Pule Moltwantwa, 20, is so passionate about mathematics he achieved 100% for it in matric and is determined to become a doctor in the subject. It’s not surprising then that the way this second-year University of Pretoria BSc maths student pays it forward is getting school children to understand what they can achieve if they change their attitude to maths in particular, but education in general.
Pule was born in Thembisa in Gauteng, where he lived with his mother and her family. At school he excelled at maths and athletics, winning many medals and certificates, but he didn’t put much effort into subjects he didn’t enjoy.
In Grade 6, his class and maths teacher, a Mr Makola, became a mentor to Pule and made him realise he had real talent. “He told me if I continue working hard at my maths, I will go far,” Pule recalls.
Mr Makola supported him through his mother’s death when he was just 12, after which he had to move in with his father’s family, who didn’t want him there. “I could talk to Mr Makola and he understood what I was going through,” he says. “I became stronger and realised I could face my problems without them defining me.”
Pule says he wasn’t a social guy and preferred not to talk much to people. Mr Makola and his other teachers kept encouraging Pule in his learning. “Thanks to Mr Makola and other teachers, I realised that it was worth persevering at my studies because I wanted to make something of myself. In the township, it is hard to see the importance of education as most learners aren’t interested,” Pule explains.
His teachers got him to understand that if he attained full marks for maths but failed his languages he wouldn’t do well. “So, I started putting effort into all my subjects,” he says.
In Grade 10, Pule was selected as one of two scholars from his school to attend the Dimension Data Saturday School that focuses on ensuring talented disadvantaged learners get outstanding marks in matric. “This had such a huge impact on my education and exposed me to various industries and careers,” he says. “It motivated me and challenged me to do better because I was surrounded by exceptional learners. I needed to work hard, and I did.”
Around the time he was selected for the Saturday School, Pule’s father fell ill and passed away. He couldn’t stay with his father’s family anymore so his older brother (with whom he shared a mother not father) rented a flat for Pule and supported him until he finished matric. Pule may have been lonely, but he put all his energy into studying.
He was sure he wanted to study maths and that he wanted to do it at the University of Pretoria. “I had spent time there during empowerment week camps with Dimension Data and felt really comfortable there,” he says. With results like 100% for maths, 97% for physics, 89% for life sciences, and his worst mark being 66% for English, he was accepted at UP and received R55 000 towards his first year. This wasn’t going to cover his university expenses and although he had applied for many bursaries, he didn’t get one before he started his first year. “I was hoping that if I worked really hard something good would happen about the money,” he says. “I didn’t do much talking or trying to make friends, I just worked and worked.”
The Dimension Data Saturday School organisers promised they would do what they could to help him. They gave his information to the Moshal Scholarship Program, which awarded him a scholarship in March of his first year. “It is so hard to express how grateful I am. Helping people like me to follow our dreams, which we couldn’t do without them, is true humanity,” says Pule. “Martin Moshal is my role model. The most important thing in the world is to help others, not wanting anything back. Martin inspires me to do just that.”
Pule is paying it forward by going back to his school and helping empower scholars through maths and physics and changing mindsets about education. He also does community work at an old age home in Soweto.
Next year Pule will complete his undergraduate degree but is determined to keep studying until he walks away with a PhD. Then, he wants to spend his time empowering others.
He is determined to open three community centres, including one specifically for child welfare. “It makes me happy when I help people. If you have a stable life you need to give back to people around you. You need to empower and uplift people. If we all uplifted others in this life the earth would be a great place.”