THE EPITOMY OF A HARDWORKER
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
Dressed in a pair of branded sneakers, dark blue jeans, a black blouse, and blue blazer, while sporting a set of red headphones and jovially stepping out of the office, one would have most certainly mistaken the tall, slim, dreadlocked female for being one of Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) enrolled students. However, when Journalismiziko learns that she is in fact the subject which is being profiled, we comprehend that some lecturers actually do take great comfort in their working environments.
Born on the 7th January 1985, Nellie Ngcongo had quite a grim childhood. She spent a majority of it moving from one part of town to the other, either to stay with relatives, or moving with her mother and siblings- in her mom’s pursuit of employment, and ensuring that her children never went to bed on an empty stomach.
“My childhood could have been better. It was a real struggle. Although things improved as we grew older, there were times when my mom would stress about what we would eat, and where our next meal would come from. So it was not easy,” said Ngcongo.
Fortunately for Ngcongo and her brother, they were enrolled in a program in which major companies educated black children in a bid to increase their writing and reading abilities. After doing well and proving to be deserving of the spot, the pair was awarded scholarships to study further, with Thomas More College coming first choice.
After completing matric, Ngcongo enrolled at DUT. After university, she moved to Pretoria where she got a job as a personal assistant to the Managing Director of a mining company. The driven Ngcongo then moved on to do her B-Tech at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and was awarded a scholarship to do a Masters. She also spent time sharing her expertise at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) before deciding to return to DUT, this time as a lecturer.
She does not only add value to her students but appears to be of value outside of class too.
“Here I am just a lecturer and I am very creative and conceptual so I do a bit of directing and acting classes as well. I also help out whenever I can, for example when DUT has wellness day, they contact me and I sort of create concepts around whatever it is that they are doing. So I like to be out and about, not just in this department,” added Ngcongo.
She admits that she has managed to remain in her own lane since becoming a lecturer.
“When I first started, my expectations were extremely high and unrealistic, but now I have managed to find things that I love, and where I can make a difference, and that is where I focus on. I do not let everything bother me, like it used to. I used to worry about things that had absolutely nothing to do with me. That is how passionate I was about everything,” she said.
Ngcongo says her participatory approach to her students in all the work that she has produced has been well received by the students, and she encourages other educators to embrace potential.
“As teachers we need to be careful not to think we are the only ones with knowledge, and can’t take knowledge from a person behind you. Even if someone is younger than you, you can’t assume they are an empty slate. You need to use their experiences, that is what art is all about,” she said.
In the year 2015, Ngcongo conceptualised, created and directed the play titled “Our Story”. This was the first departmental production she had ever directed at DUT before, and it was well received. In 2016, “Our Story 2” was created, following good reception from the first one.
“So the first Our Story is more about DUT. In the second one we had issues like Parliament and the blesser phenomenon, which were well received. We also talked about the fees must fall movement- so whatever is happening at the time, the play reflects it. For example if I do “Our story 3” next year, it should be different because this country is evolving really quickly,” said Ngcongo.
She says most of her plays are very deep and thought provoking.
Ngcongo says “Our story 2” has been the most successful of her projects. The team got to travel to Pretoria, where they performed at the Kopanong Festival. They were the first out of province university entrants, and all performances were sold out, and received a stand-in-ovation after their performance- which is considered a big deal in theatre.
She admits that although producing “our story 3” is enticing to her, she would much rather hand over the reign to her students as she believes that they have been empowered enough to do it on their own.
Among other projects that she has been involved in, include choreography for extravanganza’s during the research awards, a partnership with an NGO which encourages females to get into film and learn how to do films for themselves and comes with life-skills programs- as their field is very demanding. So she is also constantly trying to find other ways for their students to not only rely on acting, because the entertainment industry is very large.
For Ngcongo, her biggest inspiration is the fear of being poor, and the desire to elevate her family. Although she is not the first one to attend university, she is the first to get to this level of study and wants to get her PhD and show her family that an investment on education is optimal.
According to Departmental Secretary, Lebohang Sibiya, Ngcongo is a ball of energy.
“Nellie is a very lively person who is very friendly and welcoming. She is also very intelligent as she constantly thinks out of the box. We got to know each other on the first day of her arrival as we both reached out to each other, naturally. She is so much of fun,” said Sibiya.
Her former student, Annalinah Madondo described her educator as someone who is a role model.
“She is someone I can call a role model. There is plenty of potential that I did not see in myself, but she pushed me and made me realise that I had plenty of potential. Even my results increased drastically because she was able to help me very much. She taught me Audition-Tech and Tech Study. She is also very honest and tells you when you are losing direction. She basically raised me,” said Madondo.
Except for becoming Minister for Arts and Culture one day, Nellie’s hopes for the future include getting a PhD, and doing something that will be attached to her, and creating an engagement with international programmes that will get her students more exposed to international artists, and creating partnerships which will get people to understand what DUT is all about.