Kenny Phasha loves the idea of creating structures that will remain long after he is gone. Because of that, he is so grateful for having had the Moshal Scholarship Program’s backing to obtain a degree in civil engineering that will last him a lifetime. In a Facebook post just before he completed his BSc Engineering course at Wits University in 2015, Kenny wrote about Martin Moshal, the man behind the program: “I grew up in a two-roomed RDP house, but because of him, in a few months from now I will be a structural engineer. I will build 100+ floored structures with a thousand rooms.
“I grew up playing in the dusty roads in Limpopo, but in a few months I will build roads that connect cities, countries and, hopefully, continents. “There were a few years where we didn’t have electricity in my hometown, but in a few months I will build enormous power stations to light up the world. We used to fetch water from a stream back when I was a kid … but in a few months I will build dams with huge reservoirs to store water and supply communities.” He attributes all this to Martin Moshal.
Kenny started out in a small village just outside Polokwane in Limpopo. He moved to Atteridgeville, near Pretoria, where he lived with his grandmother and uncles and aunts. His mother, who worked as a tailor, erected a shack in the garden for her and Kenny.
He went to a local school with few resources, but he loved it because he had lots of friends and did well academically and on the sports fields. At the end of primary school, his mother married a security guard. “He moved in with us until we got a one-bedroomed government RDP house in a neighbouring township,” says Kenny. He went to a technical high school, where he was exposed to engineering subjects.
“It didn’t take much to realise that engineering was perfect for me,” he says. “Civils is so dynamic. What you do today is not what you do tomorrow and the work you do impacts on people on such a huge scale.”
None of Kenny’s school friends went on to get degrees. Only two got to university. “The rest weren’t motivated and didn’t see school as their way out of poverty. Lots of the kids I grew up with are plagued by drugs and teen pregnancies.” But for Kenny there was never a question about furthering his education. Knowing that his mother had wanted to be a fashion designer and his stepfather had planned on being a lawyer, he was going to get a degree come what may.
He applied to the University of Pretoria and Tswane University, but despite having done eight subjects for matric — getting four distinctions and the rest ‘Bs’ — he was turned down. “I was devastated. I felt my dream had ended.” His uncle, a Wits graduate, insisted he try his alma mater. It was already January, but Kenny took his chances. “I was accepted there and then — I was the last one in.”
His mother had been saving for years for him to go to university, putting away R100 whenever she could. She had R10 000 saved, but her husband lost his job when Kenny was in matric so she was reticent about parting with the money, which would cover only his registration and accommodation. He convinced her it was worthwhile, but the worrying about funding coloured the already stressful first few months of university. This was exacerbated by the results of his first test. “I was horrified when I got 47% for physics, a subject I got a distinction for in matric.” He committed to putting in even more work, while still desperately hunting for a bursary.
In March, he heard he had been accepted for a Moshal Scholarship. Through his degree, he was involved with he NGO in Engineers without Borders, even becoming chairperson in his final year. Among other projects, Kenny initiated the creation of a centre for students from Tembisa who didn’t have a place to study. “My degree wasn’t a breeze, it was hard work, but my highlight was finishing it in four years, which only 18% of my original class was able to do,” he says. He was thrilled to be offered a job by WHBO Constructions because, he says, the engineering industry has battled over the last two years and so many of the companies he tried weren’t hiring.
He took his mom and sister shopping and out for lunch with his first pay cheque. “I wanted to spoil them because I could,” he said. As for the man who made this possible for him, he says (on Facebook): “Thank you Martin Moshal for spending … your money to help me realise my dreams. God bless you.”