Thanduxolo Myende loves a good challenge, but her matric exams posed the challenge of a lifetime. Her mother passed away two days into her final exams and it took every bit of determination to pass her exams well enough to still get into university.
“My mother always pushed me to learn and told me that I had far more opportunities than she had and I was to grab them with both hands,” Thando (as she is known) says. “She believed those opportunities would only be available if I got a good education. So, I got through my exams only for her because I knew how much she wanted it for me.”
Thando, 20 and in third year BCom accounting sciences at the University of Pretoria, grew up with her mother and extended family in Umlazi township near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. “With my mom’s piece jobs, she worked hard to provide for me and we always had the basics,” she explains.
Thando went to the local school from most of her primary education and excelled at sport and academics. “I was very energetic and loved sport – particularly tennis – but I always wanted my grades to be on point,” she says. She played tennis through to matric, when she was the vice-captain of the school team. And while mathematics was her favourite subject, she excelled across the board.
In high school she was part of the English academy club for debating and public speaking. It was here she caught the attention of an English teacher who became Thando’s mentor and helped her get a bursary for a top private school from Grade 10 to matric. “She admired my confidence and had faith in me. She would always call on me when we had guests at the school and they needed someone to stand up and talk to them,” she recalls. Thando attributes her confidence to her mother who, she says, “made me believe I could do anything and that the only way to get places was to speak up with confidence”.
This teacher encouraged Thando to apply for the Zenex Foundation’s Maths and English Project, which provides private school bursaries to disadvantaged scholars. Thando was shortlisted out of 600 scholars and was chosen to go to Inanda Seminary School.
“My mom was thrilled that I was getting this opportunity, but she wasn’t happy it was a boarding school and I would live at the school,” she says. They both got used to it, but Thando’s mom called her every single day for a chat, no matter what.
Thando continued to be one of the top students and her teachers all wanted her to continue with their subjects at university. It was tough to decide which path to take. “Ultimately, it was between engineering and accounting, and I was passionate about accounting and so applied for accounting sciences.”
She only wanted to go to the University of Pretoria because she had done Tukkies Preparation camps there and loved it.
Her school chaplain, Reverend Susan, helped with applications and bursaries and alerted the Moshal Scholarship Program about Thando.
Then her mother got sick and had an operation and, within a week of that, she passed away. Thando was devastated, but persevered and still managed to get two distinctions, with all her results being above 70%.
Thando got to Pretoria and settled into res, so worried that she wouldn’t be able to stay, but just before she had to register, she found out she had got the Moshal Scholarship. “I was ecstatic! Now I could focus on the challenge of studying hard to do well,” Thando says.
She overcame the initial shock of a huge workload and a low mark in her first test and started aiming higher and higher, challenging herself.
Her next challenge is getting great marks in her final year next year so she can do Honours and after that she will do her articles.
“I ultimately want to have my own accounting firm, a franchise restaurant and start a school,” she explains. She dreams of a creating a school for disadvantaged girls, who would then get a top education, preparation for university and skills that would make them well-rounded people. She plans to raise money to fund all her pupils.
Her inspiration is the man who gave her financial freedom, Martin Moshal. But until the time when she can give back on his scale, she volunteers at orphanages.
And she longs for that first ‘real’ pay cheque that she can use to renovate her extended family’s home in Umlazi and buy uniforms for young schoolgirls in the community.
But for now, she awaits the next challenge that comes her way, knowing she can handle it.