When Lethabo Maleka from Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo opened the door to a pit toilet, he never imagined he would be greeted by a spitting cobra.
The snake’s venom blinded him, and he thought his life was over. Against the odds, the 19-year-old was one of the top 20 performing matriculants in the class of 2021, and he’s headed to university.
He tells YOU his story.
“[My school] principal Maggie Molepo called me with the news of my results. I was excited, and at the same time, it was unbelievable. I knew I had worked so hard but I felt like I was dreaming.
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I was nine in November 2011 when I encountered a snake in our pit toilet. As I opened the door, the snake spat venom into my eyes. It felt watery and my eyes became itchy. I screamed and my father came to my rescue. He and other people in our area killed the snake and I was taken to a clinic. Everything seemed to be fine and I could see so we returned home.
Things changed in 2012, when I started Grade 5. On the first day of school, I sat at the back of the classroom and I struggled to see the blackboard. Sometimes other children would mock me but I was more concerned with my loss of vision.
Over time my vision worsened, and I was taken to hospital for an eye examination.
I was told that my eyesight was declining. I was given eye drops and by April or May of that year, I was completely blind. I felt so sad and thought the bright future I was dreaming of would never come to be.
The news also affected my parents, Kate and Matsobane, and my sisters, Batlile and Letsoba. My parents could not find any schools in our area that could accommodate blind learners. I dropped out of school for nearly two years and spent my days at home, listening to the radio.
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When my parents heard about the Siloe School for the Blind in Polokwane, I was enrolled there in 2014. I finally had hope.
I had to learn Braille and how to use a braillewriter. I adapted quickly due to the support I received from other children and teachers, and I regained my confidence. It was recommended that I start at Grade 4 so I could catch up with other learners, but I was doing so well that by the second term I was moved to Grade 5.
I’m close to my father who is big on education. He always encouraged me to work hard. To prepare for my matric exams, I spent my days studying throughout the day. I went through books and study guides. I was also part of a study group at Setotolwane Secondary, the school I matriculated from. I really enjoyed writing business studies papers 1 and 2.
My hard work paid off, as my average pass mark was 87,61%. I was invited to a breakfast in celebration of the top-performing matriculants hosted by the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, and her deputy, Makgabo Reginah Mhaule. I received a certificate, a laptop and a tablet.
I was awarded a bursary from the University of Limpopo. Next month I will start my studies towards a law degree, and I’m excited.
To other students with disabilities I would say, disability is not inability. Work hard towards your studies and befriend your books and your teachers. A disability will not stop you from achieving good things in your life.”