For Bongani Khoza, studying towards his electrical and computer engineering degree is about more than just fulfilling his considerable potential. It’s about changing the lives of his younger siblings.
“My family keeps me motivated,” says Bongani. “When I look back at where we’ve come from, it hasn’t been pleasant. Knowing that I still have a chance to make things better, to change what the tomorrow of my siblings might look like, keeps me going.” Bongani and his three younger siblings were raised by a single mother but when she passed away a few years ago, their whole world changed.
Born and raised in Katlehong, a township in the East Rand, Bongani came from a disadvantaged background. Yet through hard work and natural academic talent he excelled at school and became the first person in his family to go to university. “I started in 2014 at Wits and did aeronautical engineering,” he says. “But when my mother passed on, I couldn’t focus anymore so I left Wits.” But that wasn’t the end of his academic career.
Degrees of importance
Even though his time at Wits wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped, Bongani was more determined than ever to continue studying. Looking for a change of scenery and a chance to start over, he moved to Cape Town. “That’s when I started in the computer engineering field at UCT,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated by the world of technology and how it’s evolving. I wanted to be at the forefront of technology and change. I enjoy building computers and systems – computers and I have always been friends,” he laughs.
“Getting a degree is important to me because I believe without formal education, I don’t stand a chance to change the circumstances of my family,” he says. “I could have stopped going to school and found myself a job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to sustain and motivate my younger siblings – who are all still in school – to continue in my footsteps. I believe that by getting a formal education, I can build a proper career which will be enough to sustain me and my family and empower my community.”
While he was accepted to UCT, without a scholarship, Bongani knew he wouldn’t be able to take his spot. “I only applied for one bursary through Study Trust – they sent me a form for Moshal,” he says. “I was just sitting at home not knowing whether I was going to school or not and then I got a call from Moshal, telling me I’d gotten the scholarship. They even paid for my bus ticket to UCT.” Bongani hasn’t looked back and is now in his third year at the university.
A way out
Bongani particularly identifies with the Moshal value of perseverance. “I feel like I’ve been knocked off the horse so many times but somehow I still stand back up and keep on pushing forward.”
“Education was always important to me,” he adds. “I was an A student at high school. Academics have been the solution for me because I didn’t think I had any other skills, like excelling at a sport for example. For me, school was the only way out.”
Aside from bettering the lives of his siblings, Bongani is also dedicated to helping his community. “I teach physics and maths to grade 10, 11 and 12s, whenever I’m back home. There’s a non-profit organisation there called ACTT (Accountancy Community Through Tirisano) and I go there and tutor. That’s my pay it forward project.”
Never give up
Elon Musk comes to mind when Bongani thinks of people who inspire him. “From where he’s standing right now, you wouldn’t say that he’s South African born. I like his vision of the future, he’s doing things that other people are shying away from like Tesla cars, SpaceX and more. He just does it for me.”
While he’s enjoying his engineering studies, Bongani sees himself moving beyond the field when he enters the working world. “I’m interested in securing something in the field of consulting because I believe I’m a problem solver. I’d like to work for a company like global consulting firm McKinsey & Company as they get a lot of challenges to tackle. I’d like to get to solve real world problems using different solutions. From there I believe that I can learn a lot of things and not just stick to being an engineer. I want to just learn and grow my skills.”
Asked what lesson he’s learnt along his often-challenging journey, Bongani says: “Giving up may look like an option at times, but it’s not an option. No matter how dark it gets, one should always remember why they started on the path they’ve chosen.”