Africa’s Youngest Woman PhD Holder Musawenkosi Saurombe Discusses Achievements, Challenges and Inspiration

In 2017, Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe made history by becoming the youngest woman with a PhD in Africa, graduating with a doctorate in industrial psychology.

Saurombe was born in 1993 in Zimbabwe, but moved to Botswana when she was a month old.

Her excellence in academics started early. She began advancing to higher grades when the Grade 3 coursework failed to challenge her. She was often promoted to the next grade in the middle of the school year. During school holidays, her parents would buy books for the next grade, which helped her prepare for the next grade. Her father was a teacher.

“I started (high school) at 11 years old,” Saurombe told The Weight She Carries. “Then at the end of Form 2 (second year of high school) I had the privileged of being promoted from Form 2 to Form 4. I ended up beginning Form 4 (senior year) at the age of 14.”

She finished high school at 15 years old.

At 16, Saurombe enrolled for university and studied Human Resources Management which was her third and final option – the first being economics and accounting.

“My application was lost at some point and I had a late application. The first two options were filled to capacity. However, the last option was the one that was the most suitable for me based on personality tests I had done before, which had proven my strengths in leadership and interpersonal skills,” Saurombe said.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at 19, and continued to do her honours degree, which is a 1-year program.

Shortly after, Saurombe went on to pursue her master’s degree which she completed in a year at the age of 21.

“I was done at that age and thought to myself, ‘I have to go and manage people given my qualifications, and in African society, a younger woman managing older folk is not easily embraced,’” she said. “I then decided to do my PhD.”

Two years later, Saurombe graduated with her doctorate from North-West University in South Africa.

“I graduated after two years at the age of 23, making me the youngest PhD graduate in Africa, which was (huge) for women empowerment as the previous youngest PhD holder was a male at 25. I also wanted to do away with the phenomenon that, as a woman, I needed to create gaps for childbirth, child-rearing and being a homemaker. I decided to be done with school once and for all.”

Dr. Musa Saurombe

Saurombe is currently working at the North-West University as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer. She is also the higher education ambassador for Botswana.

“I feel content with my work, so I intend on being in academia till I decide otherwise…if that time ever comes,” she said. “I am using the flexibility of my current work to also participate in a lot of civic and community empowering work, especially concerning youth and women.”

On relationships with the opposite sex:

I am often initially misconstrued due to the prevailing stereotype about educated women being “proud and unapproachable”. However, once those who get the chance really get to know me, they realize that I’m very laid back. I’ve always been very careful not to be abrasive and that has not changed despite my accomplishments.

I have had to be really careful though in terms of my interactions with the opposite sex because I’m at what Africans consider “prime marriage age for women” and I get many guys who don’t fit my ideal mate trying to entice me with marriage. While I am always as nice as I can be to them without giving them false hope, I’ve had to be very selective.

On challenges faced:

I faced the challenge of being young in a predominantly (mature) profession. I was not only young but also a woman. Once I started coming out as a potential academic, I started to be seen as a threat to the older, and as a result, I did not get support and faced a lot of resistance. I am grateful that I had a woman supervisor who helped me through the process.

As for the resistance from older colleagues, I just learnt to mind my own business. I just do my work and keep to myself without paying much heed to what people think or say. That’s the thing about self-mastery…it means learning to block off the voices of naysayers and haters.

The reality of life is that we will always be faced with some kind of opposition, but what makes the difference is our attitude towards such contention.

Most people also discouraged me from continuing with my studies. They felt that I would be over qualified and not get employed by anyone. However, I kept going.

On inspiration:

I am a spiritual person, which is different from being religious. I am in constant pursuit of self-discovery and understanding why I was placed on this earth.  Someone once mentioned that there are two most important days in a person’s life: the day they were born and the day they find out why.

God shows us our purpose in episodes, not in entirety. If you follow these episodes, you will see the trend and be able to see your purpose. What drives me or inspires me is fulfilling my purpose and understanding who I am, which means understanding where I come from, who my creator is, and the ability to suppress the external voices that try to define who I am. My purpose is to pursue significance rather than success. Success is self-actualization; significance is leveraging one’s strengths to better the lives of others.

Lessons:

Don’t be discouraged by people. Seek out your purpose.

Message to young girls and women:

  • Live your life at your own pace. God has a different purpose for each one of us. When we do not live according to that, we are depriving those who are meant to benefit from our influence and success.
  • Believe in yourself, trust the process and have a positive mindset.
  • Don’t be dismayed or discouraged when it looks like the picture of your life is not coming out well. When the pieces in the puzzle all come together, you will see the beautiful and full picture.
  • Plan, but also allow life to take its full course – that is, acknowledging that we are not in full control of our circumstances and situations.

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