Siyamthanda Mtyeku sometimes only had one meal a day
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 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,” he said.
“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.”
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 says he will pursue a degree in medicine at Stellenbosch University. He 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.
He was the first one to arrive at school and last to leave and lock the school premises.
Buswana said 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.”
This article was first published by GroundUp.