11 November 2021

By Sazini Mojapelo Absa Group Head: Citizenship & Community Investments

As one of the first students enrolled in the newly launched Absa Fellowship Programme, Busisiwe Yaka is something of a trailblazer.

Absa has structured its new scholarship programme to support and mentor students interested in gaining the technical and digital skills necessary for Africa’s growth. Funding their training also comes with a leadership component to develop a cadre of young people with the skills and the ethics to shape a better future.

Busisiwe is studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria and although she only began in August, she’s wholeheartedly embraced the leadership development the fellowship begins with. “We’ve done some team exercises including self-development modules and leadership modules to help you develop mentally, emotionally and holistically. I feel it’s a necessary catalyst for my growth as an individual, and without Absa I wouldn’t have been able to grow so much in such a short space of time,” she says.

Busisiwe has an innate ability to grasp academic subjects and chose chemical engineering because she likes to fix things. “If something is broken in the house, I’m the one who goes to fix it. I’m very analytical and observant and I think this discipline will help me in my journey of being able to save the world bit by bit.”

Saving the world is quite an ambition, but Busisiwe is serious about it. “I intend to do so by making sure at all times that I am giving my best effort in everything I do to influence the community around me,” she says. “I’m going to exert my influence and be a helping hand and use whatever skills and privileges I have to help.”

Chemical engineers don’t usually hit the headlines, but Busisiwe believes the world will be seeing more of her through her skills and her community-oriented attitude. “I believe eventually I will be able to make a considerable amount of change in the world.”

Career-wise, one possibility is to work in a plant alongside architects, civil engineers or metallurgists to analyse raw materials and turn them into useful products in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. She could also set up her own company, which would be a great way to create jobs and combat unemployment. But for now, she’s not looking that far ahead, because the move to university and beginning the Fellowship were major transformations and she doesn’t want to add more pressure by trying to define her future.

“I do believe I will become an influential leader at some point and that’s one of my main goals. The niche, however, I haven't figured out yet. But I believe leadership isn’t so much about the position itself, but the ability to help those around me and to exert an influence in the most positive way possible.”

One positive way she has helped her community was by launching a scheme to gather used clothes from friends and family and distributing them to needy people. That has slowed down because once people have donated, it’s difficult to ask them to keep donating, so she needs to figure out how to broaden the scheme’s reach.

Her leaning towards leadership also began early as deputy head girl of academics and deputy president for the Representative Council of Learners at her Johannesburg school, and she credits those roles for enhancing her ability to take initiative, think critically and be responsible and reliable.

She has high expectations of the leadership tuition and networking abilities the Absa fellowship will give its students. And the country sorely needs it, she says, since it’s easy to become disheartened when you look at our current leaders. “To make sense of the problems we have today we have to look at the past, not just in terms of apartheid but of colonisation. It takes understanding of where we come from to understand what we need to do to get to where we want to go,” she says.

“Because we have such a history of oppression that thought process is indoctrinated in our minds, so when we get to the top as South Africans, we tend to focus on ourselves and how much we can fill our own pockets, instead of worrying about the people we said we’d be helping when we got to the top. So the state of South Africa as a whole and the decisions and the lifestyle of the people in leadership don’t reflect what our predecessors have been fighting for.”

If you ask what she is fighting for personally, she gives a passionate reply: “I’m fighting for change. Every day when I see someone less fortunate than I am, someone struggling to get through the day, someone my age who’s unemployed, someone who hasn’t been given the opportunity to go to school and do something they’re passionate about, I’m fighting to change that. I’m fighting to give people a chance. To give South Africa a chance.”


“I have embraced this wholeheartedly – my expectation is for growth. As young South Africans we are not necessarily exposed to the best leadership opportunities, and this is what I expect to be exposed to with this Fellowship.”