Genevieve Sekumbo was the tutor for the Sociology class that I took at UCT. I remember that on the first day, I got lost in the Arts Building and ended up sitting in the wrong tutorial. When I realized I was in the wrong classroom, I was too embarassed to get up (Mind, it was the same class but the wrong tutorial…). But, I wasn’t the only one lost that day as I “snuck” out when other students were coming in and out. Finally, I entered Geneveive’s classroom, and the room was nearly full (a problem we had throughout the semester). She introduced herself as a Master’s student in Sociology.
Throughout the semester, I learned a lot from Genevieve and my peers. Genevieve was great at facilitating discussions, and I always felt comfortable to share my thoughts on controversial topics. She was approachable, helpful, and caring of her students.
One thing that was great about our Sociology class was that it brought students from different backgrounds sharing different perspectives. We sometimes had to preface our opinions with our backgrounds because where you come from often shapes your point of view. For example, in that tutorial, I was the only American. For Genevieve, I learned that she was from Tanzania, and learning a little more about her in the classroom really motivated me do this interview with her.
Where are you from?
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (which is where her family lives now)
Her parents are from the Kilimanjaro region
Where were you born?
Where in the world have you lived?
“I lived in Uganda until Grade 2, then we moved to Tanzania until Grade 10. I went to boarding school in Swaziland, while my parents moved to Botswana. After high school, I lived in Malaysia for a year with my older brother and took a class there. I was in Pretoria for my undergrad, then in Tanzania for work, and now I’m in Cape Town for my Master’s.”
It seems like Genevieve and her family are constantly moving around to respond to unrest and to seek employment / educational opportunities. She mentions that her father had also moved to work in Sierra Leone.
What languages do you speak (outside of English)?
What is your race?
She notes that this is her answer to this question because she now lives in South Africa. But from her experience, the concept of race is different from place to place. For example, in Swaziland, she lived in a small community that was diverse, and race dynamics didn’t come out as much.
Additionally, her brother, who lives in Boston, Massachussetts, USA, is probably more discriminated against / marginalized in the US than her, a black person in Africa.
Furthermore, she notes that there is a disconnect between North (underdeveloped) Africa and southern Africa regarding the concept of race too. South Africa is not representative of how all of Africa thinks of race.
What is your relationship with your parents? What do they do?
Her dad is an economist, while her mom stays at home and runs a few family businesses. For example, her mom would rent out their houses, and she once owned a stationery shop.
“I’m close to my parents, but more to my mom. I have a more formal, respectful relationship with my dad. But, I’m used to living a part from them.”
Do you have any siblings?
Younger brother, 24 years old, who she is very close to.
Older brother, 30, but he passed away while they were in Malaysia.
She is the only girl, but the middle child, which allows her to have a good relationship with both brothers.
What other family members/relatives are you close to?
Genevieve is closer to her mom’s side of the family because there are more cousins of similar age. Every Christmas, there are usually family get togethers.
Additionally, she shares that her aunt, who is Christian, married a Muslim, and they have been married for over 30 years. Both religions are present in her family and her life.
What year are you and what are you currently studying?
[At the time of the interview] 1st year in the Master’s program in Development Studies*
“I found my way into it.”
Originally, she wanted to do medicine, but struggled in chemistry and physics. Then, her travels, which exposed her to different cultures and societies, influenced her to further her learning of political and social structures of the world. She wants to travel more.
Her dream is to work at the UN.
What was your journey like to get to UCT?
The plan after undergrad was to work and return to school. I wanted to go to the States. I applied to Berkeley and Columbia, but also Pretoria and Cape Town. UCT was the first to accept me, and I waited for the US schools, which ended up not accepting me.
What are your future plans after getting your Master’s?
Possibly going for a Ph.D
If you could be doing anything right now (not school), what would it be?
A job that would allow me to travel and immerse in cultures and societies.
What is a memorable moment in your life?
My brother’s passing.
It forced my younger brother and I to grow up and take more responsibility [as her brother was the one that took care of them].
[Additionally,] of the choices we have in life, when it comes to death, you don’t have a say. It made me wake up and appreciate the opportunities that I have been offered.
Do you have any fears?
Not fully appreciating the present moment because I’m too worried about something else.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
To be okay with who I am and to find my purpose within this bigger universe (and to be okay with as well).
If you could do anything in the world and be successful — qualifications, costs, and other people don’t matter — what would you do?
I’m happy when I’m helping other people. Maybe be a doctor, who travels, assisting in humanitarian crises and aid, and alleviating the suffering of people in distress.
What are your favorite music artists, movies, books? Who are the people you consider influential?
Music: Latin music, Putumayo World Music, Davido, J. Cole, John Legend – but I can listen to anything and it also depends on my mood
Movies: The Colour Purple, The Sound of Music, The Green Mile
Books: To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
People: Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (which she recommends people to read “Americanah”), her dad
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
Someone who was kind, caring, brave, commpassionate, selfless, and always looking out for her loved ones.
What are the most important things in your life?
Family, nuclear and extended
What kind of challenges have you faced?
First, my brother’s passing
And trying to discover my path, it seems to be a daily struggle.
Is there something you live by? What advice do you give others?
Be kind to yourself … and let your kindness flood the world.
Allow the process [of figuring out your life] to be, and if you’re actively doing something about it, you’ll be fine. You’re often your own worst critic, and it becomes easy to get too involved with planning and not enough with experiencing.
What is one thing you wish to see changed in the world?
People to be less judgemental and to have an understanding that everyone is a product of their own experiences.
What are things you definitely want to accomplish in your life? In other words, what is on your bucket list?
Travel (everywhere, but especially to Cuba and other parts of West Africa)
Learn another language
What is some skill that you’ve always wanted to learn by never got the chance to?
Play the guitar
What motivates you?
Believing that I’ll do something that I’m going to be happy with in the future [because that’s something that she’s working towards]. Knowing that I’ll be able to sleep at night with what I have done.
Who are you?
So how I see myself changes every year. But I guess what has always remained constant is that in all that I do I try to offer my best, not only for myself but for those around me. But in doing that, I think I am here to be of service to those around me. I try to bring compassion, kindness, empathy, attention and the best version of myself in the roles that I have. Be it as a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a student, a researcher, a tutor, a friend… etc..
Thank you, Genvieve, for having this interview with me and being such an awesome tutor. I learned a lot about you and your perspectives in the process. You helped me think more critically about race, gender, and structures. Thank you for being incredibly kind, helpful, and encouraging. I really admire your efforts to navigate your life and become who you are supposed to be, while remaining in the present as much as possible. It’s evident that you are on a path to make a positive social impact and serve people.
It would have been awesome if we wound up at Berkeley together, but I think it’s just as great that we were both students at UCT. We might not have met otherwise! I really hope that we cross paths in the future, and I look forward to all the endeavors that you pursue in the future.
Over and out.
* Genevieve is now in her second year in her Master’s program