Paths revealed

Amid matric buzz in S. Africa, three learn their scores, decide what's next

April 10, 2007|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN FOREIGN REPORTER

SOWETO, South Africa — SOWETO, South Africa-- --Since 3 a.m., Monde Dweku has lain awake in bed, listening to the hoots and hollers of students getting good news from newspapers arriving at the Engen gas station across the street. He said he would check precisely at 5, so he waits as the clock above his bed tick-tocks slowly to the hour. It is Matric Day, the day when newspapers across South Africa fly off the presses bearing the answer to two questions that have tormented 528,525 high school 12th-graders for a month and a half: Did I pass? And if so, how high was my score?

Those who passed will find their names in print, along with codes indicating whether they qualify for university admission or have garnered honors in certain subjects. Those who failed will not see their names at all.

The results are the stuff of headlines. This afternoon, when the minister of education addresses an assemblage in Cape Town, her speech will air live to the nation.

Some education experts think that too much hype surrounds the matric and that its role as a "door opener" is not what it once was. As the number of successful graduates has risen since the 1990s, some have questioned whether the tests are being dumbed down.

Yet passing remains a basic requirement for anyone who wants to join the South African Police Service as an officer or to train as a registered nurse. People say, not without some truth, that you need your matric to be even a grocery store clerk.

Even the mining giant Anglo American, which for decades sent into its gold mines any black man who could swing a pick, says new miners need to pass matric for more underground jobs because of the increasingly complex machinery and safety procedures.

When 5 o'clock finally rolls around, Monde's bed is already made.

Emerging from the three-room house in Soweto that he shares with his mother, stepfather and two little brothers, Monde walks not to the Engen but to a street corner a block away. The night before, he prepaid for today's Sowetan as a hedge against a mad rush.

The Sowetan has not arrived, but the Daily Sun has. Monde calls it "the lying paper" for its sensationalism, but he figures even the Sun wouldn't publish fallacious matric results. He gives the man 20 cents but resists the impulse to look right away. Instead, he strolls back to his house. Whether he is calm or merely trying to look that way, he takes his time.

The rising sun tinges the cloudy sky a purplish blue as he lays the paper across the hood of a neighbor's car and carefully unfolds it to the thick section filled with the results. Hovering over the paper, he flips to the "D" listings and begins checking. And checking. And checking some more.

He methodically pores over the dozens and dozens of Dubes, his index finger guiding his eyes over the small print. When he gets to the Dyayis, he realizes with a chill that he hasn't seen his own name. If it's there. He reverses direction, and then his gaze comes to a rest on two short, beautiful words:

Dweku, Monde.

At 5:16 a.m., both his arms shoot skyward. He swivels away from the car, a huge grin creasing his face. A cheer escapes his throat before he quickly returns to the newspaper.

"Was I dreaming?" he says. "No, I was not! Man, I was not dreaming. I was not dreaming. I. Was. Not. Dreaming."

He has to tell his mother, the one who abandoned him to relatives as a young boy but who has embraced him so lovingly over the past eight years that he forgives her. He runs inside and finds her asleep in bed.

"Do you know this guy?" he fairly chortles.

"Whoa!" Elsie Dweku says, still groggy. "At last." Monde has passed on his first try, but he is one of the oldest 12th-graders.

Propped on her elbows now, Elsie peers at the newspaper he has dropped on her bedside table, as if she still can't quite believe the news. Monde goes back outside to savor the moment. Soon his mother joins him, wearing a pink robe, paper in hand, her eyes still glued to the page.

At 5:30, Monde calls his girlfriend, Irene, who passed her matric two years ago and is now studying business. She had informed him, with no hint of joking in her voice, that she would marry no man who failed matric.

"My love," he says, "your man has made it."

"Really?" she replies, her tired voice raspier than usual.

"Yes."

"Thank God."

He phones his stepfather, Sam Ndou, who's traveling for work. Ndou had pushed Monde to stay in school after he failed the 11th grade and wanted to quit, feeling he was too old. Monde, a 23-year-old matric survivor, giddily shares the news.

At 5:51, a text message from a former teacher flashes on Monde's cell phone: "Congrats, I saw yo name in the paper. Good luck 4 the future. Luv, Sbu."

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