Vacquero Augustine  

Move over, Elon Musk – Vacquero Augustine has designs on shifting the goalposts and transforming the future

A passion for technology and science has helped Vacquero (VK to his friends) Augustine transcend the ganglands of Port Elizabeth to enter the ivy-covered walls of the University of Cape Town, where he is now studying towards a degree in Mechatronics Engineering.

“I’m really psyched about the course I’m doing, because I’ve had a passion for technology and the science world since I could remember. Through my studies of mechatronics I get to delve really deep into the heart of technology,” enthuses VK. “We do a lot of practical work, which I love, because I get to design circuits and components, and the whole inside of what actually happens in cellphones and laptops, for example, which is really exciting for me.”

When he was younger, VK fantasised about designing a car that runs on water instead of petrol. He’s now moved those goalposts to wanting to design a hover car and is researching the feasibility of such an invention.

His ambitions include gaining workplace experience before pursuing his Masters degree. “One of my goals is to work with Elon Musk; there is so much I want to learn from him. I would also want to try out my own designs and bring something to the table,” he reckons.

A tough foundation

VK’s childhood in Port Elizabeth was not easygoing. “When I think about home, it’s not so much about the place, but about the struggles and the tough times I came from were the foundation that prepared me and drove me in the direction to where I am right now,” he says. His father passed away when he was five years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his younger brother alone.

A difficult and painful time for VK’s family was when his older brother suffered a stroke at age five, which left him mentally challenged. He had be sent him to live in a care home as his mother was unable to take care of him.

“My mother was only able to pay my school fees twice throughout my entire schooling career: once in Grade 2 and once in high school,” VK explains. He took it upon himself to speak to the school secretaries and some of his teachers to arrange a fee exemption.

He says these difficult circumstances made him anti-social at school; he felt as though he didn’t fit in. “I was quite isolated, but that wasn’t a bad thing, because it allowed me to focus on what I needed to do at home as well as my academics, which were my two priorities at that time,” he says. The benefit of this is that VK was the top academic achiever throughout primary school.

During his high school years, VK emerged from his self-enforced isolation and joined the chess club, which he loved. He was elected class representative and became a prefect in Grade 12.

Inspiration from Eminem and Ethiopia

VK loves to express himself through writing rap music and poetry and enjoys listening to various different genres of music. He says his inspiration as a teen may be hard for people to understand, as “it’s a weird one”. “It was Eminem. When I was first introduced to his rap at the age of nine, the lyrics really spoke to me. He came from quite a background. His music made me feel uplifted, like I wasn’t the only one. It gave me inner strength,” he says.

VK has also been influenced by his friendship with a local spaza shop owner, Ethiopian-born Denekew, who has become a mentor to him over the years. “He is always looking out for me and my family. He messages me all the time to check on how I’m doing. He’s the one who pushed me in Grade 12 to start taking my academics more seriously and to start applying for bursaries. He’s like an older brother to me,” he says.

Being awarded the Moshal Scholarship has been life changing for him and his family in so many ways. “The background that I come from – the actual area – is filled with gangsterism, drugs and alchololism and it’s very easy to get sucked in,” he explains.

 “Moshal’s whole value system – wow, that’s amazed me; that’s outside of the scope of funding. The idea of teaching us about integrity and to be enduring has taught me so much about myself and given me a new perspective not only on life in general, but in my goals and plans. They are always motivating us to help others.

“The way Martin Moshal is doing things is so inspiring for me. I spoke to him at our annual event last year and I couldn’t believe that a person of his stature could be that humble – wow, I was amazed. He is a great role model for us,”  he says.

VK looks forward to the day he will buy his mom a home in a better area, and to helping his brother get to university. Not a farfetched ideal for the young visionary who lives by a quote of Nelson Mandela’s: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”