Given a second chance at education

In the middle is Masters degree graduate Shameem Damon, with his wife Aneeqa Davids-Damon, on his left and his mother Nadia Damon.

Two broken legs after a fatal car accident did not deter a Portland youth from going to university a year after matriculating.

Today Shameem Damon, 34, has a Master’s degree in Commerce and is a relationship executive in the business banking division for Absa in Bellville.

Two days before he was due to attend the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 2003 to complete a certificate in business studies, he was involved in an accident in which one friend died and another was left with a brain injury.

“It was like I had been given a second opportunity,” he said.

He went to campus in that year but the distance between venues was too much for him to walk on crutches.

“Also, I don’t think I was mentally ready,” Shameem said.

During his matric year at Mondale High School, in Portland, Shameem just managed to pass with exemption and join his twin Shameema at university.

“I was very playful at school. I didn’t take it seriously,” he said.

Thinking back, he said, he may have taken some of his blessings for granted like his mother Nadia, who was at home to care for them and his father Nazeem Achmat Damon, who worked at the University of Cape Town.

“My father was the sole breadwinner and mom was at home. They always wanted the best for us,” he said.

Shameem’s mathematics tutor, who was an actuarial scientist, had told him that he had failed Grade 1. “This motivated me and I managed to just pass well enough to enter into university,” he said.

During his gap year he worked at Toys R Us, Foschini and later at Street Fever.

This gave him a foot in as a sales assistant and an understanding of how customers’ minds work.

In 2004 he returned to UWC, to start a Bachelor of Commerce degree, which he completed four years later.

Relationships he had made at the retailers he worked for had allowed him to move to Cell C, where he was able to work as a sales consultant and later to the Nashua office, where he was tasked with problem-solving, as an operations co-ordinator.

Shameem applied to several graduate programmes and was runner-up in one programme but remained focused on being employed.

In 2006 he met his now wife Aneeqa Davids-Damon, who was also a “Mondalian” (a Mondale matriculant) and lived in Portland.

They married three years later and on the day they decide to start saving, Shameem saw an advertisement for an Islamic banking position. He applied and he got the job.

While the salary was not what was expected for someone with a degree, Shameem was satisfied with just being employed.

“I grew up in a home where money was not everything. We never wore branded clothing, we would wear look-a-likes and perhaps hand-me-downs at a push,” he said.

Shameem increased the clientele at the bank and was approached by another manager to become a business manager.

He honed his skills in client services and managed the foreign national informal trader’s market. It was only in 2015 that Shameem decided to return to university to do his Honours degree.

“Here I was thrown into the deep end, being a student again and this time with younger people, eager to excel,” he said. “I learnt a lot about myself. This time round I had work responsibilities and I was a family man,” he said.

Shameem said he had become more outspoken and started showing leadership qualities.

He won second place in the YNS Marketing Challenge hosted by Youth Initiative for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Development (YIELD) that same year.

He and his classmates worked on community projects, including incorporating businesses to do social investments activities, like at the Beaconvale Community Frail Care Centre and showcasing their management skills, which contributed to their academic portfolio.

The academic bug had bitten and in 2017 Shameem found himself a supervisor to help complete his Master’s degree thesis.

“Here I need to thank my wife, our parents and extended family for their support and patience during the past two years,” he said. “Many times my wife had to go out with her parents and I would sit with my books.

“There was a lot of back and forth with my thesis – ideas, suggestions, changes, corrections, setbacks and progress,” he said.

Shameem’s supervisor had also contributed to broadening his horizons to more community involvement, in showing that it does not matter where you come from, or how well you do at school.

“Coming from Mitchell’s Plain does not define who you are. You decide who you surround yourself with and you work towards your goals,” he said.

His Master’s degree thesis, “Internal promotion of Islamic banking offerings at a South African traditional bank: An action research study”, was published in December last year.

Two months before that he presented a co-authored article titled “The Ethico-Political Promotion of Islamic Banking: The Role of Knowledge Practices” at an international conference.