Oprah's first SA pupils are headed for the top

29 May 2016 - 02:00 By GABI MBELE


Bongeka Zuma's life story reads like the lyrics of Drake's hit Started From the Bottom. Ten years ago she was in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Today, at 23, she is a cum laude graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, in the US, and preparing for her master's degree in medical anthropology at Oxford.She was one of 78 pupils in the first class at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, near Johannesburg. Last week, she graduated second-highest in her class with a BSc ."I am excited and humbled about my achievements because it is my way of representing my wonderful country and waving our flag high," she said this week.But it hasn't been an easy journey from Nkwezela, in KwaZulu-Natal, where she was one of six siblings. Her mother was unemployed and her father - a strict disciplinarian who would not allow her to wear pants - was a driver.mini_story_image_vleft1Zuma's life changed with the arrival of three application forms at her primary school. They were from the academy , and, after a lengthy selection process, she started at the school in January 2007."I enjoyed having food every day, nice clothes, being able to wear pants finally ... I felt like I was in heaven every day," said Zuma."The one thing that I struggled with was my confidence ... My self-esteem was extremely low."But things picked up when she applied herself and "worked hard as I had promised Mum O".When the class matriculated, 72 pupils received 188 distinctions. Six were accepted at US institutions.According to Spelman's website, Zuma "placed a high priority on serving others" at university.Zuma plans to serve marginalised communities. "My dream is to establish a research and clinical institution in South Africa, geared towards the health of women and children," she said.Former classmate Nompumelelo Nobiva also graduated this year, with an honours degree in interdisciplinary studies from Johnson C Smith University in the US. Nobiva, 23, lost her mother to HIV/Aids when she was nine and lived with her grandparents and uncle."Mum O was always so supportive of us. We spent most of our Thanksgiving at her house in California."

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