Mbali Shamu used to walk about 10 kilometres to and from school every day throughout her secondary school years.
Today, the 18-year-old is a proud matric graduate and holder of seven distinctions.
Shamu, from the Vaal near Johannesburg, never dreamt of losing focus on her studies, despite the unfavourable conditions that were the backdrop to her upbringing.
She spoke to SAnews on Tuesday during a media briefing chaired by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in Pretoria. The briefing was held to announce how the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will assist social grant beneficiaries who have passed their matric and have been accepted at institutions of higher learning.
Shamu was one of 12 beneficiaries from across Gauteng who attended the briefing.
She stays with her grandmother, mother and younger sister. All of them depend on her grandmother and social grant to survive.
“My grandmother is a domestic worker and my mother is unemployed… We survive on the social grant,” said Shamu, who matriculated from Esokwazi Secondary School in Sebokeng.
She is one of the 3 400 matriculants who were part of the Department of Social Development’s Isibindi programme in 2016. The programme targets children in child and youth headed households.
The department, through Isibindi (an IsiNguni word that means ‘courage’), deploys child and youth care workers in communities to assist children in vulnerable homes.
Shamu expressed gratitude for the support she received from the programme and how it assisted her to secure a place in university. She hoped that more learners who need the programme could be assisted to access it.
This year, Shamu will be studying BSc Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
“I chose this career path because professionals in this field use mathematics to predict the future. They generate models to solve financial problems, which is something I am interested in.”
Help for child headed households
Minister Dlamini said the assistance provided by Isibindi care workers ensures that children remain in school and attend classes.
“The child and youth care workers support these children and make sure that they are relieved from household responsibilities, including being parents to their siblings, while they are trying to pass Grade 12.
“Currently, the Department of Social Development supports 300 Isibindi sites across the country, which are managed by community based organisations, supporting 200 000 children and youth.”
In 2016, about 674 620 full-time learners registered to write matric examinations. About 188 758 learners were social grant beneficiaries. Of this, 178 411 grant beneficiaries (95 %) actually wrote their examinations.
Minister Dlamini said this suggests that over 10 000 grant recipients dropped out of school before sitting for their final examinations.
“We commit to investigating the reasons for this dropout,” said the Minister.
Forging ahead with courage
Thabo Ntsime, 17, from Mohlakeng in Randburg is also a social grant beneficiary who refused to be counted amongst the dropouts. He walked away with two distinctions in Geography and Science. He also received support from Isibndi.
He was brought up by his grandparents, as both his parents had passed on.
“I lost my mother in 2008 and lost my father four years later. My grandparents have always ensured that I have everything I need at school. They also make sure that I have food to eat at night, even though they are not working,” said Ntsime.
He was introduced to the Isibindi group by his grandmother to help him cope with the world and his studies.
“To get to where I am today, I always quoted President Nelson Mandela’s words. He once said ‘Poverty is manmade, and can be removed by the actions of human beings’. So to counter that poverty that I grew up in, I chose to study and do well at school so that I can get a better life.”
Ntsime is determined to work hard and take his grandparents and his younger brother out of poverty.
He will be pursuing a career in Emergency Medical Services at the University of Johannesburg.
Plans to assist beneficiaries after matric
More than 12 million children receive social grants every month in South Africa.
The Department of Social Development, through its agency, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), distributes over R11 billion worth of social grants to the most vulnerable and poor of the country.
Minister Dlamini said the department’s current Protocol Agreement was extended to include NSFAS to ensure that poor children have access to financial assistance to either study at a university or Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.
Girls seizing study opportunities
The Minister said about 112 409 of the total number of social grant beneficiary learners who wrote matric are female and they live in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu-Natal. She was concerned that only 66 002 were boys.
“We need to be concerned about the boy child and it is time that we pay attention to our boys,” she said.
Despite the conditions that vulnerable learners find themselves in, about 41% managed to receive a Bachelor’s pass.
According to the Minister, the majority of the learners who obtained a Bachelor’s pass were from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The results also show that 83% of the grant recipients are eligible to further their studies through either a diploma or degree.
The agreement that the department and NSFAS have states that these students should automatically qualify for funding to further their studies at institutions of higher learning.
“With the removal of the means test for financial eligibility for social grant beneficiaries, there should be no hindrance in them pursuing their chosen careers,” said the Minister. - SAnews.gov.za