Young attorney carves his own path in corporate sector

Admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa Sifiso Nxumalo.
As a young boy, law graduate Sifiso Nxumalo didn’t always appreciate it when his grandmother denied him play time with his friends and told him to focus on his books instead. It is only now, as a 25 year-old admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa, that he fully appreciates the wisdom of his granny’s lessons in discipline and priority setting. ‘I grew up under the strict hand of uMaNxumalo. She made sure that I always had educational activities to do and limited my play time with other kids. This indirectly instilled discipline and order in me, which now motivates me to make good choices daily,’ said Nxumalo. One of Nxumalo’s good choices was to study law at UKZN where he graduated with an LLB in 2017. Making the transition from school to university was not easy. The young man, who hails from Pinetown, matriculated from St Francis College, Mariannhill with five distinctions. But when he started university, he realised the academic playing field was very different.
Sifiso Nxumalo graduation with his LLB from UKZN in 2017

“The fact that I was no longer getting distinctions disturbed me a lot at first,’ explained Sifiso. ‘In my mind, I was trying my best but the results were not reflecting it,’ he said. He realised that the study methods he used in high school were not working at university level and was forced to start making some drastic changes”

Nxumalo’s commitment to his studies also came with sacrifices, as it meant giving up playing the violin, a musical passion he had pursued since the age of 10. He is also a poet and one of his published poems is part of the syllabus for UKZN’s Zulu101 module.

During his second year, the unimaginable happened: his father, ubaba uSam Madondo passed away. This loss, early in his academic career, had a deep impact on his life, both personally and academically.

‘When my father’s health started deteriorating in 2014, it really affected me. I remember failing a module and thinking that this was the end for me. When my father passed the following year, I couldn’t deal with it, especially the grief.’

The emotions were overwhelming but he decided to use his pain as motivation to do better.

“It worked: I passed all modules and enrolled for winter school and passed the tax law course which was an additional optional module.”

He said it was only during his fourth year that he finally discovered what worked best for him in terms of studying. “Obviously, my past experiences, good and bad, really helped,’ said Nxumalo.

After graduation, the challenges continued. His first day in court did not live up to the expectations created by popular TV series ‘Suits’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’. Nxumalo soon realised that law is not about glamour as much as it is about working hard to give your clients the best service.

‘It was so embarrassing! I was given a file in the morning and told to rush to court seek an adjournment of a case from magistrate in his chambers. However, the magistrate refused and I had no option but to proceed to court, which was happening in 10 minutes. So, there I was, about to argue a matter I knew nothing about! Long story short, the matter ended up being adjourned as I discovered a discrepancy in the papers which the other attorneys had to file. Lesson learnt: always read your papers before going to court. All it takes is preparation and you’re good to go,’ said Nxumalo.

After completing his articles and a few months after being retained with law firm Strauss Daly Attorneys, Sifiso decided it was time to branch out on his own and explore what the corporate sector had to offer. Today, Nxumalo is a Legal and Compliance Officer and Junior Legal Counsel for Africa at Access World, a subsidiary company of Glencore PLC, a global commodities warehousing and logistics business. As an attorney, Nxumalo is carving his own path, specialising in corporate, commercial and compliance matters, with a specific focus on risk management, ethics, internal auditing, fraud, anti-money laundering, anti-bribery and enhanced due diligence in mergers and acquisition and joint ventures.

He said his career objective is to become a leader within the corporate governance, ethics, fraud, risk management, and compliance fields.

‘I want to be known as someone capable of safeguarding the organisation from financial and related crimes by identifying, mitigating and managing risk exposure. Also, I want to broaden my knowledge and investigative skills with the aim of enabling growth and implementing forward-thinking measures to combat financial crimes, fraud and corruption,’ said Nxumalo.

Sifiso Nxumalo’s advice to law students

  • Work hard! Strive to be different; I cannot emphasise this enough.
  • Participate in extracurricular activities. Join student leadership bodies like the Black Lawyers Association, or Students for Law and Social Justice. Such activities not only sharpen your leadership skills but they set you apart from the rest. Remember, there are thousands of law students graduating each year and we are all, if not most, competing for articles.
  • It is very important to get into a good law firm. When I say ‘good’, I mean, where you will be under good tutelage and learn all that you need to learn. Also, it is very important to know which department within the law firm you want to be in so you can learn the ropes early for the path you want to take. Hence, it is vital for you to attend internships in different law firms to see the various departments and also learn the culture, which makes things easier when you start applying for articles of clerkship.

Written By

Thandiwe Jumo

Thandiwe Jumo

Thandi Jumo is a Journalist and Public Relations Officer at UKZN’s College of Law and Management Studies. Her 12-year journalism career in journalism includes writing for the Daily News and its Tonight Entertainment Section as well as the Witness where she specialised in education and entertainment. She expanded her career from journalism to PR when she joined UKZN in 2012 and currently generates content for the University’s publications and the College’s Facebook page.

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