A pupil who had to leave home because of personal circumstances and support herself through matric with two jobs, and another who had to wait until loud shebeen music had stopped so that he could study, received special awards from Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schafer in Cape Town on Thursday.
"We are struck by the courage and fortitude displayed by many learners and families in achieving monumental goals," said Schafer when handing out the Special Ministerial Awards.
"The first one I have chosen precisely because it is often assumed that if one goes to a school in the so-called 'leafy suburbs', everything comes easy," said Schafer at the annual awards ceremony hosted at Premier Helen Zille's official residence in Gardens.
Genevieve Heathcote-Marks, who matriculated from Westerford High School in Cape Town, lost her mother in primary school and in high school moved into rented accommodation with another family.
She worked two jobs in between her school work, was involved in school life as an opera singer, and got six distinctions with an average of 83.3%.
Another hard-working pupil, Benedict Nafooh Khobotle, lived near a noisy shebeen in Wallacedene, Kraaifontein, where violence, drugs, and gangs are prevalent.
Benedict Nafooh Khobotle receiving a special ministerial award from Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer at a function hosted by Premier Helen Zille. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Loud music played into the night but instead of giving up, he waited for it to finally stop, and hit the books.
He also helped his unemployed single mother look after his 7-year-old brother while she went to look for work.
He was the top matric pupil in the June and September exams at Scottsdene Secondary School last year, and passed matric with two distinctions, a 72% aggregate, and a bachelor's degree pass which gives him a chance to study at university.
"This learner, likewise, is a true inspiration and a fine example for others in similar circumstances. These marks, under these circumstances, make him a top student in my eyes," said Schafer.
Awards were also presented for excellence in subject performance, excellence despite barriers to learning and awards for the top 50 positions in the province.
The province's top three candidates were among the pupils and schools recognised for their achievements.
Schools' improvement recognised
Janke Van Dyk, from Hoërskool Bellville, was the top-achieving matric pupil in the province (and in the country), Matthys Louis Carstens from Hoërskool Durbanville came second provincially and Rondebosch Boys' High School pupil Erin Michael Solomon came third provincially.
Sa's top matric student for 2017 Janke van Dyk from Bellville High receives an award from Education MEC Debbie Schäfer at function at Premier Helen #Zille's residence in Cape Town @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/OfnumnOXlh-- Jenni Evans (@itchybyte) January 11, 2018
Principals whose schools increased their pass rates significantly or shone in particular subjects were also recognised.
The most improved public school was Aloe Secondary School in Mitchells Plain and the most improved technical high school was Delft Technical High School in Delft, also on the Cape Flats.
Delft High School recognised as technical high school with 30 or more pupils showing greatest inprovement in pass rate fm 2015 to 2017 @TeamNews24 #NSCAwards2017 pic.twitter.com/OFZjg5Df1j-- Jenni Evans (@itchybyte) January 11, 2018
Sithembele Matiso Secondary School in Nyanga showed the greatest increase in bachelor's passes.
Schools were also recognised for improvement and excellence in individual subjects, and overall results.
Nine public schools with 30 or more candidates that showed greatest improvement in pass rate for 2015 to 2017 + consistency in no of Gr12 candidates in Western Cape received #NSC2017award. They are: @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/Dg2aZSG5GD-- Jenni Evans (@itchybyte) January 11, 2018
Schafer said she was amazed every year by the vast number of pupils who achieve excellent results, separated by points and percentage points who do not get recognised at the awards ceremony.
"And to them, I also wish to say a huge well done. We can't all be in the top spots. But if you have worked consistently and done your best, you are as much of a hero as our learners here today."
Matric a 'head start'
Zille encouraged pupils to keep learning and to keep adapting.
She said she found the way the results were finalised and standardisation processes "more complex than (Albert) Einstein's theory of gravitational waves".
But what really baffled her was how pupils did well against the odds.
"I've got 18 months of the premiership left, and I am absolutely determined to start cracking that conundrum," she said.
She said the matriculants being recognised had an enormous head start in life and a chance to make an impact on the country.
The Western Cape got a matric pass rate of 82.7% for 2017.