Lungiswa Sibisi with his mother Nomasonto Ndlovu, left, and grandmother Thandazile Xulu. The learner from Tetelo Secondary in Protea North, Soweto, is one of the top achievers in the country. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA).

Johannesburg - Against all odds. This is how Tetelo Secondary School learner Lungiswa Sibisi rose to the top as one of the Gauteng class of 2018’s high achievers. Sibisi’s journey was never smooth sailing, with struggles dating back to his rural hometown of Emacekane, outside Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal.

The lad, who was raised by his unemployed single mother and great-grandfather, who wanted him to have a better future than his peers.

He eventually had to move to Johannesburg in 2012 in search of better schooling opportunities and pursuit of his dream of being an architect.

“My great-grandfather, who has been a father figure to me, decided that I should be moved to Soweto to be brought closer to opportunities that I would not have got at home.”

But not everything went according to plan for the teenager and his mother, Nomasonto Ndlovu, as the circumstances got to him. His focus on his strong artistic skills soon turned him into a below-average pupil, whose grades barely made the cut.

“When school and life overwhelmed me, I used drawing as my escape. I would sit and draw and somehow I moved from grade to grade.

“But when I failed Grade 11, I realised my strategy was failing me and that would be the ultimate setback to reaching my dream. I knew that I had to make serious changes,” said Sibisi.

Those serious changes included him finding a way to integrate his passion, drawing, with the demands of other subjects to ultimately fulfil his great-grandfather’s wish of a better life for him.

Fast-forward to 2019: his mother sat through the Ministerial Breakfast with top achievers held in Johannesburg in disbelief that her son was the reason for their attendance. “I’m still in shock that people like us, with our background, are seated in such a dignified room being honoured. I still can’t believe it,” said Ndlovu.

“When he failed his Grade 11, it was difficult for us accept. At that time, you think no light will ever come out of that situation. But one thing I did know was that I never wanted him to be pushed to the next grade. I am thankful that he understood the logic and also wanted to repeat the grade.”

Looking back at how far her son has come, she described him as a blessing. “When he was in primary school, he used to draw and sell his art to buy his own stationery.

“He showed us from that very young age that he wanted to be an architect. And I plan to support his dreams until they are fulfilled,” said the proud mother.

Meanwhile, his deputy principal, Phumzile Mhlongo, attributed the school’s success to having morning and afternoon classes, holiday classes and teachers working as a team.

“More than anything, we were not concerned about just imparting knowledge - we are parents and therefore were dealing with so many social issues. That approach brought us closer to the learners, and as a result made it easy to motivate them and enforce commitment in them,” said Mhlongo.

Sunday Independent