Violent protests kept him out of class, but that didn’t stop him
Despite being shut out of school, matric who passed with flying colours never stopped studying, says his mom
Although he is the top pupil from his school, Gomolemo Moatshe said the results bring him little joy because they weren’t good enough to secure him a spot to study at Wits University.
Moatshe, a pupil from Kwena Tlase Secondary School in Ramokokastad (Rustenburg), wrapped up his schooling year in the hardest way because he and his schoolmates didn’t have a full academic year of learning since violent protests shut down their school.
Sitting on the veranda at his home on a cloudy day shortly after receiving his results, Moatshe said 2018 was a tough year.
“The thought of having to repeat matric really scared me because that is how it looked. I didn’t think we would ever be able to write our exams and complete our schooling year,” he said.
From June 2018 they could not attend school owing to violent protests that erupted in their villages. Two schools, including his, were burned down by angry protesters who accused the Baphalane traditional council of maladministration of community funds.
Children from the nine schools in the village were barred from attending school as residents turned violent, demanding that the chief step down.
Moatshe was among a number of pupils from the four high schools who could not even sit for trial exams.
“Everything looked bleak. Sometimes I lost hope and thought I would never ever sit in an exam room, writing my final exam,” he told Times Select. The uncertainty regarding writing his final matric exam also discouraged him from making bursary or university applications. He only made an application to study at Wits.
“My dream was to study at Wits. I wanted to leave my province and get to experience something different, in a different environment,” he said.
His mother, Judy , 41, said schooling was interrupted from the beginning of the year.
“These kids were never taught. Protesters would just barge into classes, interrupt lessons, and the kids would be sent home and be told by the school that they will be told when to come back,” she said.
She said sometimes the pupils would spend weeks at home. “The strike intensified in June. That is when they were totally stopped from going to school. At some point I wished I had money so that I could send him to a private school where he would have an opportunity to learn without interruptions,” the unemployed mother of three said. A 6km drive on a gravel road from his village of Mmorogong to Phalane, where Moatshe’s school is situated, brought back bad memories for his mother. She insisted on accompanying her son with Times Select to take photographs at the school.
“For safety reasons I’ll go with you guys. Should anything happen I would be able to identify these people as I know them. It’s not safe to go there alone,” she said. The school is now nothing more than a dilapidated building.
Despite such interruptions to schooling, North West managed to take the fourth spot nationally with a pass mark of 81.1%, recording a 1.7 percentage point increase from 2017. In October, the department took the matric pupils from their village and sent them to a secret camp where they had catch-up classes just two weeks before they wrote their final exams there.
Moatshe had mixed emotions when the department suggested moving them to a secret location to write their exams.
“I was not sure what to do. On the other hand I was not ready to move away from my family like that, but I also didn’t want to repeat matric,” he said.
His mother said she was over the moon with her son’s achievement.
“He really did well. He has always been a bright child and it was painful to see him stay home as they were barred from attending school,” Judy said.
Her son had always been a dedicated child and kept on studying even when they were not in school.
“He never stopped studying. He always had his books.”
On the other hand, she said she had sleepless nights as the protest in the village intensified with no end in sight. She had even lost weight through stress. “At the beginning of the year I was truly relieved, knowing that one of my kids is about to complete school, and when the protests began I was just shattered,” she said.
Moatshe said he had applied to study for a degree in bio-engineering at Wits but the university rejected his application because he didn’t get good marks in maths.
He received a distinction for English and scored 75% in Setswana, 73% in geography, 71% in life sciences, 76% in physical science, 56% in life orientation and 59% in maths.
“This is really exceptional for a child that was not taught for the whole year. I’m really proud of his achievement,” his mother said.
For now, Moatshe said he is not sure what to do, but added that he will not give up on his dream of going to university this year.
“I’ll check universities that have late applications and hopefully I’ll be accepted at one.”