Bongile Langa walked away from studying pharmacy at the University of Western Cape because he couldn’t pay for it. “In the middle of my first year of pharmacy I received a bill from the university. I was so stunned and had no way of paying it, so I did what I thought was best and deregistered,” says Bongile. He spent the rest of that year “hustling hard to repay what I owed – I learnt a hard and painful lesson”. But considering Bongile grew up in a remote area of the Eastern Cape where tending the family’s cattle always took precedence over school, his mistakes are understandable. As the oldest of six children, Bongile was largely responsible for the herd. University wasn't a prospect. “We were expected to study up to Grade 12 and then work to support the family and start our own,” he says.
Bongile knew what it was like to be without, having grown up living without running water, without electricity, without proper roads and mostly without his dad, who worked in the mines in Johannesburg. It took Bongile two hours to walk to school, sometime without shoes. But he was an A student, with a particular love of maths and science. He also loved reading and has etched in his memory the nights his mother read to him and his siblings at their fireplace. Bongile and his brother (a year below him) competed to see who would score the highest marks. “It was so much fun that getting less than an A was not impressive,” says Bongile. “My primary school didn’t have a library, computers or decent classes, but we thrived under the circumstances.” At the end of Grade 8 his mother planned to send both boys to live with their grandmother in Cape Town so they could get a better education. But for some reason, they sent only Bongile – who never again saw his brother, who got sick and died the following year. “We were so close and my world was shattered when I heard he passed,” he says. Battling with guilt, Bongile worked very hard at his new school and from Grade 9 to 12 was awarded with certificates of recognition as top student. His study choices of pharmacy and, later, audiology, were not childhood dreams; they were more random than that. He spent much of his teenage years at a public library after school. “I remember seeing people there, even children, playing with computers and I was amazed at how easy it seemed,” says Bongile. So he taught himself how to use one by googling random information. “I took the personality quizzes online and did those for careers that were suitable for my personality,” he says. Two top options that came up were pharmacy and audiology. “They were both based on having a career where I could take care of people,” he explains. He researched where best to study towards these degrees. “One crucial aspect I didn’t google was how I was supposed to fund my studies. I believed that once you got accepted at a tertiary institution your bills would be paid for.” By the time he applied a second time, for audiology at the University of Cape Town, he had a better understanding of financial aid, but wasn’t successful in getting any bursaries. When he received an email telling him he had been selected as a Moshal Scholar he didn’t believe it and went straight to UCT’s financial office office to check.
“The Moshal Scholarship means everything to me. Without it I had no hope of furthering my studies. I have a degree now – the first in my family – and am forever humbled and grateful for that.”
Bongile graduated in 2014 and says that was a moment he will never forget. “The phrase 'we made it' kept going through my head. I had carried the guilt of all that my mother [who had also passed away by then] and brother had sacrificed for me and at that moment I accepted my degree and their blessings.” Bongile now runs his own private audiology practice and wants to begin a farming business in partnership with a childhood friend. He is also thinking of studying further. “I never would have got to this point without the Moshal Scholarship. I can’t help thinking of those who never got such an opportunity to honour their dreams to study, because of finances. A programme such as this opens my eyes to the fact that if one person can do this tremendous selfless work for strangers, why can’t I?”
The first thing on his list of selfless endeavours is to go back to his primary school to build a library and provide other resources for the school. That way he hopes to ensure future learners have access to information about the courses available to them and how to go about making their dreams come true.