While for some attending a tertiary education institution after high school is a given, for many facing the inequalities in South Africa this is not a reality they share in.
But a young man from Vrygrond has defied the odds and is looking to pave a way for small, black-owned businesses after securing a bursary to attend a prestigious university in Gauteng.
Thando Tshapela (18) is currently studying Bcom Law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. His story, according to his former Capricorn Primary School teacher, is one that every learner can aspire to but many may not achieve due – in some part – to a lack of positive role models.
Tracey-Lee Barnard, who is currently the acting deputy principal at the primary school, was Tshapela’s Grade 1 teacher. She describes him as a jovial person with good values.
“I had the opportunity of teaching Tshapela in 2009 where he then showed academic brilliance. Love for books and numbers was his passion. His positive demeanour towards his schoolwork combined with a strong work ethic made him stand out in the crowd. Diligent not only academically, he applied himself in sport too. He participated in the school’s karate and chess club where he thrived at both sporting codes,” says Barnard.
But it was not all as easy as he made it look, Tshapela says.
“In Grade 1, I had just relocated from the Eastern Cape – I did my Grade R in the Eastern Cape. And I did it in Xhosa. So when I got to Vrygrond, I had to adjust to a new place, learn a new language – English – and I had to learn Afrikaans too, with Capricorn being a coloured community that was Afrikaans-speaking,” he explains.
Despite the major adjustment, the diligent young man says the community was welcoming. Having to learn so much on arrival set him on an academic trajectory for success in his primary school years and he was able to secure a scholarship to Rondebosch Boys’ High School for Grade 8 through the Students for a Better Future.
But with the scholarship came the need to adapt quickly once again.
“It was a massive difference. The change in resources and wealth was obvious. My peers were being picked up in really nice cars and I would have to take the taxi or train back home to Capricorn on weekends,” he explains.
But Tshapela says: “Although it was a weird transition, it was oddly enough easier than the one in Grade 1. It was more natural to me – as much as it was a big change, you couldn’t see it. Knowing where I come from, it was hard not to compare myself. But knowing where I come from, I just had to stay true to who I am.”
He adds: “Through academics and sports you get more integrated.”
So Tshapela pursued his life-long love for soccer. He says: “I played cricket for a bit and realised that one is not for me. Then I played A-team soccer in Grade 9. Then basketball.”
Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic affecting the class of 2020, Tshapela was able to close out his matric year with six As and one B on his final report, and yet another scholarship – this time to Wits.
He says the matric year, the pandemic and now the integration to university life have been challenging and, in some ways, disappointing.
“It’s been exceptionally tough because of the disappointment of matric. Three quarters of the things you’re looking forward to – sporting wise, academically, culturally – we couldn’t do. But we move on, we recover, we take it in our stride. Even this year there was the disappointment of not experiencing campus life or orientation week.”
He is currently doing lectures online from the comfort and safety of his on-campus residence. Fortunately with the easing of Covid-19 lockdown regulations to level one, he’s looking forward to the “university community” coming alive.
“We did soccer trials last week and about 200 of us were cut down to the top 20.”
He made the top 20 finalists and attended the second round of trials on Wednesday 5 May.
Barnard says she has kept abreast of his academic excellence through his mother, Mandisa Tshapela, over the years and is proud to share his story because “I believe in the kids of Vrygrond!”
She says: “I believe that they do have ability, talents and purpose to rise and to become. I believe that their current circumstances do not determine their future – through hard work, diligence, a positive mindset, supportive family and a conducive-to-learning schooling environment, there will be many more ‘Thandos’ coming from Vrygrond.”
She adds that many factors influence a child’s success and that education is the catalyst to get them going.
Tshapela agrees, saying: “I think anyone can achieve it, but for me I have a lot of factors to thank. I don’t think a single individual can get here alone, but the support system I have at home is second to none. They just really want me to achieve what I want.
“A lot of hard work goes into achieving what you want. If you work hard and really want something, you’ll achieve it. As scarce as resources are in Capricorn, the harder you work the luckier you get. I also have to thank Capricorn Primary School.”
Barnard adds that the dedication of teachers plays a vital role.
“The social ills are strong, but their passion for education must burn stronger. I have seen learners with little in life excel because of their intrinsic motivation.”
She concludes: “We, as a school, have been blessed to have had good, influential leaders like Mrs Siddieka Hassen our principal, Mrs Shauna Pamplin our former deputy principal, incredible educators and support staff, especially Angela Featherstone, who positively invested in our learners lives; encouraging them to work hard and strive for academic excellence.”