South Africa: Dunoon Top Achiever Dreams of Studying Chemical Engineering

Makanaka Muzuva’s parents are Zimbabwean and cannot afford to pay for her university ambitions

Having passed matric with seven distinctions, 18-year-old Makanaka Muzuva from Joe Slovo Park informal settlement near Dunoon in Cape Town has her heart set on studying chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town this year.

Despite her achievements, Muzuva’s ability to study further is uncertain.

Although she is one of the top five achievers at Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park and has already been accepted at UCT, as she was born in Zimbabwe and moved here with her parents in 2012, she is dependent on Home Affairs granting a study permit, for which she has already applied. Additionally, not having South African citizenship means most bursary and scholarship opportunities are closed to her.

But her academic success was achieved amid the challenges of living in a cramped one-room home in the overcrowded informal settlement where there is little access to municipal services. Muzuva says she was determined to reach her goals.

She studied for her final matric exams from the bottom bunk of the bed she shares with her two younger brothers.

“At home, we’re not that fortunate. The environment where I live is too noisy. We live in a one-room apartment that is partitioned,” says Muzuva. She says she would often sleep during the afternoon and wake up to start studying from 8pm, when the noise in their busy apartment block died down.

But this too became a challenge on nights when there was loadshedding, leaving her with no choice but to rely on a small solar light. When the light was drained, she used a cellphone torch.

Muzuva says she also spent her weekends at her school to access online educational resources. “It was a free space,” she said.

“The most stressful thing is that I don’t know if I’d be able to afford university tuition,” she says, as most bursary offerings, and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme are not available to foreign nationals.

Her father, Never Muzuva, works as a waiter and her mother is employed part-time at a launderette.

Never Muzuva earns R8,000 per month and pays about R3,500 for rent. The little that is left from his wages is spent on food, electricity, and his family’s other basic needs.

He is very proud of his daughter. He says he is hoping to secure sponsorships to fund his daughter’s university tuition. “I can’t allow her to stay at home just because I lack the financial means,” he says.

Another one of Sinenjongo High’s top achievers is Lilitha Masizana, who lives in Dunoon’s Ekhupholweni informal settlement. The small space in the one-room shack she shares with her mother is divided by a wardrobe. One side is their bedroom and the other is used as a lounge and kitchen.

Masizana achieved five distinctions despite having to contend with noise from a nearby shebeen. The informal settlement does not have formal electricity, so most residents rely on illegal connections.

Masizana says she has been accepted to study a Bachelor of Science (BSc) at Rhodes University. She is currently awaiting responses regarding admission from UCT, Wits University, and Stellenbosch University, where she applied to study medicine.

Her mother, Nyameka Masizana, says she is “very proud” of her daughter. She says she often had to lend money from neighbours to pay for her daughter to get to school but sometimes she had to walk about eight kilometres from Dunoon to school.

Sinenjongo High principal Khuselwa Nopote told GroundUp the school achieved an 88.7% pass rate, a 1% increase from 2022.

She credited this achievement to the learners’ hard work and the dedication of teachers who ran classes every Saturday.

“The most challenging part is the areas where the learners live. Crime is very high. It made it difficult for them to study till late, so they had to leave early. Another challenge is child headed homes. Some learners take care of their siblings. In Dunoon most parents lost their jobs due to Covid. Most learners also had to walk to school,” said Nopote.

She said only a few learners dropped out in grade 10. In 2023, the school enrolled 304 learners in grade 12, of which 301 wrote the final exams.

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