Tapiwa Shendelane went from being a young village girl to one of the youngest students at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2016.
“Age is nothing but a number,” the 15-year-old Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering student said.
Shendelane, from Thulamahashe near Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, was one of three 15-year-olds at the university.
She thanked her 67-year-old grandmother for always pushing her to put her books first. She asked that she not be named.
“My mother is unemployed and my father is a prison warder in Limpopo. I was raised by my grandmother and she was very strict.”
Shendelane’s school career began in a village called Hluvukani, near Thulamahashe.
She had always had a fighting spirit.
Six distinctions in matric
“I went to crèche there and I cried the loudest in the class to be moved to Grade R with my friends. They negotiated with me that I would have to repeat Grade R because I was so young.
“At the end of Grade R, I kicked and screamed again because I wanted to wear school uniform like my friends and so I started Grade 1 at the age of 6.”
The teenager excelled all the way to her matric year at Orhovelani High School, where she got six distinctions in her seven subjects.
The first time she realised she was intelligent was in lower primary school.
“I used to get 100% in tests all the time without even putting in an effort. Even in my matric year, I didn’t expect to do as well as I did, because I did not put in an effort.”
She had always wanted to be a doctor and I applied to study medicine, but changed her mind in January.
“It might look great with the white coat and the high heels, but I am actually not passionate about it and I don’t like blood.”
She opted for engineering because she wanted to challenge herself.
‘I want to make a name for myself’
“Being the youngest in my class does not bother me. In fact, it makes me want to work harder and achieve more. When people look at me they see a young village girl, but I am more than that and I want to make a name for myself.
“Age means nothing to me. I believe that education creates success and I want to encourage every young person to work hard despite their circumstances.”
Her dream is to build her grandmother a house and buy her a car.
“I cannot wait to graduate and make a difference.”
Dean of the faculty of engineering and the built environment, Professor Ian Jandrell, said Shendelane was the youngest-ever engineering student at the university.
“This is a phenomenal young person, and given that she meets the entry criteria, we welcome Tapiwa and are proud to have her as part of the Wits community,” he said.