Unapologetically authentic

At the grindstone

Zanele Sifundza describes herself as the full definition of sheer grit, unapologetically  authentic, an evolving person still learning to embrace the beautiful human being she is becoming.

An apt description for this spirited mum of three, who is a qualified water scientist and cabinetmaker, is currently studying towards her MBA. Zanele is also a survivor of gender-based violence (GBV). While this does not define her, it has shaped who she is today and what she stands for. She especially wants to emphasise the need for more government awareness surrounding this topic, stressing that our beautiful country has become a contaminated breeding ground, where GBV is being normalised from a community level.

Zanele out and about

“Our government needs to interrupt sexist and discriminatory language used against women and girls. Words are powerful, especially when used by people who have influence over others. We live in a society in which words are used to put girls and women down. Gendered name-calling sends the message that they are less than fully human. When girls and women are seen as inferior, it becomes easier to treat them with disrespect and
violence. We need to change the way women are viewed, particularly from a societal perspective.”

Having been a victim herself, Zanele understands just how difficult it can be to break the silence, but always reminds her children that the most important thing is to remember that
they have the support of family and friends. “People often think they have to struggle alone, that they can’t say anything for fear of being shamed. You must never succumb to defeat. Surviving GBV requires mental strength and knowing what you are willing to
tolerate,” Zanele says.

Her advice to others is that if something doesn’t serve you, let it go. If it causes you pain, you probably don’t need it. To remind her children that they need never fall victim to gender-based violence, Zanele regularly recites three key self-awareness survival points: relax your mind, ease your heart and always love yourself.

Zanele and the kids do their thing

After her experience, Zanele started to have a different perspective on the importance of time spent with family, creating great memories. “This philosophy ties in to the understanding that I coexist as myself, a daughter, a mother and a professional, which makes it important to get my priorities straight,” she explains. “I believe that one of the most import things about me being a working mum is that I allow myself the flexibility to keep the linear balance between work and family. Involving my children in the planning of our monthly activities and expectations leaves no room for excuses, because sometimes it’s easy to neglect one or the other.”

Zanele and the kids

Inspired by purpose, this quietly confident, tenacious woman explains that the constant search to understand her existence is what motivates her, giving her hope and joy, not only for herself, but for every person she meets. “My philosophy is that for every opportunity given to me, there is a greater purpose behind it, all I need to do is unbox and maximise it. One of my favourite quotes is from Myles Munroe: ‘The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but life without purpose.’” She adds that it’s important to understand the part the healing process plays in that philosophy. “Part of that healing process is spending quality, meaningful time together, which is why my children and I love to spend time in nature. We go hiking, we sing and dance, and we watch movies together. Health, both physical and mental, is a treasure, and creating wonderful memories of a life well lived is a gift.”

Apart from her work in the water sector, Zanele runs a successful furniture manufacturing business. “I decided to take the bull by the horns and forge my way in this male-dominated
industry, proving that women have the capability – and the passion – to grow in their desired career choices, no matter what these might be. I’m open-minded, reserved and sometimes assertive. I’ve grown into my space and am starting to enjoy it,” she smiles. “It gives me comfort, as well as the time to interrogate and appreciate myself.”

At the grindstone

Life has taught her to be kind, especially to herself, to be humble and to appreciate every single thing, no matter how big or small. “To continue to live this life with the confidence that someday the world will be a better place,” she says. Confidence, she adds, is what truly makes her tick, and even though she admits she isn’t one of the most confident people out there, she constantly aspires to be. Confidence, she says, breeds strength, courage and vision.

Zanele’s parting words are in keeping with her philosophy about authenticity and strength. She reminds us that life is beautiful, and that we must be happy, kind to our hearts, and stay true to ourselves. “And most importantly,” she smiles, “embrace hardship; it’s a catalyst for growth.”