Matric star urges fellow students to 'seize the day'

11 February 2016 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo supplied.
Inspirational story: First-year chemical engineering student Namhla Juqu with her mentor, lecturer Arthur Mabentsela. Juqu achieved the second-best matric results in the country in 2015.
Inspirational story: First-year chemical engineering student Namhla Juqu with her mentor, lecturer Arthur Mabentsela. Juqu achieved the second-best matric results in the country in 2015.

Thanks to her name, first-year chemical engineering student Namhla Juqu has a better sense than most of the sagacity of that old idiom “Seize the day”.

In Zulu her first name means “Today”.

“To me this means focusing on today for a better tomorrow,” said Juqu who stunned the public with her sterling 2015 matric results: a raft of A symbols and 100% for physical science.

She was the second-best performing student in a quintile three school. All South African public ordinary schools are categorised into five groups, called quintiles, largely for purposes of the allocation of financial resources. Quintile one is the 'poorest' quintile, while quintile five is the 'least poor'.

The student from the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) was supported by SHAWCO's Academic Intervention Unit  via the SHAWCO SHINE programme, and the Schools Improvement Initiative's 100UP programme, which grooms promising Khayelitsha students for university.

The last of five children, Juqu grew up in “an average township family”, one that instilled the importance of humility, commitment and selflessness.

“People focus on the past or the future and forget to live in the present. So my name forces me to think about what I do daily to shape my future.”

Juqu sees her matric results as part of that ongoing self development.

“I always strive to make a difference where I am by committing myself to whatever I do.”

Her tenacity is underpinned by a strong spiritual background −  it helped her overcome difficulties and got her to where she is now; about to embark on a life-changing journey.

Diverse interests

Her interest in engineering was sparked by a passion for science at school.

The field also combines her twin interests, maths and science, and instils the multi-faceted thinking skills she's keen to develop.

“Initially I'd wanted to become a mathematician and  then a chemist, but I think chemical engineering sums up my diverse interests.”

Ultimately, an MBA is where she's set her sights − once she has completed a PhD (she's planned that far ahead). The idea is to have her own engineering business one day. (Ditto.)

Yes, the future does looks bright, she says. “But it still all depends on me today.”

Shared journey

Chemical engineering is a notoriously tough course but Juqu will not journey alone.  She'll have Arthur Mabentsela as her mentor.

Mabentsela, also a former COSAT student and now a lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering, will be her guide through the undergraduate degree, identifying any glitches and hurdles.

Inyanthi ibuzwa kwabaphambili, that is to say, if you want to get ahead you must ask those who are ahead of you for advice,” he said.

“University studies are challenging, chemical engineering in particular as it's the second hardest course on campus (last I checked). It demands intelligence and good mental conditioning.

“Students joining the department will have already proved their intelligence by acquiring high marks at school, but it is their mental conditioning and soft skills that I find myself assisting with as a mentor.”   

Balance in life

Balance in life is important to Juqu and that balance extends to understanding our symbiotic relationship with nature, she says.

Biomimicry excites her, “just to see what we as can learn from nature”. But she is also interested in politics, psychology and economics.

“I make time to read novels so that I can be more open-minded about matters and get a sense of what is happening around the world – and to learn from other people's stories.

She doesn't have a role model but enjoys interacting with people of all ages, assimilating their wisdom.

“I use this knowledge to mould the engineer, leader and the South African citizen I strive to be.”

Swept along by the events of the past two months (which have included TV and other interviews), Juqu is clear that her success lies in being able to explore possibilities and write her own story.

That narrative is already being shared among her peers.

“Learners I have met now have a 'I can do it' attitude because they have seen someone from a similar background achieve the unexpected.”

Watch Namhla's interview on Expresso!

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