Durban – Like his hero Cristiano Ronaldo, Empangeni pupil Mxolisi Mthembu knows what it’s like growing up poor, and achieving nonetheless.
A keen soccer player himself, Mthembu scored the distinction of achieving the best marks for a pupil from a disadvantaged background.
Mthembu was among the top matriculants who gathered with KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala at Anton Lembede Mathematics & Science Academy in La Mercy, on Friday.
For the pupil from Ikhandlela High School, Esikhaweni, his recipe was sheer hard work and determination. “You’ve got to be straight. You’ve got to give yourself enough time to study,” he said. “… And tell yourself you can do it. You might come from a disadvantaged background, but you can do it”.
He tells of having no money for a uniform or study materials, and while he didn’t have to walk kilometres – like some children – to school every day, he still had to walk.
He praised his teachers who often provided the resources his family could not afford. “My maths teacher Mr Mtshali, he always gave me the things I needed to study. He almost forced me to try to beat the others,” he said.
Mthembu's headmaster, Lucky Sifiso Luthuli, beamed with pride at his pupil's achievement.
Mthembu is planning to study medicine at the University of KZN this year.
Of his role model Ronaldo, he said, “Everything Ronaldo has is done is through hard work. Every time I look at him, that’s what I think. If I work hard, I am going to reach the level I want to be at.”
He balanced his love of football with his studies. He’s also a keen chess player.
“It helped to balanced my life. I’d come home from the pitch and be tired, but I knew I had to study, so I just knuckled down and studied,” he said.
The Independent on Saturday