Being determined to change his and his family’s fate has been the driving force in Bonginkosi Khoza – who grew up in a child-headed household – getting to university and doing so well in his BCom at Rhodes University.
The path was tough, but Bongi (as everyone calls him) was not going to let anything get in his way. He was 11 and in Grade 5 when his mother died and he and his older sister, then in matric, had to learn to survive on their own in Daveyton on the East Rand of Johannesburg.
“We didn’t have any family around but luckily we were active in the church and they watched over us and were our first point of contact when we needed help,” says Bongi. “I had to learn to be independent and ensure we managed at home. I worked hard at school and, when it came to moving up to high school, I had to apply for myself. Same for university.”
When thing were at their most difficult in Grade Five after Bongi’s mother died, his teacher, Mable Monyati, took him under her wing at school. “I confided in her about what was happening in my life. She believed in me and made me understand it was not my fault and that I could change my life through education.
“She told me I had potential and I needed to work hard and get a good education so I can make a difference,” says Bongi, who was a top scholar.
From a young boy, Bongi believed he had to succeed because he was the only one in his family who was could change their situation. “I realised that if I don’t take the initiative to get us out of this bad situation, nobody ever would,” he says.
His older brother had gone to university but, due to psychological problems, he dropped out and his other older brother “had made bad choices” and didn’t amount to much. They were living with other family in Heidelberg.
Bongi’s sister, who he lived with, fell pregnant before she could study further and had two children while Bongi was still at school.
Bonginkosi surrounded himself with hardworking and smart friends, all of whom were determined to do well and go to university. “We encouraged each other and we were inspired by people who had already been to university.”
By the time he was in Grade 10, Bongi had decided he wanted to study commerce. In his matric year in 2010, there was a teachers’ strike that lasted months, and if he and his friends had not motivated themselves to study together in groups, they wouldn’t have got through matric.
“I had a goal I was determined to reach and I managed to be top of the class, with three distinctions and Bs for the rest of my subjects. I was determined to do well because I desperately wanted to get into university.”
He wanted to go to the University of Cape Town, but he didn’t have is National Benchmark Tests (NBTs). So, he applied to Rhodes when it was almost too late. “I managed to get a place but no accommodation. The university’s administration department told me that unless I had accommodation, I mustn’t head for Grahamstown.” Bongi had other plans.
His church gave him an old suitcase and paid for his bus fare. He left my bags at a friend’s residence and went to the financial department. They found me a place in res and got me a loan for the first term.”
Adjusting to university was difficult for Bonginkosi, not least of all because he had missed orientation week. “I knew, though, that I survived the pressure of high school, I was going to manage.” He had one friend at Rhodes who introduced him to people and he took the initiative to meet even more. “My genuine interest in people made it easier for me.”
He also wasn’t quite sure what his study option were. “In terms of commerce, people only really spoke about BCom accounting and it was only when I was at university did I realise that my skills were better suited to Bcom management and economics,” he says. “I love economics and am more of an analytical person who finds solutions than a numbers guy.” However, the stress of not having the finances to finish the year caused him untold worry. Not long before the end of term, the financial burden was lifted when he was informed he had been awarded a Moshal scholarship.
“I was ecstatic and called my sister back in Daveyton, who was speechless. I could sense her relief because now there really was hope that one of us was going to achieve. Truth is, I now had an even bigger responsibility to be this hope of our family.
But getting the scholarship for Bongi was far more than being about financial security. “It made me realise that I really must have potential because why else would some stranger be willing to invest in me. This reignited my dream to make something of myself,” he says.
He dreams of being able to contribute to society because he is so aware that he has been given an opportunity that so many other youngsters don’t get. “I want to go back to schools back home and tell them how important education is and show them the importance of working hard…”
Bongi is so inspired by Martin Moshal, the founder of the Moshal Scholarship Program, who launched this program to enable young people who would not otherwise be able to go to university, to get degrees. The program not only pays for their degrees but also provides the students with the soft skills to help them while studying and in the workplace. “Martin is my role model, a businessman with a heart. I also want to create this opportunity for others, much like he has.
“I want to go into the investment and finance sector, finding innovative business solutions to company problems that will improve the world we live in and the businesses we run,” he says.
“I totally buy into Martin’s belief in the concept that people can take anything from you, except an education. Once you have that, you always have it.”
Having completed his BCom in economics and management at the end of last year, he is now doing his BCom honours. He lives by the belief: “Accept full responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get what you want, no one else.”