Accepted at Oprah’s

2012-11-16 00:00

FOR the first time, two South Coast girls have been chosen to attend the exclusive Oprah Winfrey Leadership Girls Academy.

Port Edward pupil Sisanda Mbewana (12), in Grade 7 at Marburg Primary, who has done her homework by candlelight all her school years, is one of the girls chosen.

The other, Immaculate Cele (12), is in Grade 7 at Umkomaas Primary. Her mother has worked as a domestic worker for a family which has paid Immaculate’s school fees since she was in Grade 1.

Immaculate’s mother, Mabongi Cele, applied after hearing about the Gauteng academy on the radio. “When you come from such a poor background, you can’t believe such a thing can happen. I keep thinking somebody will phone and tell me it was a joke,” she said.

Cele could not thank her employers, Sue and Derek Weightman, enough for their role in her daughter’s education.

Sue Weightman was thrilled. “She is an absolute little gem of a girl. We paid the fees, but the school must take the credit and she has the right personality.”

Umkomaas Primary School secretary Barbara Meyer said Immaculate was “just amazing”.

Immaculate’s soon-to-be schoolmate Sisanda, from Marburg, was also excited when she spoke to The Witness yesterday, saying her dream of becoming a civil engineer could come true. She said one of her greatest pleasures would be to take the financial load off her mother, Nonzuzo, in future.

“We have had a hard time and were­n’t like other children at school. I studied by candlelight, living in a small RDP home. We had no electricity until last month and we didn’t have hot water to bath, unless we boiled it on the stove.

“Now my mother will not have to pay for me, and one day when I am qualified I will be able to look after her,” said Sisanda.

Nonzuzo, who is employed part-time at a crèche at Thongasi in Nzimakwe, said: “God has helped me raise my three daughters and they are good girls who love the church. I have struggled financially because I have to find temporary jobs, but we have always survived by the grace of God.”

A church friend, known to everyone only as Mrs Giba, saw an advert in Bona magazine and applied on Sisanda’s behalf in March.

Sisanda received a text message asking her to go to Howard College at the University of KwaZulu-Natal for her first aptitude test on April 3.

Then both girls started the same process. Out of 9 500 pupils who wrote the initial test, they made the top 500. The second test was at the Steve Biko campus of the Durban University of Technology in June, when they wrote maths, English and a personality test.

The girls were then down to the last 120 candidates and went to the academy in August for further tests and interviews. After this process, they got their acceptance calls.

Marburg Primary principal Balenthran Gounden said Sisanda was an intelligent child. “I have every hope in her ability to bring success and honour to the school, her family and the community,” said Gounden.

The academy has been the centre of some controversy since inception in 2007, and founder and U.S. chat show queen Winfrey has had to deal with allegations of abuse by a former matron, who was acquitted three years later.

This week the Sowetan reported that one pupil claimed she was harassed by security at the school after she was suspected of theft. The school denied any wrongdoing.

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