Studying before dawn earns seven distinctions for star Joe Slovo Park learner

Learners at Sinenjongo High overcome tough living conditions and Covid disruptions to excel

By Peter Luhanga

26 January 2023

Sinenjongo High principal Khuselwa Nopote (centre) celebrates with her top matric learners. Zintle Majwede (left) is the school’s top maths learner and earned six distinctions, while Lisakanya Mlindi (right) secured seven distinctions. Photos: Peter Luhanga.

Lisakanya Mlindi would wake before dawn, when her clamorous neighbourhood is quietest, to concentrate on her matric studies. She shares a one-room shack with four other family members in the overcrowded Esqalo informal settlement in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton.

On 19 January Lisakanya, who attended Sinenjongo High in Joe Slovo Park, learned she had achieved seven distinctions, the only learner in her class to do so. Sinenjongo’s 283 matriculants achieved a pass rate of 87.3%. Schools “cull” their learners who are not expected to pass matric, but this does not appear to have been a major factor here: 87% of those in grade 10 in 2020, the year the Covid pandemic started, wrote the matric exams in 2022.

Not only did Lisakanya cope with overcrowded conditions and a lack of municipal services, but her matric class struggled through the restrictions of the Covid pandemic.

“I was in grade 10 in 2020 when Covid struck. We went to school part time. We didn’t attend any classes then. When I got into grade 11, it was hard,” said Lisakanya.

“It was very noisy [at home] and I could not study,” she said. So she applied to attend the Asset learning hub, which offers a venue for Grade 12 pupils to study together.

She has been accepted at her first choice university, Stellenbosch, where she plans to study accounting.

Lisakanya Mlindi with her mother Nomalungisa Mlindi outside their one-room shack in the overcrowded Esqalo informal settlement in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton.

Her mother, Nomalungisa Mlindi, is a domestic worker. She was an alcoholic but quit drinking to set an example for her children.

Nomalungisa said she was not surprised that her daughter did well as she worked hard, but that she had exceeded her expectations.

“From a very young age, she didn’t like being absent from school. She didn’t like going out, she was always indoors reading books,” said Nomalungisa.

She said her daughter sometimes had to use a cellphone torch to study, and her aunt would buy her cellphone data so that she could do internet research.

Noise and overcrowded living conditions were also obstacles for fellow Sinenjongo student Zintle Majwede, 17, who achieved six distinctions.

Zintle lives in Joe Slovo Park and will study pharmacy at the University of the Western Cape.

Zintle was the school’s top maths learner with a mark of 96%. She shares a rented room in an RDP house with her mother and siblings.

“The reason I worked so hard to do better is because my mother is a single parent, she didn’t pass matric, and also my elder sister didn’t pass matric. I wanted to change my home situation. I want to buy my mom a house … I want to change the welfare of our family,” said Zintle.

She said her home is close to shebeens, and when other tenants in the house drink on weekends they end up quarrelling in the corridors.

Zintle’s mother, Nikiwe Majwede, says she was at work when her daughter sent her a text about her results. “I cried. Thank God for protecting her.”

Zintle Majwede and her mother Nikiwe in the room their family shares.

Nikiwe said she and her other children sacrificed watching television in the evening to allow Zintle, often joined by her cousin, to study. “Only God knows how the children focussed. I managed to cook and wash all the dishes so the children could get enough time to study.”

Sinenjongo High’s principal, Khuselwa Nopote, said the school’s pass rate of 87.3% was down from 90.7% in 2021.

“One of the reasons was the number of learners increasing every year. It’s more learners for each subject. It’s more challenging for the teachers but we will make a plan one way or the other,” said Nopote.

She said the Covid disruptions had also made it more difficult for the learners.

“There was also a lack of commitment on the side of learners and lack of support on the side of parents. We had to push the learners all the time to do better,” she said. “I don’t feel bad at all about the results even though I’m disappointed about the drop, we’re going to work on that.”