Zamokuhle Ngcoko

For Zamokuhle Ngcoko, the numerous challenges he’s faced have only served as inspiration to succeed. With plans to become a neurosurgeon, he’s determined to fulfill his own dreams whilst working to enable others to fulfill theirs.  

“Education is my greatest achievement,” says Zamokuhle. “All through my life I was able to maintain the highest standards, even as I moved around the country.” Throughout his high school career and all the personal challenges he faced, Zamokuhle remained the top student among his peers, consistently attaining the highest marks. “I was able to maintain those levels and it gave me motivation,” he says.  

Currently in his first year of a BSc degree at Nelson Mandela University (NMU), Zamokuhle is studying biochemistry, chemistry and microbiology. Yet his plan is ultimately to study medicine. “I didn’t apply to universities covered by Moshal for medicine,” he explains, “so I chose to stay and study my BSc at NMU this year and then transfer to medicine.”

Armed with clear goals, Zamokuhle knows where he’s headed. “I’d like to get my medical degree and then specialise in neurosurgery,” he says. “I was motivated by the story of Dr Ben Carson – before he became a politician – specifically the story of how he became the first person to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the back of the head.”

Never in one place

Zamokuhle’s not used to staying in one place for very long. “My life was lived here and there,” he says. Growing up in Middelburg in the Eastern Cape, Zamokuhle lived with his grandmother until grade 8, when she passed away. “Afterwards, I kept moving because of family issues. After my grandmother passed away, I had to move to live with surrounding family members. In grade 9, I was with one aunt and she didn’t feel good staying with me, so I had to move to another aunt in Port Elizabeth in grade 10. My mother was in Johannesburg working to pay for my studies and she also faced problems, so I didn’t live there. My mother’s been my inspiration all my life. Throughout my high school life, you could never tell that I come from a family who didn’t have a lot because she worked so hard to pay for my schooling.”

Asked how he deals with challenges, Zamokuhle says: “I never look at failure as a failure, I look at it as a stepping stone. I always tell myself that I’ll never let my background put my back on the ground. That’s the motivation.” Having faced so many challenges, Zamokuhle’s learned to excel under pressure. “I usually work better when there’s a negative situation,” he says. “If I’m in a good situation I tend to relax. Through challenges I can do better.”

The Moshal family

Although he hasn’t been with Moshal for very long, Zamokuhle says he’s already gained so much from the programme. “Even though I have a scholarship here at NMU, I know there are learners that are self-funded and those that don’t have funding at all – some of them even sleep in the library. Being a Moshal student means I never have to worry about that or have to stand in long lines to get funding. I have the opportunity to study and be able to focus on that.”

“Moshal creates a family vibe, I feel like I belong somewhere. That motivates me because I know that if I have a problem, I can call my advisor Debra. She’s like a mother to us.”

No place for entitlement

Zamokuhle strongly identifies with the Moshal values. “Their values are very important to me, especially giving back and community,” he says. “When I arrived in grade 10 in PE, I was good at maths. From the first week onwards, I was able to stand in front of the learners to explain things, even though I was a student too. I would stay after school so I could help other people understand the work. Whenever I started studying something, I would gather a group of learners and explain it them – that’s how I learned.”

Now that he’s at university, Zamokuhle is just as motivated to help learners. “I still go back to my school every Monday after my classes end and I teach maths and physics.” Aside from providing academic support, Zamokuhle teaches the learners important life lessons. “I always tell them that in life, even if you’re in poverty, you don’t belong in poverty. But you’re also not entitled to have a grant, to have an education, or to be handed everything. We must use the power we have to get things ourselves. You’re not entitled to poverty, but you’re not entitled to be given things either. You must go and make something of yourself.”