Youth Month 2021: Smangele Nkosingiphile Shandu

Youth Month 2021: Smangele Nkosingiphile Shandu

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young dreamers and achievers who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Ms Smangele Nkosingiphile Shandu is a final-year Doctoral candidate in Criminology and Forensic Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

She received funding from the NRF for her Master’s studies (Social Science in Criminology) and is currently funded for her PhD. She was also sponsored through an NRF International Travel Grant to attend the 14th International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences which took place in Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico City. Her presentation was titled: “A Critical Analysis of Criminological Application in Responding to Violent Crimes in South.” During this sought-after conference, she was awarded an Emerging Scholar Award, where she chaired sessions under the theme of ‘Civic and Political’ presentations for four days.

This is her story…

I am a 32-year old Zulu-speaking female who grew up in the rural area of Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). I completed my primary schooling in this area and I later relocated with my family to Empangeni on the North Coast of KZN where I matriculated at Mgitshwa High School. I was raised in a marital house with both my parents. I am the 5th daughter out of six siblings.

After matriculation, I worked at Discom (EDCON group) as a cashier while pursuing a fully-funded Social Work degree from the KZN Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Science and Technology respectively, as offered by the University of South Africa (UNISA). In 2016, I enrolled at UKZN for my postgraduate studies.

I am a registered Social Worker by profession who also developed an interest in the field of ‘Criminology and Forensic Investigative Science.’ ‘Social Work and Criminology’ deals with the impact of social problems that emerge from people’s interaction with their immediate environment.  

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

After completing my undergraduate studies I was unemployed for a year and I then decided to apply at UKZN for a Masters’ degree in 2016. This was a difficult journey with the notion that our families are always optimistic after graduation for our first degrees; it is always believed that this can open doors for us. This was also disappointing to me since I was unemployed with a relevant degree. With frustrations and lost hope, I was admitted to UKZN for my Masters’ degree. I never looked back academically, and with the financial support received from NRF, my life started shaping up. This mountainous journey taught me to be consistent and patient with my life goals, with the drive that nothing comes easy in life.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research interests are limited to the following specialisations: comparative criminal justice system; crime prevention and control; cybercrime; criminalistics (Forensic investigations – Forensic Science); economic crimes; human rights; social crime prevention, and victim support. Overall, my area of expertise is confined to the ‘economic crimes’ which includes fraud detection, analysis and prevention in South Africa.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

My ongoing doctoral study focuses on “The developments of a prosecutorial approach to combat income tax fraud in South Africa.” A holistic approach on tax fraud prosecutions will be developed as a novel contribution for this study. I believe the South African government should urgently save our economy for better service delivery. It is hoped that this study will create awareness of the impact of tax fraud and evasion in service rendering and economic growth across South Africa. The effectiveness and existing gaps in economic crimes prosecutions will be addressed in a form of recommendations to be implemented by relevant stakeholders and policy-makers in South Africa.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Travelling abroad and meeting international emerging scholars is a major highlight thus far and presenting the stated research article to the international audience was refreshing. Moreover, receiving the ‘International Emerging Scholar Award’ from the Common Grounds research network during the 14th Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Conference in Mexico City was a big milestone for me. I also successfully supervised 24 Honours Treaties to completion, under the Discipline of Criminology and Forensic Studies at UKZN, and I also published three accredited research articles prior to completing my doctoral study.

I would like to thank NRF for the support during my academic journey. It remains a privilege and an honour to be an NRF-funded scholar. I will always be grateful to the NRF. May your great deeds overlap to others.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic (and national lockdown) change the way you work/study? How did you adapt to the “new normal”?

It was very difficult to work from home on a full-time basis. I think productive research needs a conducive environment where an emerging researcher like myself can be surrounded by other scholars to offer emotional and academic support. Thus, it is not easy to cope well in silos. As a result, I changed my mindset and accepted this elusive challenge.  I had to create a conducive working space for myself in my lounge and I am currently doing well during these testing times.

What is the best advice you have ever received (and from whom)?

I am surrounded by the best senior, seasoned academics in both the academic and corporate sector. My Doctoral supervisor, Professor Shanta Singh from UKZN; my past Master’s supervisor, Professor Jean Steyn from the University of Zululand; my academic mentor, Prof Witness Maluleke from the University of Limpopo, and Mrs Samantha Naidoo from the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. They all try their very best to provide academic and career advice.

To date, the best advice I ever received was from Professor Jean Steyn. He said the following to me, “In order to be the best academic and a researcher, you need to travel the world and publish articles in accredited journals. You will not be recognised as a researcher if you do not publish and have an international profile.”

What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways to get youngsters interested in science-related careers?

I think that our parents, teachers and community members need to encourage youth to choose scientific modules from the high school level. Schools in rural areas can be targeted where relevant stakeholders can be invited during career exhibitions to offer meaningful presentations. There has been an outcry on the exclusion of rural communities from educational career opportunities with a specific focus on science and technology. Therefore, interdisciplinary/multi-disciplinary approaches are urgently needed.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I would like to be an NRF-rated researcher in the next five years. I also want to own a research consulting firm where I will be able to employ a team of emerging researchers across the country to conduct research on various studies for municipalities, government departments, the mining and public sectors etc. South African stakeholders should be taught rare skills to implement recommendations offered by respective studies in the country.

In the next six years, I want to attend local and international academic conferences to accommodate my growing niche area in tax fraud. I want to produce high-quality outputs and sustain my recent productivity in my fields and produce a body of quality research. I also want to create ongoing engagement in my niche area, while demonstrating my ability to conceptualise existing problems on this subject and applying various research methods to address them. Furthermore, I want to compare myself with other researchers and scientists in this subject area, I want to be at the forefront of finding solutions to challenges facing the world regarding my niche areas.

Moreover, I want to subject my subject area to peer reviews to bring about quality research work on my study fields and to be competitive in my scientific endeavour. I want to position myself among the best-emerging scholars in my study fields to increase my visibility nationally and globally. I want to make a significant contribution to my scholarly understanding of knowledge to address fraud and to sustain existing academic discourse in my study fields. This will be done by facilitating my reflective thinking and addressing local and global realities on this crime. I want to boost my academic skills and understanding of research methodologies and enhance my technical knowledge.

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