When it comes to ideals of the human race uniting despite cultural, religious and racial differences, ignorance is certainly not bliss. And to overcome societal misconceptions and intolerance towards Islam, we need more empathetic, educated leaders like 29-year-old DA Deputy Chair for Gauteng, Bongani Nkomo.
As a devout Christian, Bongani has willingly chosen to join our growing list of ambassadors who pledge their support for our Proudly Muslims of South Africa initiative, saying that “Muslim people’s strength is also their weakness in a sense. Their strength is that most of them are humble but because they’re humble, they don’t necessarily want their good deeds to be at the forefront.” He believes that there needs to come a point where other people know what Muslims are doing, and since every Muslim won’t publicise their charitable work in their individual capacity, they need an organisation to do it for them. He also highlights the need for Proudly Muslims of South Africa to educate society and in that way, alter misconceptions.
Bongani is passionate about education because he’s an example of its power to be a poverty-breaker. As a person of colour who could easily have fallen victim to the discriminatory legacy of Apartheid, Bongani describes his diverse upbringing as “fortunate” since people unrelated to him, invested in his growth and played a pivotal role in shaping who he is today. This dynamic personality whose life experiences have cultivated acceptance, as well as an understanding of the world and others, attributes his progressive and universal views on the subject of race to his foster parents; a white couple – and his parents’ employers – who nurtured him within their home, funded his education at some of Johannesburg’s most affluent schools and allowed him to see beyond stereotypes. Like most other boys, Bongani wanted to pursue a career on the sports field and imagined his name ablaze with soccer stardom but as those dreams of gold and glory evaporated over the years, he focused on another passion; law. Eventually, at the tender age of 26, he became the youngest DA Ward Councillor and cast the courts aside for politics which he says allows him to be the voice of many. “I’m humbled by where I am and for the opportunities that I’ve had but I am also conscious of my original background,” he says “and the combination of the two drives me.”
On top of the political party’s annual charity drive, Bongani says that his job requires him to go beyond and above the title of ‘Ward Councillor’. He has to show up whenever he’s needed and do whatever is required to help destitute community members, but often the sought-after resources are not available through government. When families need to be connected with these vital resources, he steps in to make a tangible difference by calling upon his reliable network of businesses, organisations, philanthropists and humanitarians – many of whom are Muslim. Bongani relates his refreshing interactions with the Muslim community: “I’ve worked with a lot of Muslims. They sort of came into contact with me first to say ‘we want to extend a helping hand’ or ‘we want you to indicate where we can get involved’. In an environment where people who call are always asking me for something, in this case, they were calling to give me something.”
Bongani has personal ambitions to spearhead an initiative which sources sponsorship for high-school and varsity students, enabling them to break the poverty cycle. While he does encourage young people to get involved in charity work, he warns aspiring philanthropists: “It’s important to do it for the right reasons because it’s thankless work. Nobody is going to thank you for it.”
His most emotionally moving moments occur when, in his role as a Ward Councillor, he’s called to people’s homes to see how they live. “To sort of try to get your head around the fact that in 2017, there are still people who are going to bed without food or they wake up and that’s their biggest challenge; food. That for me, is mind-blowing.”
Bongani’s greatest life lesson learnt is that young people have a responsibility to lead but also not to lead people astray. “We need to surround ourselves with the right people; people who have the right intentions for us and people who want to develop us as individuals.”
His life motto: “Do things with the idea that there are people who trust me to do the right thing.” Bongani explains that they’re trusting him with their problems, pain and suffering, so it’s important to not drop the ball. It’s difficult to remain motivated because you may not get a ‘thank you’ but when people become faces, it becomes a lot easier to continue.
Bongani wants to be remembered as “a human being who tried”. He adds that along the journey, one does make a lot of mistakes and we do let many people down unintentionally, but hopefully he will have a lot to show for never giving up. While his story is still unfolding, his fate as a great leader is certainly pre-destined. South Africa can only benefit from his open-minded approach to different cultures. If we all follow in his footsteps and take time to learn about our neighbour’s culture, we’ll no longer be separated by racial lines or conquered by fear of the unknown.