Benefactor steps up for home-alone maths star

2014-01-10 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’s “home-alone maths star” is a step closer to his career dream after a benefactor has stepped forward to fund the determined 16-year-old who rose above his circumstances to sweep a slew of matric prizes this week.

Lwazi Shezi managed 100% for maths and accounting despite living on his own for the past three years, and entering matric a year younger than everyone else. Despite his achievements, he had neither a bursary nor any money to pay for university, which starts within a month.

But, yesterday, a small miracle happened in a coffee shop at a mall in Amanzimtoti. A Witness reader met with Lwazi and offered to pay for his entire university tuition. And his accommodation costs near the University of Cape Town. And his vacation flights back to Durban. And more.

Xolani Mbutho, owner of a Durban-based housing and infrastructure development company, CHS Developments, said he had not only been dazzled by Lwazi’s brilliance — but also by the tale of how a caring neighbour had helped the boy to shine.

Unemployed and illiterate, Zodwa Nhlangulela (49) took it upon herself to look after the quiet, studious boy next door in Umlazi since 2010 — cooking and cleaning for him; and hounding him to finish homework that she couldn’t read.

Mbutho said, “What touched me when I read the story is that this young man was living alone in an RDP house, and how Zodwa Nhlangulela assisted him. If someone can live alone and still achieve what he achieved? That really moved me.” For work reasons, both of Lwazi’s parents had been compelled to move to towns on the South Coast.

Then Mbutho reread the last line in The Witness story: “But his mother said Lwazi was worried about the funds because he had not secured a bursary”.

Mbutho called the Department of Education to verify the facts.

Then the 40-year-old father of two decided to take the torch from Nhlangulela and carry Shezi through his next, extraordinary journey in education.

Mbutho called Aaron Shezi, Lwazi’s dad, and arranged to meet father and son at the Galleria Mall in ’Toti yesterday to “discuss the young man’s future”.

Shezi said, “It was like I was dreaming when I received the call. I’m so grateful and pray that God will bless Mbutho.”

Mbutho said he was struck by the similarities between Lwazi’s childhood and his own.

Like Lwazi, Mbutho grew up in Umlazi and woke at 5 am daily to walk to school.

Mbutho said his father had died when he was four, and that he had been raised by his mother, a domestic worker.

“There were times when I’d go to school without eating breakfast because there was no food, but today I have my own business,” he said.

Mbutho decided that — in addition to paying all of Lwazi’s costs for his years at university — he would also mentor him during vacations to Durban, and expose him to work experience.

“A guy like him deserves our support — I see him as a leader,” said Mbutho. “I look forward to saying I contributed to his success.”

Lwazi was visibly stunned that a stranger would sacrifice for him — again, “I’m so grateful. I’m scared to promise Mr Mbutho that I’ll meet all his expectations, but I’ll try,” he smiled. But his dad was quick to insist his son would make his benefactor proud, “He’ll do even more than what he showed us he could do.”

The emotions at the happy meeting created a small stir at the coffee shop. One stranger walked up to Lwazi and hugged him. She said, “ Well done! What are you going to do? Be a president and take over?”

Lwazi scooped five academic awards from the Department of Education this week.

The proud dad added, “Everyone is just so excited for him. Even people in the community respect me now!”

Mbutho declined to discuss the figures behind his sponsorship.

However, The Witness understands that tuition and accommodation for Lwazi would cost well over R100 000 each year. Mbutho was also reluctant to discuss his role, emphasising “this isn’t about me, but for him to shine”.

In addition to an ambition to becoming an actuary, Lwazi said he had the additional dream of completing a doctorate and becoming a business consultant.

Mbutho said he was also blown away by the fact that Lwazi appeared to have already done “all the homework” for his future actuarial science course.

Mbutho said he was confident Lwazi would go on to assist his family and his country in future.

But as Lwazi left the meeting — beaming —he made a point of again crediting the penniless neighbour who had brought him this far.

“I truly thank my parents and Mama Zodwa. I could never thank her enough for what she did for me.”

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