Cape Town – Liam Gurney of Westerford High School and Justine Crook-Mansour of Rustenburg Girls' High were among the 29 top matrics invited to a special breakfast with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Midrand on Thursday morning.
Congratulating the top matrics ahead of Thursday night’s announcement of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rate, Motshekga emphasised that their excellent results could be attributed mainly to hard work and not to them being "gifted".
"None of them said 'I'm a gifted child. I think my superior brains brought me here'. None of them. All of them, for the past 15 years, have been giving me one consistent story – it’s hard and commitment," Motshekga said at the breakfast.
Liam's mom, Penny, told TimesLive nothing could replace the parental support that matriculants needed to excel.
Motshekga stressed that the breakfast was meant to celebrate not only the achievers but also parents, caregivers and teachers, whom she hailed as integral to the development of children.
Commenting on one of the challenges of writing matric, Liam mentioned "the fact there is a lot of work in a short space of time. It goes by really quickly".
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You will always remember your last year at school. You won't really experience something like that… again."
Liam, like all other matrics, is still in the dark on what his marks are or what award he is in line for.
"We have to wait for tonight. We are excited," Liam's mother said.
Justine Crook-Mansour, from Rustenburg Girls' High School, told the Mail & Guardian she did not expect to be called to the breakfast of top achievers on Thursday, but the aspiring astrophysicist attributed it to the practical application of everyday life”.
Felicia Makondo, from the EPP Minga Secondary School in Malamulele, told News24 it was hard work that resulted in her being one of the top achievers.
"I prepared well by understanding the core of topics which we were given," she said.
"The main challenge was time management because the work was not that hard. I had to leave home at six in the morning and got back after 19:00, so time was a challenge," she said.
Education quality control council Umalusi said 12 372 IEB matric students wrote their final exams in 2018 and 796 542 learners wrote the National Senior Certificate exams.
In 2017, the Western Cape had the highest percentage of bachelor passes (previously known as matric exemptions) at 39.1%, followed by Gauteng at 36%.
Motshekga said the top achievers have a huge responsibility.
“For us, as the country, we already have our cream that’s supposed to take us to other heights; you’re the best of the best. You’re going to join the other best.
“You’re going to form a critical mass with them, which is going to take our country to greater heights.”
She exhorted the pupils to "take the country forward".