'I owe my dad this degree' - student who fought her way into top SA university

2016-06-22 09:00
Zola Maphila at Christel House. (Tammy Petersen)

Zola Maphila at Christel House. (Tammy Petersen)

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95% of graduates from CT school for underprivileged learners are employed or at varsity

2015-06-04 12:42

Christel House South Africa is a school for children with underprivileged background where learners receive a holistic education with state-of-the-art equipment. This has resulted in a 100% pass rate. Watch. WATCH

Cape Town - When Zola Maphila tells the Grade 12 class of Christel House to get their heads in their books, they listen.

The no-nonsense 24-year-old is one of the independent school’s most respected alumni, who overcame difficult circumstances to fight her way into one of the country’s top universities.

Her father, Zolile, raised her from the age of 18 months after her alcoholic mother deserted them.

“He always wanted the best for me. I am from Langa, but was sent to schools in areas like Sea Point and Woodstock even though the fees and transport costs had to be shouldered by my dad, who worked as a driver for a car dealership.”

Her father was retrenched when Zola was in Grade 3. He struggled to keep their heads above water, she recalled.

“One day, just before I was to start Grade 4, he sat me down and explained he could no longer afford to pay for me to attend school. He promised me he would sort it out soon and until he did, I was to go to the local library every day and read.”

On every school day in 2001, Maphila would be at the Langa library when it opened. Her father would join her in the afternoon and tutor her in basic maths.

“My dad wasn’t an educated man. He had passed Grade 4 when he dropped out to work and provide for his family. But he believed in the power of education. He wanted the best for me.”

That year her father, who later started a small takeaway business, heard of an independent school aimed at improving the lives of needy children. He took her to Christel House, which was started in Athlone in 2002.

Full scholarships

The school – now in Wetton - offers full scholarships, meals, transport, uniforms, textbooks and learning materials to impoverished children.

Because Zola did not have a school report for that year, she was assessed to determine in which grade she would be placed in.

“I was found to be competent for Grade 5. Because of those hours in the library, I was able to skip Grade 4.”

Her years at Christel House were among her best, she remembered.

“I took part in everything – choir, public speaking, you name it; I was there.”

In Grade 12, she was named the valedictorian of her year.

“I was in tears and almost unable to talk when I spoke of my gratitude for my father and all he had done for me. My friends later told me my dad had been just as emotional. This was weird for me. My dad never cried.”

Zola applied at a number of tertiary institutions after matriculating, eventually settling on studying political science at Stellenbosch University.

“I remember my dad and me taking the train to this faraway place. We were broke. He had a bank bag of 10c and 20c coins to pay for our tickets.

“My registration and res fees came to over R10 000, but my dad stood outside as I followed the registration process without the cash.

Kept going

“He told me to tell the assistants that he was a pensioner and to show them the marks I had achieved. When I did, I was sent to see a man in the finance department. He looked at my report, nodded, and signed a slip which I had to take with me. I didn’t pay for anything that day.”

Her father was proud that his daughter was going to attend one of the top universities in the country, Maphila said, smiling.

“He wasn’t a man of many words, though. But his face said it all. The years had been stressful for him and everything was finally coming together.”

After she completed her first year, her father died at the age of 70.

She lost her home as the Maphila family, from whom they were estranged, owned the property where she grew up.

“I kept going, remembering all he had taught me. He always told me to speak up and to be proud of where I came from. He insisted that I never allow anyone to make me feel inferior.”

She suffered from depression in her third year and dropped out of university in 2012.

“I realised I had no one. My dad had been the one who was always there for me,” she said.

“But in the past four years since I left, I have realised that I need to go back. After all the sacrifices he made, I owe it to him and to myself to get that degree. My dad didn’t spend his last coins to get me to Stellenbosch for me to simply walk away from it. I need this.”

She hopes to complete her studies part time while working at Christel House as the executive assistant to the CEO.

Hit the books

She is also in charge of The Farm, a smallholding in Schaapkraal owned by the school, where its matriculants spend a month preparing for their quarterly exams.

Christel House boasts a 100% pass rate for the past seven years.

Grade 12 pupils are expected to attend a full school day, after which they study in class until 18:00.

They are then taken to the farmhouse where they have free time until 21:00.

They then hit the books until midnight.

“Because the children come from impoverished backgrounds, their households and home environments are not usually conducive to studying and learning. The Farm is there to take them away from the distraction of home life and give them a place where they can focus.”

When she isn’t the strict study master, she spends time encouraging pupils, especially girls, to aim high and go on to bigger and better things.

“I try to teach them to be proud of who they are and where they come from. My dad taught me that. And I believe in looking people in the eye when I tell my story. It’s who I am. I need to own it.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  education  |  good news

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