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Poverty is no barrier for maths whizz

Grade 7 pupils Vaina Manave and Kamohelo Mkati are very good at maths.
Grade 7 pupils Vaina Manave and Kamohelo Mkati are very good at maths.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

She lives in a small shack, wears worn-out uniform and goes to school most of the time on an empty stomach.

But these humble circumstances that maths boffin Vaina Manave, 12, has to contend with daily have not deterred her.

Her studies are her only hope for a brighter future.

At her age, Manave, a Grade 7 pupil at Pitseng Primary School in Sebokeng, Vanderbijlpark, south of Johannesburg, should be running around and playing with friends but she chooses to bury herself in her school work. She recently qualified to participate in the provincial Mathematics Olympiads.

She came third in the Vaal regional competition, finishing in 19 minutes. Classmate Kamohelo Mkati, 12, who answered 50 questions in less than nine minutes and scored 100%, won the provincial competition.

"When I am at home I always do my school work because I don't have toys to play with.

"I love working with numbers and I am always trying everyday to do even better. I want to compete in the national Maths Olympiads. I am grateful to all my teachers for the help," said Manave.

Her maths and natural science teacher, Maluleka Zwathi, described Manave as a diligent pupil.

"She shares a small shack with her unemployed mother and they don't have electricity.

"There are times when she comes to school on an empty stomach and she gets something to eat from the school's feeding scheme. She is a hard worker," said Zwathi.

Although Manave has not yet chosen a career path, she clings to hope that if she does well at school this will one day change her family's financial circumstances.

Zwathi said he initially did not believe Mkati would nail the competition because he is hyper-active and very playful.

"I know that he is a very intelligent child even with other subjects.

"I was surprised and excited when he completed all 50 questions in less than nine minutes," Zwathi said.

Mkati wants to be an accountant. "Working with numbers is a hobby and one day I want to put township schools on the map when I am a number one mathematician in the country.

"I have always been interested in these Olympiads from Grade 3 and I am going to work very hard to qualify for the National Olympiads," said Mkati.

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