Garden Route matriculant triumphs despite ordeal by fire
A matriculant who lost three family members when her home was destroyed by fire during the second week of her final exams still completed the job and passed.
Charneill Williams, 18, from Farleigh Forest Village near Karatara on the Garden Route, now plans to repeat two subjects to get better results.
But her surviving family members say her courage has already earned her a rare distinction - turning a tragic story into one of gritty determination.
Williams could herself easily have died in the wildfire that swept the area in late October had she not been visiting a relative. During school term she stays in the hostel at Knysna High School.
"The fire happened the afternoon while I was on my way home. But there wasn't a home," she told the Sunday Times this week.
"I remember it was dark and I couldn't see a thing. The moment I heard the news my [three] cousins are dead I fainted."
Eight occupants of the house died and others were injured, including Williams's grandmother, who is her primary caregiver.
She then had to pick herself up to write the rest of her final exams. "I can remember I wrote life science and as I was busy reading through the instructions my mind wasn't on school work," she said. "I cried in silence, I didn't want anyone to see."
She was granted permission to write her exams at George Hospital so she could help her injured grandmother and in particular her eldest cousin, who could not eat or walk.
"As the eldest cousin I felt it was my duty," she said. "My body was tired but I managed to write my exam paper. On January 4 I got my result - I passed with a diploma. I know I could do better, that's why I want to rewrite two subjects."
For Williams, last year's fire was the latest in a series of personal ordeals since 2016, when she underwent surgery for suspected breast cancer.
That year she also contracted and recovered from tuberculosis, suffering mostly in silence.
"None of my friends knew [about the TB], only the headmistress of the hostel. Today I'm not ashamed because it could be anyone and I didn't ask for it."
Her grandfather, Phillip Herder, said he never thought Williams would complete matric.
"I am very happy she made it - I think it was real determination," he said.
"She was very broken when she [heard] her three young cousins had died in the fire. We lost everything."
Herder said the family had been accommodated at a hotel ever since.
Knysna councillor Georlene Wolmarans praised Williams's strength of character.
"I am very impressed. It was a big tragedy and we thought she would drop out. It is fantastic."