He studied for matric in a one-room shack shared with four others - and got 7 distinctions

Siyamthanda Mtyeku sometimes only had one meal a day

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Photo of boy in between shacks
Siyamthanda Mtyeku passed matric with seven distinctions. Photo: Peter Luhanga

Siyamthanda Mtyeku studied for matric in the one-roomed shack he shares with four other people in Marikana informal settlement in Cape Town - and passed with seven distinctions.

The 18-year-old Siyamthanda Mtyeku had to contend with loud music pumping from the shebeen across the road. Some days the food he was given at school was the only meal of the day.

Yet Mtyeku emerged the top matric pupil at Sinenjongo High School, having achieved distinctions in all seven subjects, and an 85% aggregate for his matric results.

His distinctions were in physical science, mathematics, English, computer applications technology, isiXhosa, life science, and life orientation.

He says he adopted the motto “nothing is impossible” to motivate himself.

“You can achieve anything that you put your mind and soul into and have the drive and ambition to achieve,” said Mtyeku, who lives with his deceased brother’s girlfriend Bonnita Buswana and her three children. “She (Buswana) has been like my biological mother, very supportive and attending all school meetings, constantly checking up on me and accommodating me.”

“The main obstacle was our home. Money was also a big problem. There were days I went to school on an empty stomach but ate at school because there is a feeding scheme,” he said.

Mtyeku says he will pursue a degree in medicine at Stellenbosch University.

His parents live in East London. His father is a pensioner while his mother is the breadwinner and would sometimes send R1,000 to help them buy groceries in Cape Town.

Mtyeku was also accepted to pursue an engineering degree at the University of Cape Town but his first choice is a medical degree.

He wants to specialise in neurology and pursue medical research.

Buswana says she is very happy that Mtyeku excelled despite the challenging circumstances in a home where the main income was a state child grant.

She says she thought poverty was going to prevent Mtyeku’s success and he’d become a “skollie”, but he stood firm and the situation just made him stronger.

“I am so happy to see him pass with flying colours,” she said.

At Sinenjongo High, 146 learners achieved 53 Bachelors’ passes, while 32 learners achieved Diploma passes and 29 achieved Higher Certificate passes.

“We are proud of our top learner Siyamthanda Mtyeku”, said Sinenjongo principal Khuselwa Nopote. “The boy was so dedicated to his work. He was the first one to arrive at school and last to leave and lock the school premises.”

Nopote said Mtyeku also took the lead and taught his classmates. “With the attitude and mindset that he has, he is going to make it at Stellenbosch. We wish all our learners the best in all the institutions that they are going to.”

TOPICS:  Education

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

It is really inspiring to learn of the grit and determination of Siyamthanda Mtyeku. But the article seems to be missing the point about the state of our country. More than decades of democracy and promises of a land of milk and honey by the ruling party, we still have people who live in shacks and we glorify them.

Can anyone imagine how much more Siyamthanda would have been able to do had he been in a normal society with normal facilities? The second point is: what is the quality of his achievements in the context of the downgraded "education" that Angie Motshega and her ilk are pushing down the throats of our children? By all standards, the standard of South African education is amongst the lowest - if not the lowest - in the world.

Lastly, with our country's economy down the tubes, what future awaits this brilliant child?

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