Former Statistician-General of South Africa and former Head of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), Pali Lehohla, recently singled out rising Statistics star Ms Nombuso Zondo, a PhD candidate and lecturer at UKZN, as an example of how to advance the field in South Africa after she received the the Pali Lehohla Award for the best emerging statistician from the South African Statistics Association (SASA) in November 2017.

In an article published in the Sunday Independent, Lehohla spoke about Zondo’s career and achievements in the context of skills shortages in Statistics and Mathematics fields in South Africa, and UKZN’s and Stats SA’s laudable efforts to combat this this by teaching school teachers statistics through a legacy programme, one which Zondo has contributed to passionately.

Zondo grew up enjoying Mathematics at school, but was unfamiliar with Statistics until she encountered it at UKZN during her undergraduate BSc studies. The importance of the Discipline dawned on her as she realised how much of what we encounter in daily life is data driven. For Zondo, mastering Statistics was a matter of literacy acting as the key to open up even more fields of discovery.

The School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) lecturer is currently working on her PhD under the supervision of Professors Delia North and Temesgen Zewotir, having started at UKZN as a developmental lecturer in 2015.

‘Nombuso loved the challenge of combining her mathematical skills with real world problem solving, which resulted in her becoming more and more passionate about statistics,’ said North. ‘She was a standout student in the Statistics Honours class, identifying her as a potential future lecturer for her academic ability and communication skills.’

Zondo cites curiosity as a driving force in her pursuit of an academic career.

‘I am never comfortable with just what I know, there is so much more to learn out there,’ said Zondo. ‘Academia is the perfect platform for continuous learning and knowledge sharing; it is an intellectually-stimulating job that enables me to follow my heart.’

Zondo said she has appreciated the collegial nature of her Department at UKZN, as well as the opportunity to grow and develop under the UKZN banner. The kind of student she encounters at UKZN, she said, also inspires her to make a difference using her skills and abilities.

Being involved in Statistics Education capacity building drives at UKZN, led by North, and contributing considerably to the five-year Maths4Stats project run at UKZN for Stats SA are just some of the ways Zondo is applying her skills to impact those around her. She has helped with a Research and Teaching project with the Department of Higher Education and assists Grade 12 learners from disadvantaged schools to prepare for their final Mathematics exams

Zondo credited North, Zewotir and her colleagues for their unfailing support, supervision and dedication to quality, and acknowledged her family for their understanding of and respect for her chosen commitment to academia, despite initial resistance to what seemed like perpetual studying in lieu of joining a more familiar workforce.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph supplied by Nombuso Zondo