Bomikazi Ndovela comes from a family who understand the importance of education, but she is aware that many other young South Africans do not.
Finishing off an honour's degree in financial analysis and portfolio management, the 22-year-old has the world of finance at her feet, but her ambition is to help improve others' lives, either financially or by helping them gain access to tertiary education.
While still an undergraduate, Bomikazi set up what she calls her Vula Project, helping promising Eastern Cape matric pupils apply for university and bursaries. “I want to change their life trajectory,” she says, “And I plan to continue with this project for many years to come.”
She understands only too well the value of someone doing this, having been close to breaking point at university when the Moshal Scholarship Program stepped in. She hasn’t looked back since.
Bomikazi grew up in in Margate on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Initially, she lived with her single mom, her brother, an aunt and numerous cousins. Bomikazi went to Model C schools, Margate Primary and Port Shepstone High, and excelled. “In Grade 4 I was at the reading age of a 16-year-old. I read a lot — anything I could find in the library. I once brought home a book on sign language and taught my friends to sign,” she says.
“I was very independent and every weekend - from Grade 2 - we would get the Sunday newspaper and we would all sit around reading different sections. I would initially read the kiddies' section and then the main and business sections.”
A university education was never a question for her, it was a given. “As far back as I know, my family emphasised education above all else. My grandfather insisted his children get top results so they could get into university. When my mother got a C in Maths in Grade 11, he insisted she redo the year to improve her mark.” This took place in a rural village that still does no have running water, Bomikazi says.
“My family is funny that way; life only starts for us after university. We have a saying that we have to do better than the generation before us.”
“My biology teacher suggested I go into occupational therapy, so I applied to do that and commerce.” The latter was inspired by the financial crisis in 2007. “I remember everyone talking about the impact the recession would have, but nobody could explain to me what the recession was. It was ridiculous! So I made a point of trying to figure it out and how it would affect individuals. I wanted to know how people could minimise the impact, how to plan ahead.”
Her business studies teacher in Grade 9 and 10 encouraged her to pursue a career in business or economics. In Grade 12, Bomikazi won an entrepreneurial shield for a business plan she created.
“So we then knew what I was going to study but we didn’t consider how we would pay for it,” she says. “In my head, I would finish matric and call on my dad, who had never really been a part of my life, and ask him to finally take responsibility.” Her father died in April of her matric year.
The first part of that year was disastrous in general. Bomikazi became very ill with a still undiagnosed illness that took her out of school but disappeared after three months. Then she heard her father had passed away. “At around that time the head of department called me in, asked for my mother’s number and said she was going to call her and tell her I should give up on matric for that year as I wasn’t going to pass. I refused and told her I would manage. I was determined to prove her wrong.” ” She did - with academic honours.
Bomikazi was accepted to Rhodes, KwaZulu-Natal University, Wits and the University of Cape Town. She chose UCT. “I had to pay R32 000 for registration at the beginning of the year and my mother pulled out all the stops to get this. But as I got on the bus to go to university, she told me that the rest was up to me…”
This put a great deal of pressure on the first-year student and she went to the careers office on campus every day to see how they could help her. “I battled to concentrate on my studies because this was on my mind all the time. I was very aware that if I hadn’t paid the rest by June, I would have to leave,” she says. That wasn’t all that was troubling her. “I didn’t realise how young and naive I was when I got on that bus. I didn’t realise I was leaving everything that made me secure — my family, my friends and an environment where I was somebody,” she says. “Res is a lonely place. Lots of people are busy with their own lives and don’t really care about you and your wellbeing.”
Bomikazi managed not to cry until one day at the beginning of the second term she broke down in the campus computer labs. “All I could think of was: is this what I signed up for? I am supposed to have fun with friends and I was not having fun …” She phoned her mother and aunt and told them she was going to pack her bags and come home. After she had been given love, warmth and a bit of balance, they sent Bomikazi back to university. “They told me I needed to persevere and not give up. I went back with my tail between my legs.”
Soon after her return, she got an email with yet another application for a scholarship, which she filled in and sent back. When Moshal called to say she had been awarded a scholarship and would not have to worry about money for the rest of her studies, she thought the person was joking. “I called my mom in tears telling her we didn't have to worry anymore,” she says.
“I didn’t realise quite how the stress had impacted on me until I got my first-semester results. They were horrible.” But by the end of the year she had achieved first-class passes for two of the four courses she had done in the first semester, and was much happier.
Through the workshops put on by the Moshal Scholarship, Bomikazi realised that everyone goes through a similar experience when starting university, which put things into perspective for her.
“I realise now that ‘growth is intentional’, which has become my motto. I need to challenge myself to grow,” she says. She joined a few university societies, but the community outreach organisations didn’t resonate with her. So she started her Vula Project and has helped a few Eastern Cape pupils get into university. “It is not as simple as I initially thought it would be, especially because I have to get affidavits with child-headed households and other complications.”
Once she has completed her honours this year, she hopes to get experience in the “investment space” and would like to start her own business. “I still want to be able to help others through Vula or with their money - I want to help change their lives for the better. I want to bridge the gap between impoverished students and those with access to information.”
The Moshal Scholarship has been an inspiration for her in that, she says, they are people who care and go beyond the call of duty to change people’s life trajectory. “They have faith in us even when we don’t have faith in ourselves. They constantly remind us of the greatness within us.
“Martin Moshal has taught me about humility and how success is not about how you as an individual perform but how you can get others to perform and be better people. He has taught me about finding the diamond in the rough.”