Spotlight: Ronelle Anthony-Jones, the mentor

This is the second ‘Spotlight’ post I am publishing to my blog. Ronelle Anthony-Jones is a one of the remarkable women who do great things outside of the workplace and don’t brag about it.

Very few people have not met or seen this lady around campus. She disguises herself as just an ‘ordinary’ staff member on campus. *We all assume those who have access to the luxurious coffee spot on level 5 at the Leslie commerce building is a staff member, by the way.* Dressed to the tee and wearing eye-catching, so to speak, spectacles, I often wondered what drives this woman to be such an exceptional, yet down to earth, God-fearing woman.

I met Ronelle at a leadership conference I attended last year, UCT’s Emerging Leaders Programme. I thought it quite strange how we met… Ronelle presented a talk about Prof Kurt April’s theories on leadership. I was enchanted by her style, and how she presented the content. She was sincere and just real. She was a proud ‘coloured’ woman, not that her race had anything to do with the content. It had to do with her character, presenting as a person, someone we could connect with as an individual. Surprisingly, there were no ‘coloured’ jokes made, although she flaired a heavy ‘coloured’ accent when she joked about it. She commanded respect still, as she exposed the part of her which could be seen as quite vulnerable: opening the floor for jokes about her culture. Me being the uber eager beaver I am, I engaged with her during the talk and her first words were, “I know your face, you are in Commerce right?” Shocked I was, to say the least. “Yes,” I answered nervously. And that was it, the start of our beautiful friendship. She added me on Facebook after the conference and we stayed in contact since then.

Ronelle with her husband, son and daughter

Due to Ronelle being super busy and myself being super unavailable, we decided to do an online interview. P.S We do sneak quick visits between life’s busy times. Exciting news: I recently asked Ronelle to be my ‘life’ mentor.

Herewith follows the conversation we had over email:

I wanted to know more about who Ronelle was at home, family and her friends etc. Ronelle: I was born, bred and never once left nor intend leaving Cape Town.  Married my childhood sweetheart in 2003, we had been “going steady” since I was 17 years old.  We have two children, my eldest is 17 year old Wayde (named after my brother Wayne whom went missing in 2000 and we have yet to hear from him, but believe that God has either called him to a better place and that He will reveal all to us in His time if He feels we need to know) and 7 year old Zoe.  When people ask if I planned such a huge gap between my kids, I used to respond by saying that both my children were not planned… Now, of course, I know that before I was born my life was planned and it is simply playing itself out right now. 

Ronelle sporting her cultural attire at UCT's Africa Day celebrations in 2011

One of my closest friends Jackie lives in a “hokkie”, “kabaan” (otherwise known as “shack”) in a street the locals in Factreton call klein Ventura.  She has worked in a clothing factory all her life and can cut and sew a garment in half an hour.  I marvel at her talent and she has taught me such great things about life in general – really simple, “black and white” kind of wisdom.  My other close friend, Mynie is Jackie’s cousin lives in Manenberg and has, effectively as a single parent, raised two young women and a little boy on her own.  “skarrel hier en skarrel daar”.  I cannot imagine how she did that, dressed them smartly, sent them to school, never let them go to bed hungry, whilst not having a steady income.  AMAZING I tell you.  Both of them will probably tell you that Nella, as they call me or Nel is someone who they can call up at anytime to ask for anything, that they are amazed that I am amazed at their abilities, that I see them as more than they see themselves, that I have a telepathic sense of what they need when they need it because I can send food to their homes or pop in a with a bag of groceries when they need it most – without them having even asked! 

We bought the house in Maitland in 2000 and we are still living there – I have always wanted to stay close enough to still remember what I am here for and where I have come from… 

Here Ronelle gives us some insight to the parallel worlds she lives in, and describes the dynamics of her home and community life and then life at work:

I effectively live and operate in two worlds – the one where life is uncomplicated and thought processes do not need to be refined, but interpersonal relationships and “feeling” the situation is key… I morph right back into that when I need it and when I want it.  I become Ronelle who grew up in Factreton, who speaks loudly, can do the Cape Flats lingo, use an outside toilet or bucket (“en suite” as we call it in the township).  Can laugh raucously with friends, hug the little kids with their dirty noses and constant screams of “Aunty Nel, Aunty Nel”.  I love that Ronelle and I love the freedom that that brings, the magic of not having enough in an environment where the circumstances can never be bigger than the dream in your heart, where knowing each other is part of growing up and where blurring of boundaries to an extent is almost acceptable. 

Then I have another world where I concentrate on speaking English like my more sophisticated colleagues do; those who were privy to private schooling and an even more ‘private’ socialisation.  Where I have to stand my ground and debate endlessly about things that are so far removed from the world I am comfortable in.  Where we talk about ways in which to not compromise standards whilst still holding on to (ideologically) the notion of granting opportunities (it’s a mad mad world!!!!).  And I keep thinking what do you know about what is happening out there???  And then of course, you tell yourself, once the revelation hits that you were meant to be in this world whilst knowing about the other so that your contribution can make a difference both ways.  Oh yes, I am deep.  I cannot do anything superficially – analyse, then dissect, then move into action…

Ronelle is not real, she is genuine:

I do loads of housework at home – cleaning, cooking, washing windows, scrubbing floors, scrubbing paving, washing dogs, etc.  So it’s not unusual for me to responding to a work-related e-mail in my domestic worker attire, mop in hand.  Or to do so whilst I wait for a part of the dining room floor to dry. I am the youngest of six children, first in family to go to university, raised by my mom only.  My mom left my dad in 1974.  All the trappings and blessings that go with this is in me…overly sacrificing, dreaming dreams for people, wanting to make it a reality, being disappointed, working for a nucleus and an extended family, not quite getting it right, wanting not only your own kids to excel, but your sisters’ and brothers’ kids too so you have to work even harder to earn a living because there is so much more at stake and then of course, the disappointment that comes with them not wanting what you think they should want…

One of Ronelle's outreach projects. See her daughter, Zoe also in the picture.

As I read this I knew I discovered part of the reason why I was drawn to her…

My hubby will tell you that I am all things to all people and he often jokes that I have “come to me, I will help you” written on my forehead and that we have a sign on our roof that tells all homeless and hungry people to knock at that door to ask for something.  I am a believer, a believer in the good plan God has for my life and the life of others, believe that God has purposed me to be here at this time, in this space with this intellect and ability in order to do something.  Some days I wonder if I am doing what I should be doing or if I am doing enough.  Some days I think I am lazy and should be doing more.  But mostly I trust God that I am where He needs me to be to do what He requires of me to do. I am a joker…gosh!  I can crack a lot of jokes and imitate a lot of people… sommer just so on the fly!  Some days I don’t even know I am doing it, that’s how natural this gift is.  So I cannot imagine how people can say I am serious when I am the first person to “skiet a kaat” or to “break the ice”.  I can tell a kwaai story… sound effects and all!

Professional side of Ronelle:

I have been doing people management for the entire time that I have been working (almost 17 years).  My education was decided on “accidentally” and so too my profession, but I vowed early on in life that regardless of what I do, I will do it to the best of my ability.  I wanted to be a lawyer, then a CA, and I ended up as an HR practitioner.  I studied at UWC, completed a BComm degree when I was 20 years old.  Completed my Honours in industrial psychology a few years later.  I enrolled for the M org psych at UCT and did not finish for a myriad of reasons the biggest of which is the culture shock (UWC versus UCT —- chalk and cheese and I am not referring to the “academic standard”).  Anyway, after a while you ask yourself the philosophical question “what do I want to prove by having another degree?”  Also completed an Honours whilst working at the Department of Labour.  So way back in 1994, I started working in a furniture store in Halt Road, Elsies River and was “noticed” a few months later by an Area Manageress who encouraged me to apply for a “head office” job.  I started as personnel officer and when the company restructured another lady “remembered” that there were vacancies at the Department of Labour where her husband worked and asked for my cv.  I went for an interview without knowing the job, but got it.  A few months later, another opportunity arose,etc. etc.  I kept wondering at the time how is this possible?  “I am a small time township girl with the odds stacked against me (I had Wayde six weeks before my 21st birthday) but I always had this HUGE dream.” 

I have owned and managed Kharism Consulting for the last six years.  Consulting has its highs and lows and the market I believe is still dominated by a chosen few and is so hard to break into – probably because I don’t know how to have meaningless, networking conversations over coffee at overpriced coffee shops! Career wise… I would like to get back into the public service to contribute positively.  Our country cannot be left in the state it is when there are people who have the capacity to make a difference!

Do you do any community work, Ronelle?

Ronelle at the Dysselsdorp/ Oudsthoorn Mission Trip 2011

Yes, I do.  At the moment I am part of a faith-based Missions outreach team.  We fundraise and then buy the contents of food parcels and do some work in a specified (impoverished) area.  This is where my heart it.  As a pdi, I often see the need in others’ eyes and would like to assist with meeting that need, so I really enjoy doing this. I am also part of the School at the Centre of Community project.  

Essentially, this is how it works… we all agree that one of the biggest challenges facing our country is education or at least good quality education.  Right?  Now, schools used to be quite central to communities, right?  Right.  And principals and teachers used to be almost revered, right?  Right.  But how do we address this huge animal… there are many ways to do it, but the project I am involved in centres on the leadership of the school.  And we know that if leadership is not sound, then not many things will be.  So, the project focuses on the leadership development of the principal and the principal is partnered with someone in formal employment (self or otherwise) and they enter a year-long thinking partnership where the principal for possibility and the partner for possibility explore areas in which the school can once again take its rightful place at the centre of the community.  These partnerships need to have a coach, so that’s where I fit in.  I am a learning process facilitator and I have committed to getting 10 principals and ten partners to embark on this leadership journey…  And, of course, I am starting in the Factreton, Kensington, Maitland area.  Go back to where you were to give back! My life is enriched by this of course. 

The latest outreach project - Malmesbury

“I am enriched by giving and in the process I have forgotten how to receive.  I love to give of myself, of my resources and of my time.  And my children get to see a living example of selfless giving…”

Ronelle speaks about her passions and beliefs that her life is based on:

I am passionate about people and what they do and how they do it, their dreams, their lives.  I love to assist, I love to see others’ dreams being realised and how they acknowledge others in the process.  I am passionate about God and His grace and His goodness.  I thank Him for placing people in my path who have assisted me tremendously and encouraged me and loved me. I have always had a dream that my thoughts either verbalised or written is going to catapult me to another level. 

I am passionate about writing and poetry and being in love.  And so I can write poems about God and draft scripts for drama’s or skits about salvation and living a purposeful life. 

If you had to give separate bits advice to the older generation vs. the newer generation what would that be, in relation to how we look at issues our society faces?

I think my advice is universal and not unique … pursue that dream, it should not die, regardless of your age, keep on pushing, keep on believing, keep on praying, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Ronelle's son, Wayde

We all need something or someone to keep us grounded. What is it for you?

My husband…  really.  Maurice is the love of my life – a typical alpha male – great soccer player even at 40 years of age he can keep up with people half his age.  He makes things very clear and very plain and very simple – no frills, no fuss.   

Name 3 items / people you cannot live without:

  • My hubby and kids (they count as one here, please)
  • My Bible (infinite wisdom and guidance) I need that daily bread…
  • My swirlkous – made the old fashioned way by cutting off the legs of my mom’s used but clean pantyhose (not the ones with the lycra in it as that will make that tell-tale line on my forehead)

Ronelle's daughter, Zoe

There you have it, Ronelle Anthony-Jones, the tip of the ice berg. A woman grounded by her family, her faith and being an active change-maker in our communities. What counts most that is that Ronelle remains true to who she is. She is not afraid to conquer any challenge with a foundation built on the person she is and not on what others believes she should be. I admire that about her most. In a world of pretenders, we have to count (and count on) the people who remain true despite the, often superficial, demands society places on our young leaders.

I salute you, Ronelle!

Miss Y

One thought on “Spotlight: Ronelle Anthony-Jones, the mentor

  1. Papama says:

    Golden. We need more God fearing leaders in the midst of a broken and direction less society. I draw much from the life of this selfless individual who lives ubuntu and I admire the courage and sacrifices.

    I found the “UCT culture shock” quite funny, but I won’t go down that path in case I get entangled in other matters.

    Aunt Nel thank you for the window into your life I have learnt that the love for our neighbour is still at the heart of God.

    May your work and life be a continuous memorial before the throne of heaven, that the desires of your heart be fulfilled.

    Yvette, steal all the lessons you can, then share them with other children.



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