This maths whizz can work out sums in seconds – and it’s turned him into a mini celebrity.
His brow barely creases as he mentally calculates the answers to complex sums that would have most of us reaching for the calculator.
“What’s 85 000 times 15?” he’s asked. “One million, two hundred and seventy-five thousand,” Sibahle Zwane replies without a second’s hesitation in one of the viral videos that have made him an internet sensation.
It’s impressive stuff – but making it all the more remarkable is the fact Sibahle is just 10 years old.
And his precocious talent for numbers is rapidly changing his and his mother’s lives. The little boy was plucked from obscurity when a policeman on patrol near Sibahle’s home in Lehae near Lenasia in Joburg heard of his skill and decided to put him to the test.
He filmed Sibahle answering a range of complicated multiplication questions and posted it online – and since then the Grade 4 learner has become a mini celebrity and featured in newspapers, TV shows and on the radio.
As news of his extraordinary ability spread, South Africans leapt at the chance to help the boy and his unemployed mother.
Sibahle, who currently attends Olifantsvlei Primary School in Eikenhof, south of Joburg, has been offered a scholarship to study at the new Curro Academy Protea Glen opening in 2019. This maths whizz can work out sums in seconds – and it’s turned him into a mini celebrity.
His mother, Mbali, has been offered a job there too as a general worker. Mother and son were also treated to a plane ride to Durban – the first time either of them had been on a flight – and had a wonderful, carefree time enjoying the beaches and warm ocean of the holiday city.
“It’s overwhelming,” Mbali says. “I can’t express my feelings. I just want good things for him.”
She didn’t realise her son was such a maths whizz until he was in Grade 2, Mbali says. His teacher called her in for a meeting and told her that her son had a real aptitude for numbers. “When I checked his books I was very impressed.”
Shy Sibahle, who’s been listening, suddenly lights up. “I get 100%,” he says. “I come out tops and beat all the kids and teachers.” There wasn’t much Mbali, who has a younger son, Melokuhle (6), could do to nurture Sibahle’s talent as she couldn’t afford extra classes for advanced kids. “I didn’t even know where to start,” she says.
All she could do was encourage him – although Sibahle has never needed much pushing when it comes to doing his homework. “I don’t ever remember helping him with his homework because it’s always completed before he even gets home,” she says. Sibahle can’t explain his gift. “I don’t know,” he says, shrugging.
“The answers just come into my head.” He has a short concentration span and is easily bored, his mom adds, but he never loses focus when he’s calculating numbers. “Some of my classmates do ask me to help them when they’re battling,” he says.
“Once I was whispering answers to a classmate and the teacher caught me.” Sibahle tried to put his talent to use to make money in order to help his mom out, and in exchange for a few rand would solve complex sums for people at the local park and taxi rank.
“An old man once asked me to count for him, and he gave me R50.” But Mbali put a stop to that – it makes him a target for thieves and skollies, she says.
Numbers occupy most of Sibahle’s waking time. “He sometimes wakes me up with, ‘Hey, Mom, what’s 900 times something?’,” Mbali says. “That’s his good morning!” And he’s always on hand to help his mom with calculations during grocery shopping.
We put the little boy to the test during our visit and he doesn’t disappoint, scoring full marks every time – although we have to use a calculator to check.
No numbers are too big for him, his proud mom says. She was just 18 when she had him and life has been a struggle for this single mom, but it seems her son’s talent is having a remarkable effect on the family’s fortune.
Many people contacted her after Sibahle’s videos went viral and while some of the promises made to them evaporated, she’s grateful to the benefactors who made good on their offers – especially for Sibahle’s scholarship to the new school and her upcoming job.
“I’m over the moon. For the longest time I wasn’t working but at least now I can be a mother who provides for her kids. And it’s all thanks to Sibahle.” Their lives have changed drastically over the past few months. And Sibahle has become a bit of a celebrity.
“Everywhere we go, people recognise us. They say, ‘Here’s Sibahle, the celebrity!’ ” He was so delighted with his trip to Durban he hopes to become a pilot when he finishes school, he adds. During his plane ride he received a special welcome from the pilot and got to sit in the cockpit with the flight crew.
“He loved his time in Durban too,”
Mbali says. “If he had his way he would have slept on the beach. He enjoyed swimming so much he didn’t want to come out of the sea.” Sibahle also loves buses and often tells his mom he’s going to own one one day.
But probably his biggest passion – after maths – is WWE, which he watches as often as he can. If he had his way he’d change his name to Seth Rollins, his favourite wrestler. “He’s Seth when he’s watching wrestling, but his grandmother doesn’t let them watch too much because it’s too violent,” his mom says.
He loves playing games on his mom’s phone and she lets him because it keeps him busy and off the streets.
“It’s not safe for kids to play outside these days,” Mbali says. Suddenly out of nowhere Sibahle declares, “Mommy, you owe me 700 billion,” and she bursts out laughing. This child, she says, shaking her head. Sibahle – when he isn’t hitting his mom up for outrageous sums of money – has great ambitions not just for himself but for his mom who has been his anchor, greatest support and best friend. “I’m going to buy my mom a house one day,” he tells us. And we don’t doubt it for a moment.