It’s been over 1.5 years since I’ve conducted this interview, but I can still remember a lot of memories that I have shared with Charles (most of them are past midnight, in the economics building). His full name is Wandile Charles Gumede.
I met Charles in my Social Impact Enterprise class; we were one of the few undergrads in the class. As we were both studying economics, we spent a lot of time in the Ecos lab, late into the night, supporting each other. He was usually studying for Finance, and I was usually doing something for International Trade.
Outside of studying, we’ve also hiked Lion’s Head together (I took that picture of him above), shared a Nando’s meal (which he doesn’t understand why I love it so much), and had countless interesting conversations. He is one of my closest friends I made in South Africa, and he treated me with the utmost kindness and encouragement. My South African experience wouldn’t have been the same or as great as it was without Charles.
Where are you from?
South Africa, spent most of his time in Cape Town
Where were you born?
Born in Mpumalanga, South Africa (a province 2 hours east of Joburg)
Where in the world have you lived?
Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa (Mpumalanga, Johannesburg, and Cape Town), Switzerland for three months
What languages do you speak (outside of English)?
“All languages of South Africa except for Venda.”
What is your race?
“Human race. … Black, 100%”
Founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PNC) said, “There is only one race. The human race.”
What is your relationship with your parents? What do they do?
“My parents are my heroes, especially my mom. She’s the ish. They are very open, supporting me with anything I do. Of course, if it’s right. If I say I wanna study computer science next year, they’ll say it’s fine – do it.”
Mom – Charles is closer to his mom than his dad. “She’s a stay at home mom, works here and there. When we owned a butcher shop, she worked there.”
Dad – “He brings home money for the family.” His dad works for Delta; they make the runway for transnet trains in South Africa.
Do you have any siblings?
“6 siblings between my parents. 2 sisters and then all guys. It’s good because they (his sisters) are protected.”
What other family members/relatives are you close to?
“Very, very close with almost all of my cousins. Our family – we are very close. When my gran passed away, we all came together. I don’t even know how many cousins I have, 20-30 something?
“The cousin I’m currently working with, Bongni Gumede, we want to start a company together, a conglomerate.”
What year are you and what are you currently studying?
B. Commerce in Economics & Finance. Graduating in June 2016.
“It was the easy option. I came to UCT to do Actuarial Science, but I failed stats. So, if I wanted to retry, I would have to push back getting my degree.” But, he also shares that he was also interested in investment so it worked out.
What was your journey like to get to UCT?
“It was the only institution I applied to.”
What are your future plans after varsity?
“After now? Stay in Cape Town for my honors in Financial Portfolio Management for 1 year. Then, [I’ll] move to Joburg and I’lll start businesses there – conglomerates. Then, I want to start schools, at least 3, very elite and expensive schools, to leave a legacy.”
By expensive, Charles means high quality, state-of-the-art, the latest technology, expensive to build schools.
If you could be doing anything right now (not school), what would it be?
“I applied for medicince and Actuarial Science, but I didn’t want medicine. I literally think engineers are doing great things. I don’t know… African politics?”
What is your ultimate goal in life?
“I want to create change in Africa. If I could, at the very least, motivate people to work towards change.”
If you could do anything in the world and be successful — qualifications, costs, and other people don’t matter — what would you do?
“Compel all the forces against Africa to leave us alone. Compel them to do more SIEs [social impact enterprises] to create shared value.”
What are your favorite music artists, movies, books? Who are the people you consider influential?
Music: “I play almost every [type of] music, but Zola, for sure. He sings about the hood, and almost every song teaches you something. If he drops a new album, I make sure to listen to it as soon as I can.”
Movies: “Gangster Paradise”; “I’m not a big fan of movies and series because I get bored easily. They need to be short. But, I watch movies with Leonardo DiCaprio and Denzel Washington, movies based on a true story. There are a few.”
Books: The Green Book – Muammar Gaddafi; Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki, “I was less than 15 when I read that book, and it changed my mindset about investment.”; Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela, Biographies about Thabo Mbeki and Steve Jobs, Black Skin, White Masks – Frantz Fanon
People: Robert Gumede, Aliko Dangote (the richest person in Africa, a Nigerian), Robert Mugabe (President of Zimbabwe, “his ideas of Africa are still good.”), Robert Sobukwe (Founder of the PNC), Chris Hani (leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe), Julius Nyerere (former leader of Tanzania), Kwame Nkrumah (first prime minister and president of Ghana) – “These men formed the African Union, represent Pan-Africanism, how we can solve African problems.”
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
“One of the entrepreneurs that improved the lives of Africans in his lifetime.”
What are the most important things in your life?
“My family and Africa, done.
“I’m not the guy that wants a lot of money, that would drive a Rolls, and live on the Waterfront. If that happens, it happens, but it’s not a priority.”
What kind of challenges have you faced?
“Losing my grandmother… that was the hardest day and the greatest challenge.
“Adjusting to UCT.
“Seeing my friends get excluded financially from UCT. They were here but couldn’t register the next year because of debt.”
What advice do you give others?
“Do what you do best, what you want to do, and make sure it doesn’t hurt other people.
“Do what’s best for Africa.”
What is one thing you wish to see changed in the world?
The cessation of “Europeans and Americans exploiting my people in Africa. I’m very Africa-centric. We need peace, like Syria does.”
What are things you definitely want to accomplish in your life? In other words, what is on your bucket list?
- Build schools and hospitals and clinics
- Maintain healthy relationships with family, “the one I have and the one I’ll start”
- Travel the world, “to every country in the world, starting with the 54 in Africa.”
What is some skill that you’ve always wanted to learn but never got the chance to?
Learn to play instruments, like the piano
“Piano’s expensive, we can’t get it here.”
How do you feel about how other people outside of Africa think about Africa?
“It’s disgusting. My people are not perfect. We have our imperfections.
“When I was in Switzerland, people asked me dumb questions. Yes, people are poor in Africa. Yes, our leaders are not that great. But, we’re working on it.
“None of the countries in Africa are over 100 years old. South Africa is only 20 years old and to compare to a country that is over 400 years old, it’s unfair.”
Who are you?
“I am just a young man. After realizing the current state of Africa, I want to play a part in coming up with African solutions. As an African, for the African people. Everything about me connects to the love I have of Africa.”
“Africa by beginning, Africa my end.”
Since this interview was conducted so long ago, some of this information (like what he’s studying) is no longer accurate. (Sorry Charles, for taking so long to write this up.) But, I hope to have been able to capture the core of who he is. Charles is highly ambitious and passionate. He is constantly motivated to work everyday to make the lives of his people better. For that, I admire him.
Today, I still talk to Charles and for that, I am thankful. He still supports me in what I do, and I look forward to seeing how he makes an impact for Africa in the future.
Over and out.