Cape Town - Walking side by side through thick and thin, the Blankenberg twins came to win.
Born in Atlantis, Diego and Divano Blankenberg were raised in the heart of Dura Flats by a single mother, Audrey, who could not help but be overjoyed that her boys became the first in the family to study at the prestigious Stellenbosch University after achieving distinctions in their final exams.
Diego walked away with five distinctions, and Divano with four distinctions. The duo opted to rise above their circumstances and soar by pursuing engineering.
Having lost their father at the age of 6 to liver failure, Divano said that there were many challenges along the way as they grew up, and while giving up was not an option, his mother and grandmother were always supportive.
"We live in a house where there are about 10 people in a three-bedroom house. So you can only imagine how rough things were. My mother wasn't always financially able to get us what we wanted or needed, and even sometimes we were selected for school programmes, money was required, but she didn’t always have the means.
“My biggest inspiration has to be my mother and grandmother. The reason is that they always made things work, no matter what. I could always depend on them when I needed them, and they are the reason why I always worked hard. My goal in life has always been and still is to make them proud one day. My grandma has always been our rock. She always supported us when we needed her. Even in our final year, she stood behind us. She has always been the one who checked up on us while we were studying and always made things easier for us while studying,” said Divano.
Johan Blankenberg, the boys’ mentor and uncle, said that having been raised in the same area, the same house, and with the same high values that his parents instilled in him, the boys stayed level-headed.
"Growing up in the area, gangsterism was not as bad as it is today. Gangsters back then had an unspoken pact that they would never hurt people in their own area, let alone steal or rob them. Respect was still a very strong human characteristic in them.
“Today, it looks like that pact died with the gangsters of then. Now the youngsters want to hurt their very own people. Despite all this, the twins persevered. They wanted to be part of the solution to erase the stigma that you are doomed to become a gang member or a drug addict if you live under such conditions.
"The twins chose education as a vehicle to eradicate themselves from their circumstances. That is very inspiring for the community, particularly for Dura Flats. We have seen doctors, nurses, policemen and women graduate over the years, who were born and bred in the Flats,“ said Johan.
Regardless of the challenges, Diego mentioned that he learnt that anything was possible if you put God first.
“There have been many times I’ve wanted to give up and wanted to give in to the temptations of our community, but God never allowed that. There have been many times when the Devil tries to pull us into the things that are happening around us, but he always fails. So the lesson I’ve learnt is that God is always with you no matter what.
“My uncle always told me: ’Don't allow your current circumstances to determine your character as a person. Respect, hard work, and being courageous will uplift you from the depths of the cliff.’ So that's what I feel others can learn from us: to put God first in your plan and if you have any trouble, go to him because he will give you strength," said Diego.