Zolani Buba didn’t always know that he wanted to study law. Now, though, as a PhD graduate from the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Dr Buba and the law seem like long-time friends.
Zolani earned his doctoral degree for a thesis that evaluates the rights of interested parties in the statutory business rescue regime that is currently applicable in South Africa.
This is no small achievement. With seven brothers and sisters, and having grown up in Langa in Cape Town, the 32-year old is the first in his family to earn a university degree. Although he started his tertiary education at Pentech (now CPUT) doing a couple of years of multimedia and IT studies, Zolani soon realised that his talents and interests were better suited for strategy development in a boardroom setting.
Zolani then made his way to UCT where he earned his BSocSci, majoring in law, psychology and public administration. After completing a postgraduate LLB at the UCT Faculty of Law, Zolani pursued an LLM in tax law. In 2013 he registered for his PhD, and he has now achieved his doctorate – a “big milestone” and what he sees as “one more step along the way”.
“My teachers always seemed to see things in me that I was not aware of at the time.”
Zolani recognises that his family, his school teachers and his law professors played a key role in encouraging him to pursue his goals.
“My teachers always seemed to see things in me that I was not aware of at the time. I am still growing into the affirmations and encouragement I have been given by my teachers,” he says.
Having worked at Pick n Pay throughout the course of his studies to support himself while he lived with his grandmother, Zolani has experienced first-hand the pressures to pay one’s way while taking on the rigours of a law degree. He describes his law studies as being both “tenuous and strenuous” and acknowledges that studying law is tough.
Advice for future law students
For Zolani, the hardest thing about studying law at UCT was the potential for isolation.
When asked about his support system during his years of study, he says that he didn’t have anything formal in place. He does, however, strongly recommend a formal system of structured support for undergraduates – to have a mentor and a listening ear, someone to talk with about law, a guide to help one make sense of legal theory and practice.
Zolani’s advice to law students is that “ultimately you have a responsibility to deal with your fears. We fear being perceived as inadequate, as lacking – but it doesn’t help to wallow. It also doesn’t help to hang out in groups if you all have the same shortcomings.
“The one way to succeed is to create synergies with diverse groups of students – because the culture shock can really hit you, and the lifestyle of students with money can make you forget why you are at the university. It is not about being cool. It’s about your own goals, your own dreams, about being grounded.”
He is clear that there is no formula for success – particularly for young black students without money. It takes grit, he says, and keeping a clear eye on your longer-term goals.
With his PhD in hand, Zolani will be moving into consulting around business rescue, tax matters and related corporate issues – and he is building his network in this sector.
He will also be working to take his PhD forward, to ensure that his proposals for reform around the current business rescue regime receive consideration by the legislature and the full attention of industry.
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