He had every excuse in the book to throw in the towel but giving up was not an option for Buntu Wellem.
He failed Grade 10 in 2016, and while he was repeating it in 2017, his mother, his only remaining parent died.
He persevered. But he failed Grade 12 in 2019. That didn’t stop him. he registered to write supplementary exams in 2020 but he failed those too. He also failed when he wrote supplementary exams in 2021.
“At the beginning of 2022 I decided to go back to school,” he tells Drum while collecting his statement of symbols.
“I knew there would be people who would want to laugh at me because I was much older, going back to wearing school uniform when I already had a beard. But I was determined to make it work. So I decided to go to the rural areas, to my father’s side of the family and study there.”
He left his Mdantsane home and went to live in Ngqushwa. He applied and was accepted to study at St Charles Sojola High School.
“I did not know anyone here. I did not even have friends. I stayed here with my cousin who was studying online because she is unemployed. We rented out a portion of the family home so we could have an income.
“I did not even need to have elders pushing me, I was pushing myself. I am not smart, but I am a hard worker and I dedicated myself to my books. The only time I was not studying was when I was playing soccer, just to get in a bit of exercise.”
He does not drink, and he does not smoke, his distraction in Mdantsane was not that he was getting up to mischief, he says.
“I was always at church. I would go from fellowshipping here to fellowshipping there with other brethren. There was always a revival to attend, and as young men we would attend and preach the word of God. And you know how it can get at a revival, we can even leave after 9pm. That meant I would get home tired and did not spend enough time studying.
“I then decided to move because I knew that no one owed me anything and that my future is my own responsibility. I knew that if I wanted anything to change, it would be up to me to change it. It has not been an easy journey, but I am grateful to be here.”
After his move to Ngqushwa, he remained focused and now the 22-year-old is finally the proud holder of a National Senior Certificate, with a bachelor pass.
“I cannot even begin to say how happy I am. I thank God that I had another chance.”
His older sister is a police officer with two kids, and she cannot afford to pay for Buntu to further his studies.
He has not applied to any institutions of higher learning, but Buntu would like to study towards being a teacher.
“I would like to influence and motivate young people the way my teachers did to me. I was made to feel like I could achieve anything I set my mind to, and I would like to pass that on to the next generation that comes after me.
“I would also like to encourage anyone who did not do well to know that repeating a grade does not make you a failure, it makes you a repeater. Failure only happens when you give up. But even with the said, if you have failed at school, it does not mean you have failed at life. There are many people who did not go far in school but were able to be successful. If you find your strong point and you stick to it, you work at it and master it, you will succeed.”
Malcom Sawula, Buntu’s school principal, says they are extremely proud of him.
“What he has done is not a common thing. It takes bravery. Many people find themselves in the same position that he was in, but they do not return to school because of the fear or the shame of being at school with people who are much younger than them.
“He is a great example. Grade 12 is the key to all doors and because of his bravery, he has that key. Young people need to know that failing is not the end of the world. Also, failing a class does not mean you are stupid. Sometimes circumstances can cause failure.
“You cannot go all the way from Grade 1 to Grade 12 and only when you fail Grade 12 think there is something wrong with you. Just view the failure as a stumbling block, get up and try again.”