On Friday, however, the shy teenager won the hearts of the crowd at the Durban ICC when she received top honours for her performance in maths and physical science in the female category, and another award for top pupil in maths against adversity. She achieved six distinctions.
However, Mahlinza remains uncertain how she will fund her dreams of becoming a doctor.
Living with her grandparents, aunt and mother in the KwaHlolinyoka area of KwaNongoma, she attended Prince Mnyayiza High School.
She said reading her textbooks and study material ahead of the time helped, as did assisting other pupils with their work.
She also attended Saturday classes as well as evening classes, but walking home late at night was a safety risk.
She encouraged other pupils to focus on their books, and to disregard their circumstances.
“Be curious, strive to exceed your own expectations and don’t look at your circumstances and lose hope.”
She dreams of pursuing a career in medicine so that she can help her community, as she said that very few specialists work in the Nongoma area.
“A lot of diseases go unattended and some even lose their lives due to this,” she said.
Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal’s top matric pupil for 2017, Joanna Smith, from Danville Park Girls High, was at a loss for words when she was announced as top of the class.