Durban - When the school bell rings each morning, three girls of the Zulu family from Shongweni Dam will no longer be sitting at home as other pupils dash to get there before the gates close.
Now registered as pupils at Edamini Primary School, Thobeka, 16, and Thembeka, 11, went back to class on Monday after they stopped going to school four years ago. And little Thulile, 8, set foot in a classroom for the first time.
In 2009, their parents, Motherland, 34, and Rasjuda, 42, of the Nazirite faith, decided to take their children out of school because they believed the education system was unsatisfactory and did not advocate the word of God.
Dressed in their new uniforms, the girls sat in their respective classes on Monday. They had mixed feelings about their first day, yet their teachers said they were doing well.
Sitting in the front row of the Grade 2 class, Thulile listened intently to her teacher.
Having being taught counting skills, she bowed her head to write answers to teacher Phindile Chonco’s questions.
Chonco commended her writing skills and said: “For a child who has never set foot in a classroom, I am convinced she will do well.”
Meanwhile, Thembeka, who is in Grade 4, offered to write answers on the board when maths teacher Zanele Duma asked for volunteers.
Duma said Thembeka had interacted well with other pupils but, later, grew a little quiet.
The eldest, Thobeka, who is in Grade 6, said although she had been out of school for four years, she did not find it difficult to catch up on the basics.
Asked separately what careers they hoped to pursue, all three of them said they wanted to be bakers.
The principal, Ziphozenkosi Ntinga, said the pupils’ grades would depend on the effort they put in. “Because of their age, they should do exceptionally well. After some time, we will transfer them into the next grades,” he said.
Ntinga said the school would give the girls unqualified support.
The head of the provincial education department, Nkosinathi Sishi, said: “We are happy that our efforts with sister departments have paid off and these children can enjoy the right to education like all other children in the country.”
Ncumisa Mafunda, a social development spokeswoman, said this was a win for children. “We appreciate the parents’ understanding during the talks. At no point did we experience difficulties. We wish all parents would learn that it’s not just about them, and their beliefs, they should also think about the children.”