We had no idea what kind of questions to ask Sindi-Leigh McBride. What on earth do you say to someone who is finishing a second Master’s degree at age 26, has appeared in Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young List, has a spectacular blog (which is the perfect combination of academia, thought & humour), and who’s career ambitions seem to have no limitations? All we knew, is that we absolutely had to feature her! Read on as Sindi-Leigh shares her dedication to politics, civil society, learning and “internet debris” as described by her, referring to her popular blog, Just Let Them Eat Cake, below…
Full name: Sindi-Leigh Tenielle McBride
Current title/company: Researcher, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA)
MA International Relations, University of Witwatersrand
MA Political Communication, University of Cape Town (almost done!)
Current city: Johannesburg
Sindi-Leigh, we won’t attempt to ask you about your present career, one can easily look that up online! But what we do wish to know is what factors contributed towards the journey you are on now? Have you always innately enjoyed reading, writing, questioning?
Well, fiction is my first love.
I’ve had my head in a book (especially at weddings!) since I knew how to read, I have a love/hate relationship with writing and I don’t know if questioning is the right word. My grandma calls it ‘cogitating’ but I’d say spacing out! Reading from a young age made me curious but as I grow up, I still think that most of what we know is mythical, with unknown potential for mystical happenings to occur. Like, no matter how deep the water is, there could totally be a dragon dwelling in it or no matter how high the mountain, there is definitely chance of a spirit resting on it.
Perhaps my main motivating factor has been a desire to be ready for whatever I imagine, like a zombie apocalypse. I guess then that the governing factor contributing to where I’m at is probably an instinct for reality that I sometimes envy, but seem to be doing okay without.
You are nearing the completion of your second Master’s degree – a Master’s in Political Communication– Congratulations! What made you decide to pursue a second Master’s degree and what role do you think education has in our society?
Thank you so much!
After graduating from Wits, my first real job was as an intern and then Researcher at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The Commissioner that I gave research support to is responsible for the portfolio of Law Enforcement and the Prevention of Torture. This was during the peak of media attention to issues of police brutality, and while I was there, the massacre at Marikana happened. Being marginally privy to that madness, made me feel like I need to keep beefing up the knowledge sets that help me to make sense of the world, or I will go mad just thinking about it.
I opted to do a second MA in preparation for future PhD plans and because I think it’s cool to combine different disciplines; a thought stream can become like a crosscurrent. I chose this particular field because I have no background in journalism, and I am curious about how I/we come to know and care about what is happening around us. As a conduit of political information, the media seemed a good place to explore.
The role of education in our society is ineffable. It is what will inspire imaginations for exploring the future.
We aren’t quite sure how to categorize you – be it as an Academic, Corporate or aspiring Politician! What do you personally identify yourself as?
Right now, I am a student – not an academic, neither a corporate nor a politician. By profession I’d call myself a Researcher and at present, a government official which means identifying professionally as a public servant.
It’s really funny working in government because most assume that this means working for the ruling party, with all the associated thrills of party politics, when the civil service is actually a super vast bureaucratic system of governance, keeping the cogs turning for almost 50 million people.
This makes me think of myself as a bookworm in the belly of the beast.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about? When did the “aha” moment take place?
Research work is kind of like formalized curiosity, getting paid to be forward, but this is an activity before it is an occupation. I have that “aha” moment all the time, but not in a grand ‘OMG this is my future’ kind of way, because that would mean spending my life glued to a computer.
Rather, I hope to construct a career comprised of various activities that give me that “aha” moment on the daily, that sensation of an impulse justifying itself.
You possess a Masters degree in International Relations, and soon a Masters in Political Communication – is Politics and social interest a calling, or influenced by one’s surroundings? What makes a young person such as yourself wish to pursue studies and a career in politics, social relations and global issues?
I think an awareness of what’s going on around you and an interest in power dynamics socially, nationally, globally are mutually reinforcing. I just feel more conscious, present even, when thinking about the bigger picture. Like real world issues can make my own personal issues seem so paltry, and that grounds me.
As for being into politics and education as a young person, well I won’t be young forever! Politics is such a grown up thing to me, the kind of topic that would be spoken about when my parents thought I wasn’t listening and jeez education! Unforgivably, it is a privilege for the majority of young people in South Africa. Having that privilege makes me feel like YOH I need to make the most of what is on offer to me, so that I can make magic with what’s in store for me.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young women today?
Hmm this is difficult to answer because young women can have really different realities. The challenges for someone living in Dainfern are obviously going to be very different to those of someone living in Diepsloot.
South Africa may not be a country at war, but it is definitely not a country at peace. Class inequality – and the subsequent symptoms of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion – is what I see as the biggest challenge facing our society.
Women experience political and economic pathologies most acutely, so this is something that I’d guess challenges young South African women today, and will continue to challenge us tomorrow.
Ok, so enough about the serious stuff! Let’s talk about your tumblr “Just Let Them Eat Cake” (http://just-let-em-eat-cake.tumblr.com/) – I’ve been following it for years! Does it serve as your creative outlet or is it an extension of your overall career and brand?
I blushed at the idea of an “extension of my brand”. It is more like Dumbledore’s pensive, a space to deposit brain matter/internet debris that I want to return to on bankrupt days when I feel bored.
There are thousands of blogs and tumblrs online, what do you think contributed to the success of “Just Let Them Eat Cake”?
When I started it, a friend told me to act like no one will ever see it. So it’s wholly for me, but shared. I suspect that when something is good for you and you share it with other people, there is no real reason for it not to be a success.
You have progressed extensively in your career. What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how have you been able to overcome them?
- Funding academic adventures is no small feat! I think paying for education is way harder than passing. I posted some funding tips here.
- Being taken for a ride because of my age. I just imagine my ‘superiors’ at my age and vice versa, and engage with them on the same level, and with the same respect that I would like in return.
- People can be dismissive about an approach that they don’t feel compelled to, like treating studying with as much diligence as making money. (Think of that Kanye skit on College Dropout where the dude is talking about how his Dad wanted to learn instead of work and was like “I’m gonna get super smart so I too can die without money, but I’ll be the smartest dead guy!”) I find that boring, so I just ignore it.
What is a typical work day like for you?
I am part of the Policy & Research unit at Gauteng CoGTA, so I am office bound between 8:30 and 4pm doing that work. I am working on my thesis right now, so I either try to wake up at 4am to work, or have a nap after work and dive into it when the sun is down.
What is most fulfilling about your career?
Knowing that it is all on me. I am not bound to changes in political leadership endangering my employment or market fluctuations affecting my business. There is freedom and fulfilment in striving for my life to be a reflection of my will.
Advice for aspiring Academics?
Working and studying at the same time can seem overwhelming, but if you craft arrangements where they relate to each other, it will feel easier to aspire to success in both areas. It is also easier to study when you’re not freaking out about paying bills/surviving.
Morning or night?
Morning, before the sun is up.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Arundhati Roy (author of The God of Small Things). I’d ask her about globalization and ghost stories and I would order Bombay Aloo (it’s like a potato curry)
I wish I knew how to… See in the dark. Actually, I just wish I could see properly (blind as a bat!)
African women are… where humanity began, the biological cradle of mankind.
South Africa is… brand new. It is incredible to think that a 20-year-old State engages with the likes of China, which has been in existence for centuries.
Worst money mistake… not making saving a priority.
Best investment… getting a student loan. The fear of unmanageable debt is a good motivator to avoid accumulating more!
Motivation in 3 words… keep it moving.