Having initially been forced to drop out of university because of financial constraints, Bonginkosi decided to start over at the University of Pretoria. Now in his second year of his BCom Accounting degree, he’s motivated by the chance to inspire his community.
Bonginkosi Tshabalala knows how it feels to have to have to give up on his dreams. In fact, he feels that it’s his story of dropping out of varsity and then starting again that got him his Moshal Scholarship.
“When the they asked me in my interview why I decided to go to university, I think my answer gave me the scholarship,’” he says. “I told them how I went to UJ to do a BSc in Mathematics after completing my matric in 2013. My time at UJ was the hardest time in my life. I didn’t have any funding and I was waking up at 4.30am to catch a train from Tembisa to Joburg every day. I’d only get home at 7pm each night. It wasn’t working because my marks were going down as I didn’t have textbooks or the time to study.”
“I eventually dropped out of UJ, the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “I was heartbroken because of the work I’d put in. But I told myself that there was still an opportunity for me to grow as a person and that I might go back one day. At least I’d learnt something even though I didn’t complete my degree. I got a job earning around R1 500 a month because I didn’t have any qualifications.” But a chance viewing of a YouTube video one day changed everything.
Bigger than one person
“At work, I came across a YouTube video of Viola Davis accepting an award as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People,” says Bonginkosi. “They asked her what motivated her to be such a powerful actress and she told them that at the age of 25, she felt like she lost herself and her voice. That was exactly how I was feeling. In a quest for inspiration, Viola went on a cultural safari in Africa and landed up at the Gambian compound of the Mandinka tribe. She was told that the biggest blessing you could have in Gambia was to be able to have a child. The women who came to the compound felt that the reason that they didn’t have children was because God didn’t hear their prayers. So, all the women shouted and sang together so that God could hear them. The beauty of that ritual was the fact that people who did have children said: “I’m going to do my part in your life to make sure that you get whatever you want”.”
Bonginkosi asked himself what was lacking in his own community and immediately knew the answer. “We don’t have education. So, after watching that video, I decided to apply to go back to university. I prayed for all I needed, and I got a space at UP.”
“I felt like this was the right time for me to prove myself,” he says. “I realised this was bigger than me, it was for my community too. I’d go back and inspire people so they could see that I came from their community and still went to university. I wanted to show them that nothing stopped me, so they could do it too.”
At UP, Bonginkosi discovered that his passion and talents lay in accounting. He was the top student despite never having studied the subject before. Now his dream is to combine his career as a chartered accountant with his flair for sciences by becoming an accountant for a mining company.
A difficult childhood
Bonginkosi’s achievements are even more inspiring when one considers his difficult upbringing. “When I was between three and four, my mother dropped me at an orphanage in Joburg, where I stayed for a year or two,” says Bonginkosi. “My grandma saw me in the newspaper and came to get me.” Moving back to Tembisa with his grandmother, Bonginkosi saw his mother. “At the time I was too young to ask why she’d left me at an orphanage,” he says.
When he was nine, Bonginkosi’s mother passed away in an alleged suicide. “After her death, I got sick and started losing my mind,” he says. “I had to see a doctor and attend psychology groups which helped.” Bonginkosi fought to uncover the truth surrounding his mother’s death. After some years it was discovered that she’d in fact been killed for her identity documents.
Despite the loss and hardship Bonginkosi endured, he stayed strong. “I had to be a better person,” he says. His grandmother’s support has helped him move forward. “She’s a phenomenal woman who took care of me before and after my mother’s death. She still calls me every day and whenever I come back with my university results, you can see in her eyes that she’s proud.” Motivated by his grandmother’s pride, Bonginkosi works hard every day to influence people and change their lives.