Black History Month: Mandla Sibanda
Mandla Sibanda has worked at Virgin Atlantic since graduating from university in 2013. He's worked in customer services, sales and operational planning as a realtime analyst before settling in his current role in customer solutions.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black history is an opportunity to recognise the achievements of iconic black people who changed the narrative about "the black race" and many others who achieved great things during challenging social conditions. It is also an opportunity to learn about the history of black people, most of which was modified by history books to paint a good picture of white colonialism and bad African kingdoms. South Africa (where I'm from) is loved by Westerners, has a rich history of fascinating tribes like the Zulu Kingdom and very interesting history. However, the world's media always focus on crime by black people because it proves the inferiority of our ability to innovate and increases exploitation.
I wish Black History Month would further educate people about black cultures and African heritage. Not forgetting the great contributions from the black race, including creative art, dominating many European museums and some significant innovations like the three-way traffic light system, gas masks, blood banks and many more.
Tell us about any barriers you've faced in life because of the colour of your skin.
I guess it's not a surprise that growing up in South Africa was no easy task for any black person. I was very young when apartheid was abolished but old enough to see what was happening. I did not really see any change. I faced direct racism throughout my teenage life and struggled to get a decent education. I didn't have the luxury of being angry about it. I then immigrated to the UK in my early 20s. That, of course, isn't the end of the story. I always knew about systematic racism in the UK. However, unlike in South Africa, where racism is direct, in the UK, it's hidden, but the results and the effect are the same.
Despite severe difficulties in obtaining education early, during my adulthood, I have obtained a bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Global e-Business and Management and last year, because of being furloughed, I began a PhD in Economics. I hope to help other young people in Africa to get decent education early in life and am involved in helping a school in Ghana to do just that.
How do you find working at Virgin Atlantic?
After two black guys were arrested in Starbucks in America for nothing in 2017 and caused the company to shut down all its US stores for one day to teach everyone about diversity and equality, and then again after the death of George Floyd, which was followed by masses of Black Lives Matter protests around the world, I had the opportunity to play a role in improving diversity awareness here at Virgin Atlantic.
I felt that something needed to be said about a few issues I'd seen, including why we had such low levels of ethnic diversity in the leadership team and a few attitudes I'd encountered. Although it won't happen overnight, I am grateful to our leadership team, who responded sharply, and I believe we are now on our way towards doing good for everyone.
I've had a great time working at Virgin Atlantic, with amazing friends in many business areas, and I enjoy the culture that allows people to be themselves. I wish to see everyone's ethnicity represented at all levels. I am willing to work with any party or upskill myself to play a role in this transformation.
Why is our VALUED network important?
I'm glad the VALUED network was formed and endorsed by senior leadership. However, so far, participation from the white majority is low, which is disappointing. I feel that the VALUED network has an opportunity to bring people to learn about different cultures and traditions, enjoy our differences, provide a safe place allowing people to ask questions without fear of offending or reprisal. However, I also think that it can cause more division if participation continues to be one-sided.
Who has inspired you?
Apart from my father and millions of others whom we will never hear about who gave up their lives fighting for equality, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela stands as my hero. In his closing court statement at the Rivonia trial, which was followed by 27 years of imprisonment, he said, "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".
To me, there should be a level playing field. Giving equal opportunities to all races does not mean fewer opportunities for white people.
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