Against all odds: Cape Flats matriculant defies weight taunts to reach top of class

22 January 2022 - 13:15
By Philani Nombembe
Lauren Davids is the top student in the matric class of 2021 at Arcadia Secondary School in Bontheuwel, Cape Town.
Image: Supplied Lauren Davids is the top student in the matric class of 2021 at Arcadia Secondary School in Bontheuwel, Cape Town.

Lauren Davids was hauled to court in grade 8 after she retaliated against a bully who taunted her for being overweight.

She almost quit school when she was referred for anger management classes. But she was all smiles on Friday when the was named the top student in the class of 2021 at Arcadia Secondary School, in Bonteheuwel.

The 18-year-old, who shares a house with three families and lost her father while she was in grade 12, said: “In grade 8, I had an argument with a girl in my class. It escalated into a fight. I got angry to a point where I didn’t realise what I was doing.

“The next day I found out that her parents had laid a charge against me for assault and I had to go to the police station. I appeared in front of a magistrate and I was sent to a programme at the Bonteheuwel Civic Centre for anger management. I got past that.”

Davids said poverty and crime in the community made life tough for her and fellow pupils.

“Poverty is the biggest challenge I can think of in Bonteheuwel. It’s a struggle to get basic needs. Gangsterism is another problem, although it hasn’t affected me that bad. But most students said they had to duck bullets on their way to school.”

Davids' family does not own a home. “The home we live in is on a municipal field. It’s a council property which was meant for the caretaker of the field. The previous caretaker saw that my mom was struggling with her kids and he gave her one room,” she said.

“We have been staying here for about five years now. We are four in one room and there are five people in another room. There used to be another family but they moved out.”

She said she struggled to cope at school when her father died but her class teacher came to the rescue.

“As I was starting my grade 12, my father passed away. So it was difficult for me to focus without him around me,” she said.

“My home situation was not the best because I could not study in the house.  There were too many people.

“I went to stay with my class teacher. She opened her home up to me and allowed me to study there during the exams.”

Davids got two distinctions and intends studying social work at the University of Cape Town.

“I am going to have my maths literacy paper remarked because I got 79%, and hopefully that becomes another distinction,” she said. “I was slightly disappointed when I saw my results because I expected more. But then I started letting go and appreciating what I got.”

Arcadia Secondary principal Michele Nassen said the school's 2021 pass rate is 76.36%, up  15% from 2020. She said the community is bedevilled by a catalogue of social ills.

“Bonteheuwel is known for just about all social ills: unemployment, drug abuse, gang violence,” she said.

“This is what makes the 76% so rewarding. Our kids fought against joining gangs, against poverty, against unemployment and many things. Most kids don’t have their own rooms, they have to share beds, everything is shared. I am delighted to be part of their life.”

Nassen said she was happy Davids did not quit school when faced by challenges. “Her father was a state grant recipient and there was no money in the home when he died,” she said.

“Lauren’s mom found employment towards the middle of the year and that carried her through. We had the support of the day hospital in Bonteheuwel as well as the education district social worker who came to our assistance. That was what carried her through.”  

Ward councillor Angus McKenzie said he was proud of the progress made by high schools in the community over the past five years.

“We have seen a consistent increase in our pass rate as well student retention,” he said, saying the deployment of 100 city council law enforcement officers in Bonteheuwel and the establishment of a neighbourhood watch had made the community more peaceful.

“Bonteheuwel has become a safer place with a 300% decrease in gang-related crime over the last few years,” he said.

“This has ensured that children are more equipped to deal with what is important, which is studying.”