Thendo Mpfuni had just one chance and he took it, despite not being afforded the privileges available in most private schools.
This top achiever from Progress Comprehensive School in Pimville, Soweto, made a decision in Grade 11 to “strive for the stars”, all while he was surrounded by broken windows and the peeling of paint off his classroom walls.
“I just dedicated myself to something and it shows that, yes, you can do it without things like laptops, tablets and even a TV. All I needed was my book and my pen,” he said.
“It means a lot that I have achieved what I have in a public school. I did it without many of the privileges.”
Mpfuni, 18, ecstatic with joy, achieved five distinctions – in physical science, life science, mathematics, Tshivenda and geography. He also attainted Bs in English and Life Orientation.
These top marks, he hopes, will afford him the opportunity to study nuclear science and engineering at the University of Witwatersrand this year.
“I can’t take a holiday from studying,” he said, smiling widely.
Plenty of his fellow pupils tried to deter him from his goals, but Mpfuni remained determined.
“Some of them would be looking at me like ‘Ah, this guy, he is the smart one’, and as a teenager they tried to use it against me. Some also used me for my knowledge of subjects. It was not an easy thing to be the guy with the brains.”
Despite the beady eyes on him, Mpfuni said he was “excited to help” those pupils in need.
“They needed me when they needed help with something like an assignment. After that they wouldn’t talk to me for a week. But I had to help, because the more you help the more you learn.
“Everyone wants to pass their matric; it’s a fact that nobody wants to fail. The exciting part is that somebody needs you to help them pass.”
His advice to future matric pupils is to concentrate on their weak points.
“Work hard at those points. In that way you will get to where you want to be. I did all this even though I live in a noisy household. When there was noise, I studied out loud.”
It was also important to make his parents proud, he said. Mpfuni’s mother burst into tears when she heard her son’s results.
School principal Caroline Monageng pleaded with parents to support their children while they are writing matric.
“As much as your child is doing Grade 12, you are also doing Grade 12. Once these kids have achieved, you have achieved just as well,” she said.