A story of two school leavers – two very different editions

Two young women, both matriculants of the class of 2015 and soon to be Witsies described the very different paths they took to get to university to AAISHA DADI PATEL.

Alex Bench
My name is Alexandra Bench. I was born in Parktown West, Johannesburg, but at the age of six, I moved down the road to Parkview to be in walking distance of school. I attended Parkview Junior, Parkview Senior and Parktown Girls High – three respectable government schools.

My father is a capacity planning manager at SA Breweries and my mother is a marketing consultant for pharmaceutical companies. My parents, both of whom have university degrees, were an integral part of my education in laying the foundation of my thought processes. Being so close to school allowed me to stay late and take part in all sorts of different things like squash, touch rugby, netball, tennis, school plays, house plays, first aid, and various leadership opportunities. Overall I really enjoyed my school experience and I didn’t face many obstacles along the way.

To me, my privilege takes the form of this lack of obstacles. Everything I needed for school, to a certain extent, was easily accessible. My parents never limited my opportunities or thinking. I received a lot of guidance along the way from teachers and peers. I am fully aware that the family I was born into has made my schooling experience all the better. My parents’ high earning jobs have allowed us to travel widely and it really allowed me to form a broader world view. In my mind, my family is my privilege.

I feel like I’ve been dealing with how this privilege has impacted my education throughout [my school years]. In general, I think it has given me the freedom to really take hold of every opportunity that the great schools I attended gave me. I often debate in my head: do I only do as well as I do because of this privilege? I want the answer to be no, but deep down I know that it is true. I believe that it is what you do with your privilege that counts. Using it wisely allows you to become more privileged?

I think the biggest thing my education has given me is the ability to think critically about situations like this. And once one can think about it in a critical manner, one can properly engage in debate. And that’s the key word – “properly” – to find effective solutions.

I matriculated from Parktown with 8 distinctions, and my school had a 100% pass rate. I had pre-acceptance to study medicine at Tuks, Wits, and UCT, and decided to go with Wits and stay close to home. By going on to study medicine, I feel that I will be using my privileged education the best way that I can, even if it’s only helping on a physical level. Studying medicine seems like an obvious way to give back. But to some degree, I feel that I need to go deeper and engage more. Spreading the ideas of thinking freely, passing them on to my children and those around me – that is something that I wish to do.

My view on the fees protests – I think that it is important for students to protest, especially for a cause as pressing as this. But I feel that peaceful protest is key. Things like having to move registration are frustrating for many people – that was frustrating for me – but sometimes you just have to get the message across in a clear way.

Thembelihle Khumalo
My name is Thembelihle Khumalo. I am 18 years old, and I come from a village called Tugela Ferry in Kwazulu-Natal. I was raised by my single mother and my grandmother, and I live in a brick house with them and my 14-year-old sister. My father passed away in 2008, although he didn’t live with us. He was unemployed, and my mother and grandmother are unemployed too.

I went to a school in Tugela Ferry called Mabaso Secondary. I matriculated at the end of 2015. There were about 97 people who did matric at my school in my year. Only about 36 of us passed.

In 2013, there were flash floods in Tugela Ferry. My house got blown away in the storm, and a lot of our stuff got washed away, mostly clothes. Eventually, my grandmother managed to get everything back into place for us to be able to live, but we lost a lot.

I applied to Wits online in June using my phone, because I didn’t have access to a computer. Wits replied to me after results came out, and offered me a place for education, although my first choice was medicine. My results were not bad; I got a Bachelor’s pass, a distinction for Life Orientation, 2 Bs, 2 Cs and 2 Ds. Wits is the only university that I applied to.

I came to Jo’burg a few days ago, and I’m currently staying with my aunt in Tembisa. I took a taxi from Durban which cost R270. I was in Durban because I’d been looking for a place to study there. I heard about the protests happening at Wits so I was scared to come here, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to register. I went to UKZN Westville to see if I could get a space there, but they said they were full.

My registration has been cleared for now, but the only thing I don’t have is funding. I applied for a fee waiver, and I have three months to pay off the registration fee. I haven’t yet applied to NSFAS, but I’m hoping that they’ll cover me. I looked at a few bursaries and applied for a few, but haven’t received feedback yet, so for now NSFAS seems like my only hope. Wits has been my dream though and I’ve always loved it – I did a lot of research, so I hope that I’ll be able to have the chance to stay here.

I want to teach maths and science to primary and high school learners. I did physical sciences and biological science at school and really enjoyed them. I was so obsessed with the idea of doing medicine and I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be the first doctor in my area. To be a teacher is the only option I have right now, I suppose. But it’s okay. I want to help children to be able to develop their dreams and ideas.

My view on the current protests – as much as I don’t have money to pay for my studies, I’m not sure education should be free at a varsity level. I’m still conflicted about it though, because it’s definitely something that could help people like me.

The Daily Vox, in partnership with Oxfam South Africa, will be highlighting the challenges of socio-economic inequality in a special project this month.

Featured image of Thembelihle registering to study at Wits, by Aaisha Dadi Patel.