The belief that people from humble beginnings make some of the finest leaders in the world holds true for Lungile Bomvu who, despite endless challenges at a tender age, catapulted to academic and professional success.
He is Senior IT Officer: Enterprise Architecture at the World Bank Group in Washington DC, capital city of the United States of America, but has not forgotten his humble beginnings in abject poverty.
The 38-year-old grew up between Butterworth in the Eastern Cape where he attended school and rural Cegcwana where he spent the school holidays and some weekends. Cegcwana was a community with no electricity, running water, toilets and proper roads. He fondly recalls sleeping on the floor, sometimes sharing a single blanket on cold winter nights with his cousins.
Life for Bomvu was tough but his resilience, patience and positive attitude helped him find opportunity amidst the adversity.
“We would wake up at the crack of dawn to milk goats after which we would prepare breakfast for our elders and lead the livestock into the grazing fields where we would herd for most of the day.
“During spring and summer we would plough the land and sow crops and harvest in winter using man-made wheelless carts pulled by oxen. The days would be spent hunting and picking berries from thorny trees in the fields.”
While some children his age would be spoilt for choice with ready-made toys, he would use various material to make his own slings, kites, wire cars, brick cars and tyres to ride on.
His fascination for electronics grew when his father brought home their first computer from work, so much so, he would place pictures of computers on the cover of his schoolbooks while other students opted for soccers stars and musicians.
Studying at Dale College Boys High School in King Williams Town from grade nine to matric helped him excel in his studies and enhance his computer skills. Prior to this he attended New Horizon School in Butterworth where lessons were held in a garage converted into a classroom.
Alas his subject choices did not qualify him entry into university. After several declined letters from Port Elizabeth Technikon, a visit and good word from his father to the institution finally led him to achieve his very first qualification – a National Diploma in IT. He later completed a BTech degree in IT from the University of Johannesburg which his mother urged him to pursue, despite difficult financial circumstances.
After having reached a ceiling in his career and realising the need to upskill, he commenced a MBA
with private higher educaton institution MANCOSA which took him five years to complete owing to challenges beyond his control.
As a single father to two children, Liyema and Aluhle, he had to raise them after losing his fiancé to an illness in 2010 – three months before their wedding and after lobola negotiations which took more than three years of saving. As the firstborn in his family and one of 13 siblings, some of whom depended on him, he had no one but himself to count on.
“My mother had always wanted me to have a MBA and always encouraged me towards it. Whilst I had a good grasp on IT and business knowledge, I didn’t understand much about the strategic and executive world. I aspired to be an Enterprise Architect and I knew I needed to know IT, business and strategy because I would be working across all these areas.
He said the MBA helped him understand how all three areas interlinked and how macro and micro-economics played a role in the planning and work that organisations do.
His MBA dissertation was based on the impact of Enterprise Architecture on IT investments at the bank.
“I have used some of the skills I learnt from my MBA to produce roadmaps for senior business managers, directors and chief information officers on how best to plan for their IT and leverage future technologies to meet their strategic goals. Projects include, amongst others, roadmaps for digital transformation, knowledge and information management and cloud strategies.
When asked how he is helping ordinary South Africans to progress, he said people would resonate with his personal struggle story which he hopes will empower them to greater heights.
“I have mentored many people on their career growth and life in general. I even talked others out of committing suicide by making them understand their greater purpose and to look on the positive side of life.”
He is inspired by the success of fellow South Africans – the newly crowned Miss Universe, Miss SA beauty queen Zozibini Tunzi, The Ndlovu Youth Choir, Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi, comedian Trevor Noah, DJ Black Coffee and rapper Sho Madjozi.
He and his colleagues started a South African Staff Society group at the bank which he currently chairs. The group has grown from just six to over 100 staff, including executive directors and members from the South African embassy.
“Education is the best investment you can make to be successful in life. Learn as much as possible from schools, people, history, ideas, concepts and explore before putting it all to practice.
“You never know what you are capable of and the impact you could bring to the world until you push yourself past your current limits. The appreciation I get from back home for representing my country on the international stage is rewarding for me.”
Drawing from his life lessons to “never stand still” and “strive to be the best”, he intends to make a lasting impact in the world and on communities.
Bomvu found love again and is married to Siyabulela Asakhe Bomvu who is his pillar of strength. She provided him with unconditional support during good times and bad. “Her strength and character has helped guide me through the most difficult challenges. I would not have made it this far in life without her,” he said.