Education at the Heart of African Dream, Bridgett Majola
No matter where you are Asia, Europe or America, Africa is seen as the land of opportunity. Instead of a continent that is covered by one country like Australia, Africa has 54 dynamic personalities that define its social and economic fabric, and this makes it an extremely desirable destination for investment.
This is the view of Bridgett Majola, a senior associate in the Banking & Finance Practice at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, South Africa. Majola is currently on secondment in Baker McKenzie Australia’s Sydney office. She focuses her practice on various forms of debt finance, including project finance and leveraged loan facilities. She has experience in drafting facility agreements, security documents and other finance documents for various debt finance structures and has counselled project sponsors and finance parties on energy and infrastructure projects, particularly renewable energy projects focusing on solar, CSP, wind energy, and biomass plants under the South African Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme.
“Africa has its difficulties and problems, which are reported daily (some accurately and some wholly inaccurately) but it keeps drawing investments, often aggressively as is the case with China. While we are plagued by stories of corruption and conflict, the reality is that most countries in Africa are following sound economic policies, controlling government deficits and keeping inflation in check. These countries have massive resources and incredible stories, and everyone wants to be a part of that. As one example, in Australia there is a decent number of mining and exploration companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange with a large number of projects spread across a few countries in Africa,” she says.
Majola grew up in the coastal city of Durban in South Africa. She was educated at Pinetown Girls High and started her school career at John Wesley Primary School. In 1994, when schools lost their racial restrictions in South Africa, she moved to Benjamin Pine Primary School.
“There were only four or five black students at the time, so it was not easy. I had to learn that just because I was non-white, it did not mean that I was any different, I was still capable and just as amazing as everyone else.”
Majola studied law at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN). She sat on the Law Students’ Council, and on the Exco for the Law Faculty as a student representative. She was also the head of the debating society for a year and she was on the university’s Students’ Representative Council.
A memorable moment for her at UKZN was winning the moot court competition. This is a public speaking competition where law students present a legal case and the winner is decided by external judges. Majola was one of a few black African students to have won the award at the time, and her name is still on the board at the university.
Her mother was a domestic worker in Durban and her adoptive step parents, who her mother worked for, used to tell her that the only way she could break the cycle of poverty was to get an education.
“If my adoptive parents had not paid for my primary education and if I had not been supported to get scholarships, I would not have broken my own poverty cycle,” she says.
“It begs the question, if education is the only way of breaking the cycle of poverty, then how do you break free of poverty if you can’t access education?”
Majola was the Youth Mayor of the Pinetown and Westville School's Youth Council in 2000. Because of her work in the community, she was noticed by Shepstone and Wylie Attorneys in Durban who called her and asked if they could pay for her to attend university.
“If it was not for their contribution, I would not have been able to attend university and I would not be where I am today,” she says.
Majola’s commitment to youth development and impact earned her the honour of being named one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in 2014. Majola was also identified as one of the Global Shapers by the World Economic Forum (Tshwane Hub). That same year, she was selected by the South African Law Society to represent the South African Development Community region at the first China-Africa Young Legal Professionals Exchange Program, hosted in Beijing, China. She was also National President of the South African arm of Junior Chamber International (JCI) in 2017. JCI is a global non-profit organisation of young active citizens who are engaged and committed to creating impact in their communities.
Majola says that her recent secondment to Sydney has been a fantastic opportunity to experience a new way of life in a mesmerising, first world city with incredible attractions.
“I live right next to Luna Park and the Sydney Olympic Pool with a view of the Sydney Opera House, bridge and harbour from my house!”
She also loves Australia’s clear blue skies, the beautiful beaches less than 30 minutes away from where she lives and works, the stable and competitive economy, the super reliable transport system, the fact that it is so safe, and that Australia just naturally lends itself to a fantastic, healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle.
Speaking on South African legal expertise in demand in Australia, Majola notes that South African lawyers are considered globally to be down to earth and hard working.
“We understand how to liaise with clients independently and we are skilled, well educated workers in specific industries, most of which are similar to Australia (agricultural, mining, oil and gas, common law system, accounting, renewable energy, for example). South Africans also tend to have a collaborative upbringing as part of a community and so collaboration comes naturally to us, which is considered a huge plus in a diverse, global environment. We are also considered to be ambitious with direction, and well organised.”
“I find that we are also admired for our long-term views and we are seen as a reliable investment because we tend to want to stay in Australia once we settle here, whereas locals may still want experience life in London, Hong Kong or New York, for example.”
“I love it here, but Africa will always be home. We know the American dream because we have seen the rhetoric and heard the speeches, I see the Australian Dream because I am living it right now, but I want to be part of defining and lending my skills the African Dream. I want to know what this dream looks like and how I am going to contribute to growing it so that my children and future generations can enjoy it and protect it. I know that I have a role to play as a lawyer and a corporate citizen. Access to education for all Africans, everywhere, is an essential starting point and that Africa’s vast potential will allow its people to grow and flourish in the coming years.”