This top Khayelitsha matriculant walked two hours from school, cooked supper and then did her homework

Lerato Ruth Sihlangu and her aunt, Noncedo Mlilwana, outside their home in Mfuleni. Sihlangu matriculated among the top of her year at Masiyile High School in Khayelitsha. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)
Lerato Ruth Sihlangu and her aunt, Noncedo Mlilwana, outside their home in Mfuleni. Sihlangu matriculated among the top of her year at Masiyile High School in Khayelitsha. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

For at least a year 18-year-old Lerato Ruth Sihlangu walked two hours from school back to her home in Mfuleni.

She arrived at about 18:30, 12 hours after taking the morning bus to school, says a GroundUp report.

Sihlangu then cooked supper for her family before starting her homework.

She got to bed "around midnight every day" and said that during exams it would be closer to 03:00. Despite this, Sihlangu matriculated as one of the top pupils at Masiyile High School in Khayelitsha.

She got two distinctions – for isiXhosa and life orientation – and a bachelor's pass.

According to one of her teachers, Masiyile's 2018 matric class obtained a 75.5% pass rate in 2018 compared to 70.1% in 2017.

READ: Zero percent matric pass rate: Learners at Limpopo school explain why they failed

Sihlangu grew up in Sterkstroom, a small town in the Eastern Cape, with her mother and two brothers.

"I was raised by a single mother. She was unemployed so we didn't have money to buy stationery and things. I would always reuse my book covers until Grade 9 when I moved to Khayelitsha."

Dreaming of a career in science

While adjusting to life in a new city and school, Sihlangu says she was again uprooted when she moved to Mfuleni where she lives in a shack with her aunt and two cousins.

"The most difficult challenge I faced in high school was having to travel home from school in Site B," said Sihlangu.

In order to achieve her dream of pursuing a career in science, Sihlangu attended extra lessons after school every day. She says most days classes ended at 16:30 and by then, the last bus home had left.

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"I had to walk two hours back home, then cook supper before I could start my work," she says.

Sihlangu says her mother and aunt often motivated her to work hard and focus on her studies.

She is passionate about physiotherapy and psychology and would like to study occupational therapy at Stellenbosch University or the University of Free State this year. She has not heard back from either of the universities yet.

"Every time I faced a major obstacle and started losing hope, I looked back on my journey for inspiration. There is no secret to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failures," she says.

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