The Christian Science Monitor

For South Africa's students, college means promise – if they can get there

Olga hugs her daughter Naledi at her paternal grandmother Pule Mathe's home in Jan Kempdorp. Naledi went to live with her grandmother to finish high school. Source: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Two hundred and eight dollars.

Naledi Thimbela turned that number over in her head again and again. That was the amount she needed to pay her high school, she says, before they’d give her a copy of her transcript. Before she could send in the college application that might get her out of this weathered little town. Before maybe, just maybe, she could become the first person in her family to get a college degree.

Two hundred and eight dollars. That’s what it would take.

The number hovered over her, and over her mother too. When Naledi was born, Olga Thimbela had decided, resolutely, what her daughter’s life wasn’t going to be.

She isn’t going to clean white people’s toilets, she thought. Not like me.

She won’t raise her kids in a shack. Not like me.

No one is going to make her feel like she’s nothing.

Not like me.

All of those thoughts hardened into one resolution. Naledi – whose name means star – would study hard. She’d get an education. She’d make it out.

And she had, or very nearly. The mantelpiece in the living room of the small house she shared with her grandmother was crammed with her

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