Student fights her way to top

Student fights her way to top SA university: “I owe my dad this degree.”

Zola Maphila’s road to success has been anything but easy, but it’s given her a gritty determination to push herself and achieve her dreams.

Student fights her way to top

Now 24, Maphila was raised by her father after her alcoholic mother left when she was just 18 months old. “He always wanted the best for me. I am from Langa, but was sent to schools in areas like Sea Point and Woodstock.”

When her father was retrenched from his job as a driver for a car dealership, Maphila recalls what a struggle their lives became. Just before the start of Grade 4, Maphila’s father explained to her that he could no longer afford to send her to school. “He promised me he would sort it out,” she recalls, “and until he did, I was to go to the local library every day and read.”

Every school day in 2001, Maphila could be found at the Langa library where she would sit and read until her father joined her in the afternoons to tutor her in basic mathematics.

Although he lacked a formal education himself, her father believed in the power of education, so when he heard about an opportunity for his daughter to attend Christel House in Athlone, he didn’t hesitate to apply.

Because she didn’t have a school report, the school conducted an assessment, and Maphila was found to be Grade 5 ready, despite her being the right age for Grade 4.

Maphila excelled at school and involved herself in everything that she could. In Grade 12, she was named valedictorian of her year.

When it came time for Maphila to register at her university of choice – Stellenbosch – her father was unable to pay her registration fees, having used 10c and 20c coins to pay for train tickets, but her marks and good attitude enabled her to be accepted.

At the end of her first year, her father passed away, and this triggered a depression in Maphila that made her drop out during her third year. That was four years ago, and in that time, Maphila has decided to go back to Stellenbosch to complete her degree. “My dad didn’t spend his last coins to get me to Stellenbosch for me to simply walk away from it. I need this.”

She is now working as the assistant to the CEO of Christel House and is in charge of The Farm – a smallholding owned by the school, where matriculants spend time studying for their exams.

Maphila uses her own story to encourage the pupils under her care. “I try to teach them to be proud of who they are and where they come from. My dad taught me that.”