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100-Up and Away

When Tefelo Mathibane received the news that he was awarded the Santilal Parbhoo Prize for best study project in molecular medicine, it felt like he was dreaming. As surreal as it may be, this is an accustomed stance for someone who may easily be considered to be living his dream. It was always Tefelo’s ambition to pursue a career in medicine and today he is in his third year of studies at UCT’s Health Sciences Faculty. His success is attributed to a sense of passion for wanting to help people and he is driven by a need to make a difference in combatting diseases such as Tuberculosis in Africa. This was the focus of his laboratory-based project, monitoring the distribution of mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) on the human lung system. His curiosity for asking questions and approaching solutions from diverse perspectives kept him up for many a late night on his experiments and write-up, earning him top honours.

Tefelo is one of the students who was part of the first cohort of 100-Up learners to begin their studies at UCT in 2014. The 100-Up programme is a high school intervention hosted by UCT’s Schools Improvement Initiative (SII). Each year 100 talented learners in Grade 10 are selected across schools in Khayelitsha, coaching them over three years towards university access. This journey continues with students qualifying for admission to UCT through 100-UP Plus, hosted by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). It supports students with the critical transition to university life and with discerning their individual career paths. Tefelo attributes much of his academic achievement to the 100-Up revision programmes that gave him a more competitive edge on his mathematics and science results in Grade 12, an edge that he now maintains at the top of his class.

Donor funding is largely responsible for the upward trajectory of 100-Up that is now expanding towards schools in Mitchell’s Plain. The programme has received considerable support from both local and international individual donors, particularly in the UK through the UCT Trust based in London. The largest corporate donors were HSBC Africa, Nedbank Eyethu Trust, and AfriSam. Another local corporate, The Foschini Group, has given support to the 100-Up Plus programme with a multi-year pledge. Tefelo is also a bursary recipient of the Moshal Scholarship Programme that funds talented students to realise their higher education dreams towards successful careers.

Besides Tefelo himself, no-one else seems more excited about his achievements than his father whom he visits during vacation in the Eastern Cape: “He always tells me how proud he is, and fact that I am the first child of his to make it to varsity excites him even more. Whenever I speak with him about my studies, he reminds me that I should continue to work hard and he prays to the Lord that he doesn’t die before I graduate. He wants to see me succeeding.” Tefelo likewise looks forward to completing his degree over the next three years and then nurturing his interest to specialise in cardiothoracic surgery: “I want to make a difference in people’s lives and to give back to the community because I also received immense support.”

Story by Merlin Ince

Picture by Lu Nteya