Cape Town - Scores of Western Cape matriculants received cash prizes and special awards at a ceremony at Western Cape premier Helen Zille's Leeuwenhof residence in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Nicola Mire, of Rustenburg Girls' High School, was honoured with the top pupil prize after receiving nine distinctions.
Mire said the only advice she had for aspiring top achievers was to “break all the rules” when it came to study strategies, and to “go with what works for you”.
“I would speak to myself as if I'm reteaching the material, so that helped me a lot. You have to be patient with yourself,” she said.
Mire said she intended to enrol at the University of Cape Town for a degree in occupational therapy.
Siyanda Sityata, from G-section in Khayelitsha, would join Mire at UCT, where he would study towards his BCom Chartered Accounting degree.
Sityata was one of three recipients of Western Cape education MEC Donald Grant's special awards for pupils who excelled despite facing tremendous hardship.
The 17-year-old achieved five distinctions after enduring several muggings while attending after-school and Saturday classes to improve his marks.
“It was very, very difficult, because I was scared of gangsters. There's gang violence in Khayelitsha, where I live, so they would fight and I would get robbed.... That was very heartbreaking,” Sityata said.
Both Sityata's parents are cleaners.
“What motivated me was wanting a better life for me and my family, because in my neighbourhood we were one of the poorest. Everyone was building up their houses, but ours is still the smallest.
“I want to improve things at home and just bring pride to my parents,” he said.
Sityata received an R8000 cash prize and a tablet - which he said would double as gifts for his 18th birthday on Friday.
He encouraged pupils from his area not to lose hope in the face of increasing danger from gang violence.
“Be determined... If you give it your all, you can never go wrong,” Sityata said.
“Don't turn to crime. I knew my circumstances where everyone in the neighbourhood would get involved in gangs. I decided to leave my friends that started to get involved in gangsterism.”