HE WOKE up at 4 am as usual, but that day Matimba Mabonda felt uneasy. The 18-year-old matric student got up and walked out of the dilapidated mkhukhu he shared with his unemployed parents and younger brother to fetch water at the communal tap. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.
Watching the minutes tick away and his 8.30 am check-in time for his exam loom closer and closer, he decided to hop off the train and run the rest of the way to Protea – arriving just 10 minutes before the start of the paper at 9 am.
“That day was stressful,” Matimba says when we meet him and his family at their home in Mountain View, a sprawling, poor informal settlement in Grasmere, outside Joburg. “I ran to school. I didn’t have the time to settle down or anything when I got to the exam hall. I was late and tired.
“English was the only subject I didn’t manage to get a distinction in and, who knows, maybe if I had arrived earlier I would have aced it too!”
Matimba is one of a few hundred students who have done exceptionally well in this year’s matric results. He notched up six distinctions – in maths, physical science, engineering graphics and design, civil technology, Tsonga and life orientation – and got a B for his ill-fated English exam. He was also named Gauteng’s top mathematics student with a 100 per cent pass in the subject. Not bad for a guy who until a few years ago just wanted to be a professional soccer player!
This year, just over 67 per cent of matric learners passed their final exams, up from the 2009 figure of 60,7 per cent. This “whopping” seven per cent increase, as described by basic education minister Angie Motshekga, was despite last year’s three-week public sector strike in August, which disrupted the learners’ exam preparations.
Pupils at 61 schools across the country were either unable to start their preliminary exams or had their exams disrupted. Yet despite this, matric learners such as Matimba – whose name means strength in Tsonga – were determined to overcome the odds and do well.
MATIMBA says it was through sheer hard work that he did so well. Every day he arrived at school an hour early for extra lessons and when most of his classmates left for home in the afternoon, he sat in the school’s quiet library and studied until 9 pm, when he’d catch the last train home.
“As you can see, we’re struggling because both my parents don’t work,” he says, panning the tiny shack with his eyes. He and his younger brother, Zakes (15), share a small corner, separated from the ramshackle kitchen-cum-dining area by a mere curtain – and his small study area is crammed into a tiny corner. “The place is small and noisy and I needed a quiet place to study.”
His mother, Asnath (34), chips in. “I’ve always been worried about him returning home late at night. The trains are unpredictable and sometimes he’d get home as late as 11 pm. But he’d continue studying until 2 am, then wake up after only two hours sleep to get ready for school.”
Hearing this, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago all Matimba cared about was bolo (soccer) until his father, Ben (42), set him straight. “Matimba had always shown signs of being someone who was passionate about maths,” Ben says. “Even in primary school he won trophies for his brilliance. We did everything to encourage him to get an education. I never went to school and I wanted a better life for him.”
Matimba is well aware that his six distinctions are his family’s ticket out of poverty. He’s been accepted to the University of Cape Town to study chemical engineering.
Read the full article in DRUM of 20 January 2011