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AAt the tender age of 24, Phumla Mthombeni has become a beacon of resilience and ambition, hailing from Esikhaleni, a tranquil locale north of Durban in the vibrant province of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Now residing in Waterfall (Midlands), Mthombeni’s journey of academic and professional exploration saw her graduating from Wits University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology, marking the commencement of a promising career path.

Yet, she chose a path divergent from her academic foundations; instead, Mthombeni has made waves in the tourism and events industry. She is one of the hostesses enlisted for various roles at Meetings Africa, presently at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg. 

In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, she says, “I love it. I am accustomed to seeing different faces, some uptight and some with different energy... My role at Meetings Africa is to scan people’s tags and direct them to their sessions.”

She isn’t new to the tourism industry, having spent four fruitful years with MSC Cruise, where she refined her promotional skills in the beverage department. She believes her secret to success lies in the ability to “express yourself” and engage in intellectually stimulating conversations.

Through her interactions with diverse individuals, Mthombeni highlights the invaluable lessons and insights one can acquire. “The big thing,” she says, “is showing up and taking up space.”

Mthombeni is determined to break new ground, aspiring to continue her journey of igniting the fire within herself and dreaming of becoming an actress. Still, for now, her roles as a hostess and in promotions are her bread and butter. “I have always wanted to make my parents proud, and as the firstborn, I must lead by example.”

The future appears promising for emerging hospitality, events and tourism talents, as the Southern African Communications Industries Association (SACIA) has initiated its inaugural designation awards. 

This innovative programme acknowledges industry professionals who may lack formal qualifications but possess a rich tapestry of experience. It offers professional recognition at three levels: Associate, Practitioner, and Professional, thereby valuing practical expertise alongside academic achievement.

At the inaugural SACIA Award of Professional Designations, 25 professionals were honoured as part of the first cohort of certified event professionals in South Africa. 

SACIA, recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), awards designations to individuals in the communications, events, and entertainment industries.

During a media briefing, SACIA’s Executive Director, Kevan Jones, described the journey to this milestone as “long and tiresome.” He revealed that of the 25 candidates who undertook formal exams, only one possessed a formal qualification in tourism, events, and hospitality, with the remainder relying on industry experience. 

Jones highlighted the value of entering an industry through experience but cautioned about the risks, noting, “It’s a beautiful entry point, but fraught with danger as mistakes tend to be repeated.” He also characterised the exam process, which included 100 multiple-choice questions, as a “sweat-inducing experience.”

Nyiko Minyuku, a professional without events or hospitality industry qualifications, distinguished herself as the first candidate to undertake the SACIA examinations. As the Events Manager at Cricket South Africa, she is responsible for the Global Titans brand. 

Beyond this role, Minyuku’s influence extends into the South African media and events industry, mainly through her involvement with the MultiChoice Talent Factory platform and her work as a producer, underscoring her significant impact on media production. 

The sole awardee holding a formal qualification, Dale Hammond, 34, boasts a National Diploma in Hospitality.

Also awarded after rigorous exams was the association’s co-founder, Glen van Eck, described as “pioneer and visionary.”  

Jones told the Daily News, “Our core business is to professionalise the events industry by offering a tiered approach to the process. Our vision is to become a pan-African organisation. Our next step is to expand across the rest of Africa.”

Mthombeni and her peers now have a pathway to being considered professionals in the events, hospitality and tourism spaces through SAQA-accredited training, irrespective of their earlier formal qualifications.

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