Home-alone maths star

2014-01-08 00:00

LWAZI Shezi lived entirely alone for his matric year, and was a full year younger than his youngest class-mates — yet the 16-year-old has emerged as the top maths pupil in KwaZulu-Natal.

Yesterday, at an Education Department matric prize-giving event at Durban’s ICC, Lwazi scooped an astonishing five separate achievement awards — with cheers and then gasps ringing out when he was called to the stage for the fourth and fifth time.

And the Velabahleke High School pupil — whose name means “knowledge” — told The Witness his stunning academic achievement was largely thanks to the support of an illiterate neighbour in Umlazi.

Lwazi scored 100% for both maths and accounting; is one of the top 10 pupils in the province overall; is the top maths pupil in South Africa for previously disadvantaged (Quintile 4) schools, and ranks third nationally for maths overall.

Lwazi achieved all this while running a household in an Umlazi RDP house where he chose to live by himself for the past three years to attend a better school than the ones near his parents’ home.

Yesterday, his mother, Thembekile Shezi, said she had been forced to move to Izingolweni near Port Shepstone years ago for a teaching job, and that Lwazi’s father had moved to another town on the South Coast when their son was in Grade 10.

“I was scared that he might lose focus when he started living alone. But he didn’t,” she said.

Thembekile said numbers were the first things Lwazi learnt to say.

“He’d start counting from one to three. At age four, he started accompanying other kids to school. And he has been at school ever since.”

Yesterday — looking tired after two days as a guest of the department — Lwazi said: “I’m happy and proud of myself”.

Sweeping prizes offered for performance by the department, he received a laptop computer for each category he won. Lwazi said he doesn’t know what he would do with them all.

Describing his mathematical aptitude, he said: “I don’t have to think much about it. It just happens to be part of me. It’s something like a habit. It’s not special; it’s just like taking a bath.”

He said his daily routine was waking at 5 am, and walking to school in time to get there before 6 am. Lwazi said he would often leave the school grounds at 6.30 pm.

However, both Lwazi and his mother revealed that the care of an illiterate neighbour in Umlazi was the secret ingredient to his success.

Realising that Lwazi was living alone at a critical time in his education, 49-year-old Zodwa Nhlangulela took it upon herself to cook, clean, and even do laundry for Lwazi while he was glued to his books.

And Lwazi said his neighbour’s true influence went far beyond chores: “I do thank my parents but I’d also like to thank my neighbour Mama Zodwa who taught me that I needed to believe in myself no matter what. She said I should never try to change to impress other people.”

Nhlangulela, an unemployed mother of three, said she became close to Lwazi 11 years ago, when he stood out on the street as a “respectful child”.

Eventually, she would also attend school functions with him.

“I would have loved to help him with homework as well. But I’m illiterate,” she said. “But while he’d be doing his homework, I’d iron his clothes and encourage him to study.”

Nhlangulela said she was over the moon about Lwazi’s success — and that she had always believed that he would get straight As because “that has always been his goal”.

“When Lwazi was growing up, I’d spank him when he was naughty. He’d listen to me as if I was his parent.”

Thembekile said she was “ever so grateful” to Nhlangulela, who had “never asked for even a cent” to care for her son.

She described her son as disciplined and hard working. “It’s so joyous when your child is recognised,” she said. “I always knew he was clever. But when he took on the other children nationally, that was a big confirmation for me.”

Lwazi is planning to study actuarial science at the University of Cape Town.

But his mother said Lwazi was worried about the funds because he had not secured a bursary.

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