In the Cape Flats, the townships and countryside in and around Cape Town, most students drop out of high school due to pregnancy, substance abuse or being recruited by gangs. Many have to leave school to support their families. School fees are a steep price to pay in an area where most families struggle to put food on the table.
Matric dances are held to celebrate those who graduate (matriculate). For months beforehand, families who live in poverty-stricken areas save to buy extravagant ballgowns and tuxedos, and to hire limousines for the big night. If a family is lucky enough to have a student graduate from high school, no effort is spared to give them the night of their dreams. For many, this is the first family member to graduate.
On the night of the dance, the communities on the outskirts of Cape Town are buzzing with activity. Red carpets are rolled out while aunts decorate houses with organza fabric, and tables are heavily laden with food for family and friends. The streets outside are full and excited children run around. The sound of a sports car echoes down the street as it approaches the crowded house.
A young woman wearing a ballgown steps onto the red carpet, and the community cheers with pride.
Cleo Paulse, 18, on a red carpet at her family home in Hanover Park. She is the eldest of three siblings and the second person in her family, after her mother, to finish high school
The youth need young role models to inspire them. If you see other young people succeeding it inspires you and you can relate to that. It sets a tone. The future is ours for the taking. I hope to be a positive role model in my community.
Reyana Kube, 18, lives with about 700 others in an abandoned hospital in Woodstock. Last year, she gave birth to her baby girl before returning to school to finish her final year.
I decided that a baby wasn’t going to stand in my way of finishing school. I needed to do this to give her a better life. My mom helped me so much through all of this.
Asemahle Mbijana, 17, from Wesbank township, attended Sarepta secondary school. Her dream for the future is to study hard and to become one of the best chartered accountants in South Africa
It was challenging losing both my parents, and living with family can be hard. My grandmother has a big family so there isn’t a lot of space and sometimes it can be noisy and disruptive to study. Moving around has been ungrounding, but I have learned that if you want something, you have to work hard and just go for it!
Shakeelah Davids, 19, who attended Wynberg high school, poses with her date Daniel Laun in Parkwood, where she grew up. She wears a dress made by a family friend.
The youth need to find inspiration and aspiration. Most people in my community don’t aspire to anything more than what they see every day.
Nazeelah Cambell, from Hanover Park, is a first-generation graduate on her mother’s side of the family. She attended Groenvlei high school in Lansdowne. Next year, she would like to do an internship with the City of Cape Town.
A lot of kids in my community don’t finish high school. The words of my mother motivated me to finish school and so I decided that it was something I wanted to do for myself.
Jenna Mennas from Mitchells Plain, Woodlands, attended Wynberg high school. Next year, she wants to study business.
I am excited to be finishing school, but I will also miss it. High school made me the person I am today. The sad thing is that sometimes kids who have a lot of potential and who actually want to finish high school have to drop out to work so that they can help support their families.
Zarnize Jegers, 19, from Maitland and a pupil at Salt River high school, is the first in her family to graduate.
This is just the start for me.
Stella Illunga, 19, attended Kensington high school. She was born in South Africa to Congolese and Portuguese parents, but does not have an ID book or citizenship and is therefore Congolese. Despite having lived in South Africa her whole life, she is still seen as an immigrant.
No matter what your circumstances or how poor you are, don’t ever give up. That matric certificate is a key that can open any door. Don’t let finances get in the way of following your dreams. I’m not letting it stop me. Keep working hard – it pays off in the end!
Blessing Kalonji (right), 18, from Kensington, has a Congolese father and a Zambian mother. She is the eldest of three siblings and the second person in her family to graduate from high school. She and Stella Illunga (left) have been best friends since they were babies. She wants to pursue a career in modelling and acting.
I believe that hard work and determination will determine your future. And passion. If you don’t have passion for what you do, you will easily be distracted. When you enjoy doing something, you feel the need to do it.
Jaydene Lakay, 18, from Cloetesville, is one of three siblings and the first in her family to graduate from high school.
In these times you can’t blame your circumstances for where you end up in life. I want to rise up and prove that I can make something of my life.
Layla Baradien, 18, from Bridgetown, Athlone, is the eldest of three and the first in her family to graduate from high school. She is a top student at her school, and received a bursary to study at UWC (University of the Western Cape), where she will pursue her dream to become a geography teacher. She is pictured here with her date for the dance, Uzair Abrahams
I see how the kids around me drop out of school and fall victim to drug abuse and gangsterism. I want something better for my life.