It’s not where you come from

Good Times: UCT graduate Bonga Mkalalo with Ubuntu Education Fund co-founder and senior adviser Malizole Gwaxula
Good Times: UCT graduate Bonga Mkalalo with Ubuntu Education Fund co-founder and senior adviser Malizole Gwaxula

… it’s where you’re going, says inspiring student

It is not how you begin that matters, but how you finish that counts.”

These are the wise words of 21-year-old Bonga Mkalali, a University of Cape Town (UCT) graduate, whose wisdom belies his youth.

Mkalali rose above his trying circumstances to obtain a BSc from Africa’s top-ranked university last year and majored in applied biology and geosciences.

But the sky is not the limit for the young man who comes from Westville, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, where running water and electricity remain a pipe dream for its inhabitants.

The self-aware and measured Mkalali is reaching for the stars and has chosen not to be defined by his neighbourhood’s limits and plans on reading for postgraduate studies next year.

Before he does this, however, he will first complete a 12-month internship at the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre in Uitenhage, where he will be involved in community outreaches to teach youth to demystify science, he said.

His journey to academic excellence reads like a South African fairytale: youth grows up in a one-parent home. That one parent ekes out a living as a domestic worker.

Youth grows up and begins hanging out with the wrong crowd and aspires to become a taxi driver because “everyone in the township respects and wants to be them and girls want to be with them”.

“I wanted to work myself up from being a conductor [driver’s assistant] and ultimately become a taxi driver myself,” Mkalali said. But his limited aspirations were blown out of the water when he entered the imposing steel doors of the Ubuntu Education Fund, a foundation that has transformed the fortunes of countless township youths by affording them a way out of their grinding poverty.

“My perceptions about what was possible and my capabilities changed when I became part of the Ubuntu family – they gave me my first study table. I never knew such a possibility existed for a person like me, who was always accustomed to using a kitchen table,” Mkalali said.

After coming to Ubuntu when he was in Grade 10, the foundation assisted and guided him on career options and university choices when he reached matric.

He completed Grade 12 at Lungisa High School in 2010. In 2011, he embarked on his first year of study at UCT.

“First year was tough, but I persevered with assistance and counselling from Ubuntu.”

His 53-year-old mother, Nokuzola, and her sister were present at his graduation ceremony last year.

“I often go to YouTube to relive the moment my name was called out and I walked onto the stage,” he said.

Ubuntu external relations manager Nozibele Qamngana said: “We take a holistic approach to our beneficiaries’ development.”

-Xolisa Phillip

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