Beating the odds

2014-01-07 00:00

ONE KwaZulu-Natal pupil aced eight distinctions despite losing her dad during her matric exams.

Another scooped nine, despite losing both parents in his Grade 12 year.

And one principal will have the bitter-sweet task today of accepting a high-achieving senior certificate on behalf of one A-student — after she, her brother and their mother were murdered last week.

As Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced matric results for 2013 last night — in which 314 KwaZulu-Natal Grade 12s achieved eight or more distinctions — The Witness heard how many had overcome astonishing personal losses and challenges to achieve a benchmark of hope for KZN’s future.

Meanwhile, the province’s matric pass rate leapt from 73,1% last year to 77,4%.

Despite broad scepticism about the standard of the exams, Motshekga praised a dramatic 4,3 percentage point increase in the national pass rate from 73,9% to 78,2% — “the best class since the advent of democracy”.

Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High head girl Divashnee Naidoo lost her father — well-known racehorse trainer Cyril Naidoo — in the week before her final exams.

Yesterday, unaware that she had somehow earned eight distinctions, Divashnee told The Witness: “I had to pretend as if it hadn’t really happened, because I couldn’t allow myself to feel the grief and sorrow. I just wrote the exams in a kind of auto pilot way and I really had no idea how I would do.”

Kharwastan Secondary School, which is based in a gang-ridden area of Chatsworth, Durban, suffered an epidemic of bullying, drug offences and assault last year, and was shaken in October by a video showing brutal fighting between pupils.

Yet last night’s results revealed that nine of its pupils produced eight or more distinctions — and principal Vic Pillay said: “After a year of bad news and negativity, these are the best results our school has ever achieved”.

The principal said pupils dedicated to their studies — including two who obtained 10 distinctions each — were ring-fenced from the violence with interventions including security and counselling.

In one of the most stunning achievements in South African education last year, Kharwastan’s matric class of 2013 attracted 28 bursary offers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Meanwhile, Zwelihle Dlamini of Siyamukela High School in Newcastle not only suffered the deaths of both of his parents in 2013, but then had to focus on his most important academic year as a family feud erupted over his parents’ estate.

But the 19-year-old stunned teachers and fellow pupils by achieving A-results in all nine subjects, which ranged from Zulu to accountancy and computer technology.

Yesterday, Dlamini placed the credit squarely with his late parents: “My parents were people of strong mental resilience and that is the gift that they gave me.”

Determined to become an actuary, he declared: “I want to change the face of business in this country”.

Despite being among the elite who achieved 10 distinctions, Deveshan Pillay — a pupil at Crossmoor Secondary School in Chatsworth — was not celebrating last night.

Instead, the quiet 17-year-old said he dedicated his stellar achievement to a classmate, Melarisa Kandasamy, who, he said, “will never have the chance to know” the results she achieved last night.

Last weekend, Melarisa, her brother Megandren and her mother Mala were found beaten to death in their Chatsworth home.

The 18-year-old, who planned to study a bachelor of commerce degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal this year, had achieved five distinctions during her Grade 12 trial exams.

Her father, Rajen, has been charged in connection with the crime.

Deveshan said: “It was a complete shock, and a sadness for us at a time which is happy for many [matriculants]. It seems just [yesterday] that she and I were studying business studies together.”

Vinay Motheeram, principal of Crossmoor, said that with the family devastated, he had been asked to accept a framed copy of Melarisa’s senior certificate from the KZN MEC for Education, Peggy Nkonyeni, who attended the families’ funeral last Friday.

“The MEC was moved by this tragedy, just as all of us have been,” said Motheeram. “She was such a light — it will be very, very emotional. Also, there has been shock for the learners.”

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