Achieving success in the face of adversity

06 January 2019 - 00:00 By BONGANI MTHETHWA and PREGA GOVENDER

Phoka Mchunu's father was murdered four months before he was born. His teenage mother could not look after him so he grew up in the care of his paternal grandmother's best friend.
But his tough start in life did not deter him.
The former Pelham Primary School pupil in Pietermaritzburg was offered a bursary to attend one of KwaZulu-Natal's elite private schools, Kearsney College, through its bursary programme for boys who have been orphaned or are being raised by grandparents.
The programme is part of the school's commitment to offer life opportunities to boys from all walks of life.
When the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) results were released on Wednesday, Mchunu, 18, who was head prefect last year, notched up distinctions in maths, physical science, Zulu, history and life orientation.
"To witness the happiness and tears in my gran's eyes because of my achievements at school made me forget about all our problems," he said.
His grandmother, Noluthando Mokone, lives in Limpopo but visits him regularly at the home of Sibongile Shoba, the friend who helped to raise him.
Mchunu said Shoba was partially paralysed after suffering a stroke in 2015, which plunged their lives into turmoil. But he redoubled his focus on sport and his studies, and is now reaping the rewards.
He said his grandmother became emotional when he broke the news to her about his achievements. "She just continued to thank God for everything that He has done in our lives."
Mchunu attributed his success to all his family, but especially his grandmother, who "led the pack and was there with me every step of the way even though she lived far away".
He plans to study economics and finance at the University of Cape Town this year.
Two of his classmates, Michael Lee and Jaryd Templar, wrote themselves into the history books by bagging distinctions in Mandarin. They were among the 19 pupils who wrote SA's first matric exam in the Chinese language.
"I'm thrilled, especially since I didn't really know before going into the finals what the standard of the paper would be like and how hard it would be," said Lee, who has been accepted for a BSc in chemistry at Stellenbosch University after notching up six other distinctions in English, maths, physical science, history, Afrikaans and life orientation.
Also celebrating is Gavin McPherson from St John's College in Johannesburg, who achieved six distinctions despite a heart condition for which he needed surgery last year.
He achieved distinctions in English home language, maths, physical science, life sciences, visual art and life orientation.
"I didn't expect this many distinction because the medication I am on makes me really tired, so I struggle to study," he said.
The overall pass rate for the IEB exams was 98.92%.

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