation to protected areas. Protected areas are mostly located in rural communities, so if these receive a high volume of visitors, it can potentially lead to management employing more staff which translate to job creation.

The graduate’s greatest support system was her research team which consists of her supervisor, co-supervisor and three other postgraduates. Her parents, four sisters and cousin also stood by her even when her extended family kept on reminding them of the stupidity of Mzimela’s decision to quit her job.

Mzimela comes from a big family; her father has two wives – her mother being the first. She is the fourth child among eight (seven daughters and one son).

  • Naledi Hlefane