Zimkhitha Mathunjwa, featured image for Women in marketing
Women In Marketing,  South Africa

Women In Marketing 2023 Edition ft. Zimkhitha Mathunjwa from Standard Bank

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa, a rising star in the world of marketing, hails from the heart of the Karoo in Graaff Reinet. She’s a Digital Security Marketing Manager at Standard Bank and joins us on this segment of Women In Marketing. Mathunjwa’s career boasts a diverse range of experiences, encompassing editorial, market research, and social media and brand digital marketing. In today’s information-rich environment, where LLM tools like ChatGPT raise concerns regarding misinformation, she emphasizes the crucial role of fact-checking. She believes in the importance of providing accurate and reliable information to her audience, ensuring that they are empowered to make informed decisions

Personal Background:

Thanks for taking the time to participate in our ‘Women In Marketing’ feature. Where were you born, and what childhood memories stand out for you?

I was born in a small town called Graaff-Reinet in the heart of the Karoo. Childhood memories that stand out for me are definitely those that centre Abazali Bami (my parents), who are both late. uTata wami noMama wami (my father and mother) instilled in me the love and appreciation of books – they always bought me collections of classic Disney books;  some of the titles I enjoyed the most are those authored by Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss and of course, every 90s kid must have read at least one book from the complete tales of Beatrix Potter. 

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa, supplied for naughtybanana

To date, the smell of new books is still my favourite thing. I now do the same for my kids although their books are a variety as we are intentional about including work written by people of colour as well – our daughter has a mini library going. These memories also stand out because they formed a base of where my passions lie in reading, writing and creativity which shows across my career span thus far.

Describe your high school and college years. You were the coolest one, right?

So, the joy of living in a small town meant I went to kindergarten, preparatory, primary, junior high and high school at the Union Schools. I am one of those people who has the privilege of literal day-one friends – whom I’ve known since we were kiddos! I have always loved swimming for recreational purposes and was never a competitive individual when it came to sports.

We had to go through a test series at school before one got a free swimming certificate to graduate from the pikkie pool to the big bool and the day I got mine was one of my school highlights, alongside winning the public speaking competition in grade 8, being head of the debate and public speaking societies in grade 11 and 12 as well as being head library monitor in my matric year. I got my oratory prowess from uTata; so much so that I used to read Friday devotions at the school assembly. 

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa. Photo with a backdrop of Johannesburg. Supplied for Women In Marketing

I went from being a writer-cum-editor of my school’s newsletter ‘The Mugglestoner’ (named after our headmaster, Mr Mugglestone), to being chairperson of the School of Literature, Language and Media Studies at my alma mater, Wits University as well as the academic and transformation officer for the Wits chapter of the Black Management Forum. I was also the Coordination Officer of the Wits Acts chapter (Association of Catholic Tertiary Students). As you can see, mine is an academically charged with value-laden leadership journey.

Whether I was cool, I cannot say. What I was throughout those years, however, was intentional about honing my skills and leaning into my talents to set myself apart and leave each institution better than when I had found it.

What’s your favourite meal that you wouldn’t share with anyone?

My favourite all-day, everyday meal is what we call umphokoqo in my home language, isiXhosa or uphuthu in my husband’s home language, isiZulu. It is a crumbly maize meal, served with fermented milk (amasi/maas) or buttermilk. Whilst this is my absolute fave, because there is always much to go around, I do not mind sharing it! 

What would be your plans for a sudden $10 million windfall if you were to receive it tomorrow?

Hectic. I would probably build a library in each province and partner with early childhood development practitioners on a rollout plan to get more children reading. South Africa faces many challenges. One of the stark ones that does not live in a vacuum and thus does not have a one-size-fits-all solution is literacy poverty. On the realistic side, this solution would not eradicate the entire issue, but it is a start. Children are the future, and we need to protect and equip them. Although the statistics for children who can read for meaning are as dire as they are at present, with 81% of grade 4 pupils in SA not being able to read for meaning.

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa, TV show. Image supplied for Women in marketing

Can you share an interesting fact or hidden talent not found on your LinkedIn profile? Previous Women in Marketing candidate Anastasia Hamel says that she can breathe fire!

I used to be a part of our music teacher, Mr Leo’s steel band in high school and, as such, I can play the recorder, the xylophone and (my favourite) the steelpans. Our band had to learn to play at least 2 of the instruments for each song in case someone took ill or any unexpected event occurred.

Career and Work:

How do you typically start your day, and are you #TeamCoffee, #TeamTea, or both?

I used to be a staunch member of the ‘but first, coffee’ squad, but now I am an avid tea connoisseur – organic, herbal, flavoured, leaves – you name it!

What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing? Didn’t the “I want to become a doctor” bug bite you?

My career is rather colourful in that I started an environmental NGO. I then found myself in the entertainment industry, where I also got to be in front of the camera. I then journeyed into news journalism, then consulting and now, I find myself in the financial services sector. The common thread throughout is communications and writing. My love of the world that words make possible landed me here. One could even say that it was inevitable, but I never really woke up thinking ‘Marketing is where it’s at’ for me. I have just always been keen on seeing how we can use words and language – visual or literal – to bring people together, share moments or convey messaging.

You hold a Master of Management from Wits Business School (You Go, Girl!!). Considering the rise of online educational platforms like Coursera and Google Skillshop, how do you foresee the future of tertiary-based education?

I am working on my thesis now, so I am still a Master’s Candidate. My supervisor and I are practically besties at this point! I am working towards submitting my complete research in December.

The immediate future of tertiary-based education will continue on the trajectory of in-person and hybrid models to accommodate those who work full-time in-office jobs and allow flexibility for individuals who want to also take full-time student roles as opposed to part-time which is lengthier.

In the distant future, though, I do see more and more individuals opting to go the platform education route and not necessarily looking to the traditional institutions, certainly for upskilling purposes whilst on the job, as these platforms allow industry individuals to close the loop in their skillsets and their vocations.

Many industries had to create systems overnight that would enable their respective workforces to work from home due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s your perspective on remote and hybrid work, and how have you dealt with its challenges? Do you have a preference?

The shift from business usual to business unusual has been a great leap forward for those who are primary caregivers, as it allows the flexibility to do pick-ups and drop-offs. From a practical perspective, it has also translated into savings from a fuel cost perspective as our economy and inflation encourage many of us to reevaluate our spending patterns, and the time gained back from working from home WFH means individuals can arguably get more done. 

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This doesn’t take away from the value of engaging with colleagues and maintaining those relationships in person. The balance borne of hybrid work means the afore relationships will strengthen through once or twice-a-week contact.

AI is the hot topic of the day, most specifically, generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard. How do you address the challenges you face in your day-to-day responsibilities? Any specific tools you’d like to plug us with? 

Since I am a digital native, I am still old-school in the sense that the journalist in me is pedantic about verifying information and ensuring the legitimacy of anything we publish in any of the marketing collateral. This is why I deem it critical that marketers work very closely with agencies as they co-create their deliverables. It isn’t good enough to haphazardly outsource the work; marketers need to take ownership and be a part of the solution beyond the brief.

Nope, no tools to plug from my end. But perhaps some parting words. Ensure that from brief to execution and post-campaign analysis, you are in the room. Partner with the data team on the insights and make sure that the story has a golden thread throughout.

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa prepping on set. Image supplied for Women in marketing

On the topic of CHATGPT, you are, as a matter of fact, a former member of SANEF. How do these modern technologies assist, if they do, in the work that writers and journalists conduct?

Any individual who has worked in a digital publication newsroom will tell you that the immediacy of the news is paramount. However, the accuracy and the factuality of the news are more important. We live in an age of fake news and impersonation as AI can be manipulated. As such, reputable news organisations need to ensure they have mechanisms in place to screen the photos that are submitted through user-generated submissions, particularly in the op-eds and also ensure that the people submitting op-eds are credible individuals.

Where journalists are concerned, I have seen two articles from a financial publication with the disclaimers that the “article was written with the help of AI and edited by the editor”. This shows that there can be a synergy of efforts in this regard. However, I would caution against wholly relying on AI as opposed to making fact-checks and doing thorough research to ensure the story has integrity and legitimacy.

According to the WEF, the pandemic caused a 4.2% reduction in women’s employment compared to 3% of men (from 2019 to 2020). How can organisations better support women and mothers, especially in light of the pandemic’s impact on women in the workplace?

The first suggestion would be to ensure that women get paid maternal leave. Secondly, it would be to establish environments wherein women have access to affordable childcare (some organisations have early childhood development facilities on their campuses), equal pay and flexible work opportunities that allow women to oscillate between their home and work life as seamlessly as possible.

How can organisations ensure equal opportunities for women to advance into executive positions?

This could be addressed by funding upskilling opportunities for the apt matching of women to roles that provide upward mobility. Furthermore, organisations can start to treat personal development plans as more than just a tick-box exercise but as a means to charter succession planning and conversations around a career trajectory that leads to the c-suite. Committing to such succession planning means the right skills and knowledge are passed on in real-time and played out on actual projects and strategic initiatives to ensure smooth and successful leadership transitions.

2023 and Beyond:

How have you been since the start of the pandemic, and have there been any significant personal or professional moments from then until now?

My husband and I welcomed our daughter at the end of 2019 and I decided to go back to school shortly after to do a postgrad diploma. After obtaining that, I then embarked on this master’s journey and we welcomed our son, four months ago. We have both since changed jobs and navigated life as parents of one, now two and I think what I take away from this seemingly chaotic yet deeply gratifying time of many firsts is that, even in the ebb and flow of life, having a solid anchor in God and a present partner in life makes anything possible. 

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa with her family during a photoshoot. Image supplied for Women in marketing

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?

To trust in God’s plan for my life and not always be fixated on the next steps, everything will work out exactly as it ought to.

What are your personal or professional goals and aspirations for the future? We hope to see you on Forbes’ Most Influential CMOs list. No pressure!

That is kind. After obtaining this master’s, I hope to enrol on a PhD program to further my current research (I have already earmarked institutions and topics). Professionally, I am looking forward to getting accreditation in my field of speciality and climbing the next step of the corporate ladder.

On the personal front, I look forward to more play with my babies and engaging in rhythms of intentional rest. Being present is the best gift I can give to my loved ones.

Who are some of your sheroes?

My sheroes are the everyday South African women who are intentional about waking up each day to make a difference in their homes, neighbourhood, community, city and country. They do this not because they expect recognition or accolades but because together we stand a chance to make a lasting change.

What are you currently reading, and how do you consume your content?

I am a paperback gal. I am a sucker for physical books, the smell of the fresh pages? Ugh, bliss! I just finished reading one of the most exquisitely and carefully written memoirs; Indra Nooyi’s ‘My Life In Full: Work, Family and Our Future’. It is a read I will return to again because of the pearls of wisdom shared on blending a satisfying career with a healthy partnership and motherhood and how she managed to turn a Fortune 500 entity into a sustainable model positioned for present and future prosperity.

What are you currently streaming that you’d recommend?

I am easing into getting ready to go back to work now that my maternity leave is nearing the end so I have switched from series’ to podcasts. I am currently enjoying the ‘Changes’ podcast with Annie Macmanus and this week, I listened to an episode where Annie was in conversation with Zadie Smith where they were chatting about life, love, motherhood and writing. It was such a treat of an episode as it covered some of the things I am grappling with as a mother to a toddler and a baby and as someone who continuously navigates the balance of work, caregiving and time passing too quickly and wanting to bottle the joy as I go along.

You wake up one day, and before you know it, you are nearing retirement. What would you like your professional legacy to be? Furthermore, what do your colleagues and superiors admire about you the most?

I have had the pleasure of working with some of the kindest individuals. Corporate can sometimes be a very isolating and frustrating experience. What has set my experience apart is the people I have had the privilege of working with. Some of them have told me that they admire the knack I have of not getting disillusioned, no matter the climate and how despite the challenges, I get things done.

Zimkhitha Mathunjwa at bank city. Image supplied for Women In Marketing

In terms of my professional legacy, I’d say what would be gratifying for me would be to leave a legacy of Ubuntu. Even if it is one person who was touched by a kind word I said or the consistent greeting I gave as I entered or left a building. It takes nothing away from us to see one another and allow ourselves to be seen in turn.

Share a unique message for young professionals in the marketing industry.

Trust your gut and never stop aiming for excellence. Don’t allow yourself to be a postbox between agency and business. Give your input and make sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Thank you for your time, Zimkhitha. We hope this interview will inspire future leaders and other Women in Marketing.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts 🙂.

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As Managing Director at naughtybanana, I am responsible for leading and managing the organisation’s marketing strategies and business development. I am involved in driving brand awareness, customer acquisition, and revenue growth through effective marketing initiatives, market research, and collaboration with cross-functional teams. I have experience working with clients in various industries such as defi, crypto, music and events, consumer packaged goods to name a few. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and creative problem-solving which help me stay updated on industry trends and foster innovation to drive the organization’s competitive advantage in the market.