Durban - Six years ago, unable to afford fees, Senzi Bhengu was not sure she would see the inside of a high school classroom.
But on Monday, with eight distinctions and an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation bursary in the bag, she started packing for Rhodes University, partly due to help from a Mercury reader.
“I worked the whole of December (as a supermarket cashier) to keep myself from thinking too much about the results. But from January 1, I couldn’t help but start to stress,” Bhengu said.
“You have to want something really badly to achieve it. Push yourself. Never allow other people to distract you. I made that promise to myself,” she said.
When The Mercury first met Senzi in 2008, it was at her home in Oakford, outside Verulam. Her father had taken ill and her mother had stopped working to nurse him.
The closest high school was Sacred Heart Secondary, which could not afford to grant Senzi a full fee exemption.
Touched by the article, Mercury reader Cristy Leask asked her company to fund Senzi’s schooling – everything from stationery to her uniform.
“I’m shocked sometimes. I wake up and think, is this me? My greatest achievement in life is being here (at Sacred Heart Secondary). I think about how not so long ago I couldn’t go to high school. Everybody who has sacrificed along the way, I owe it to them and myself to do well. I did eight subjects and it’s hard sometimes.
“I’m my worst critic.”
Tutoring other pupils has helped her academically, the deputy head girl says.
“It tests how much I know and it keeps me on my toes because when someone asks me a question I can’t say I don’t know the answer!”
Leask has been a constant in Senzi’s life, and will be there to help her register for a degree in business science, and settle her into her dorm.
“As she’s got older, I’ve become more involved. It’s not about the money, but making a difference. I feel like I’m her mother. I’m so proud. Every day I learn something from her.”