Thohoyandou – A month before sitting down for his matric exams, the soles of Tshililo Ralukukwe’s school shoes began to fall to apart.
The cash-strapped orphan and his four siblings are dependent on their grandmother’s social grant for their livelihood.
With little money to spare on luxuries, such as new school shoes or uniforms, Ralukukwe wrote his exams barefoot.
“My uniform was worn out and I could not ask my grandmother to buy me shoes, clothes and trousers because I was about to complete my studies. I took my only takkies to school, and when I arrived, I took off the sneakers and left them outside examination room,” he said.
The Limpopo teen spent the final months of his final year of schooling walking to school barefoot from Tshaulu village, near the Kruger National Park’s Punda Maria gate.
But in the face of adversity, Ralukukwe, a pupil at Milton Secondary School, came out on top, scooping the award for the province’s top maths student. He is the first among his siblings to finish high school.
“My mother died three years ago when I was hoping that she will help me finish my schooling and help me to go to university. After she died, we remained with my grandmother who has been taking care of us. We are dependent on her pension grant for food and everything,” he said.
Ralukukwe thought of dropping out when he was in Grade 11. But a meeting with his school principal changed his mind.
“Our principal, Mr [Ndivhuwo] Muvhango, told me that it is possible to enter university, but he said I must play my part and score high marks,” he said.
“It is difficult for children who grow up without parents to see their future through education, they often give up,” said Muvhango, who is also a maths teacher. “But it is up to the school management to inspire and encourage them to see their lives beyond their current situation.”
Muvhango said, after learning more about Ralukukwe’s background, he decided to do his best to help him.
“I started teaching him mathematics in 2015, as soon as he received his report that he was promoted to Grade 12.”
When the results were announced last week, Ralukukwe was among the province’s top learners. He scored distinctions in Physical Science, Life Science, Tshivenda and got D’s in Geography and English.
Ralukukwe dreams of becoming an engineer and is hoping to land a spot at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and also secure a bursary.
“I want to go and register. I applied at Wits, but now I don’t have money,” he said.
“My grandmother did not know that tertiary education is expensive,” Ralukukwe said, adding that when he told Masindi, 87, he had passed matric, she offered to use her pension grant to pay for the fees.