Falling in love with academia
When Bomikazi Zeka attended a graduation ceremony as a guest during her Honours year, she decided that one day, no matter what, she would do a PhD.
“There was something about that red gown–because in South Africa the gown is red–it just looked so regal and badass! And I thought to myself, ‘Yes, I want a red gown, too’, she says.”
Education was incredibly important to Bomikazi’s family, but she never thought she would go all the way onto a PhD. She tells me that, growing up in South Africa, “…which is probably one of the most, you know, still segregated societies in many ways … there’s still the legacy of apartheid.”
“And so education was probably the biggest weapon you could use to overcome your social or economic circumstances.”
“Only when … I saw the PhD students walking the stage, did it ignite something inside of me. I was so in awe of these people who had made it to Doctoral level and could use that title for the rest of their lives.” Bomikazi’s eyes glint as she speaks about this.
With awe she says, “I saw women! There was so much diversity in the spectrum of people graduating. I saw mums, and their kids were shouting for their mums on stage like, ‘yes mama!’”
“And also, African ceremonies are lit.” Instead of quiet murmuring or subdued applause, “…there were people screaming and shouting…It’s so contagious. You can just feel the family’s love and excitement for their person and you’re like, oh my goodness, this is why we advocate for education.”
“Everybody should have access to this, and this is why doors need to be opened and walls need to be kicked down… so that people have the opportunities not to see it but to do it… And to take up space and be unapologetic about it.”
“Because you realise that you change the trajectory of your family when you achieve something like that. You make it possible for your children to dream that way, even for your parents to dream in that way.”
At this point, Bomikazi has completely revived my love for academia. She continues: “When I see women getting their PhDs I’m like, ‘yes mama! Show them!’ And they’re wearing heels this high,” she gestures to indicate obscenely tall heels, “and they are killing it.”
Seeing representation on that stage, Bomikazi shares, “…stirred something inside of me. … I knew that I would do a PhD one day. And it wasn’t something I was gonna do for work or for my parents, I knew it was something I was gonna do for me.”
The power of representation
Bomikazi tells me that a career in academia was “…never even on the radar for me, until I was in uni and a professor I was a student assistant for had thrown the idea out there.” Bomikazi jokes that she thought she was “too cool for that, no way! That’s so boring!”
“Lo and behold,” she continues, “here I am!”
“But this is why we talk about the power of representation. When I was in uni, I was never taught by younger academics. The demographic was very much older white men, especially in commerce, more especially in finance. So, I never saw women in academia … I never saw Black lecturers, I never saw younger lecturers.”
“And this is coming from someone who grew up in South Africa, right? So I’m originally South African … and 80% of the population is Black and can you imagine that–in my entire schooling–I was only taught by one Black woman.”
Bomikazi reflects: “there is no way I could have ever thought of that possibility because there was no representation.”
“Now that I’m older,” she continues, “I’m also very conscious of the fact that, in pursuing a career in academia but more specifically in finance, I’m opening up that possibility for someone else.”
Bomikazi pokes fun at her younger self: “And it’s not boring! Finance is fun! Because everyone thinks, ‘Ugh, this is so boring’ and that’s why I make it a point to go with my braided hair and to go to class in punk rock t-shirts, to completely flip the system upside down and to challenge your perspectives on what an academic looks like. What does an academic in finance look like? What does it mean to be a woman and a person of colour and a younger person … taking up space?”
“I always say to my students, I’ve got my calculator, I’ve got my textbook, I am armed and dangerous.”
These days Bomikazi is an Assistant Professor in finance and financial planning at the University of Canberra. After getting her PhD in financial planning and teaching at Nelson Mandela University, she taught at Hong Kong Baptist University before eventually moving here to the University of Canberra.
Bomikazi speaks about how lucky she felt to (pre-pandemic) travel for work: “…part of our jobs as academics is to be hungry for new knowledge, and see what’s out there.”
“I’m really passionate about challenging how people see what we do and why we do it. It’s so much more than standing in front of a class delivering a curriculum. You are somebody’s hope. When you’re standing up there, there’s somebody watching you and thinking ‘my goodness, watch her go’.”
“You change the way someone looks at financing or accounting or art or history… being the medium for the relationship between that person and how they interact with their discipline for the rest of their lives… it’s a huge responsibility.”
“Somebody sees me and thinks to themselves, ‘wow, I could do that too.’”
Bomikazi on empowering women in finance
Bomikazi tells me she has come to be known as “…the Beyoncé of finance,” although she does follow this by quickly saying it was not her idea.
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Bomikazi has been labelled “…the Beyoncé of finance.”
Just like Queen Bey, Bomikazi is making waves in her field. She asks: “What can I do within my own space to make a difference?”
“I know I have the ability to take complex concepts and unpack them in a simplified way that resonates with people. That’s always been my superpower when it comes to teaching,” she tells me.
Bomikazi is incredibly passionate about empowering women’s financial independence and examining the intersectionality in why financial systems still fail women. “Why are women falling through the cracks in 2022? Why are people of colour having their marginal status maintained despite the fact that they’re equal contributors to society? Why do we look at older adults as if you get to 65 and then you’re redundant?”
“A lot of my research is in making the strange, familiar and the familiar, strange.”
Bomikazi identifies a clear difference in the language men and women use to talk about money. “There is still a lack of confidence when it comes to women”, and arming women with knowledge can go a long way in changing that.
“We have to change the way we speak about our finances, because that has a domino effect on the next generation. How you’re gonna speak to your children impacts how they’re gonna speak to their children.”
“Find a way that you can empower yourself by changing the narrative.” Conversations about money don’t have to be taboo, she explains, and the “I suck at numbers” mentality isn’t sustainable.
“Finance is sexy! Money is sexy! Talk dividends to me,” Bomikazi jokes. “If you want to be financially independent one day, any day, it starts now.”
She shares questions to arm you with the self knowledge you need to gain that independence: “What are your money patterns? How do you interact with money, what are your attitudes towards it? Are you a spender or a saver? Do you know how super works? Do you know how to invest?”
I joke that she has called me out on my lack of financial knowledge, and Bomikazi tells me: “So change the narrative. Sit down with your tax return and say, ‘I’m going to file the hell out of these taxes!’”
Bomikazi reminds me: “Set your little corner of the world on fire.”
Jesse Blakers is a Global Studies student at the University of Canberra and budding academic, with a current focus on queer representation in media. She's currently interning at BroadAgenda.