Oprah academy matriculant looks back – and ahead

Fezeka Nxumalo at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Picture: Supplied

Fezeka Nxumalo at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 9, 2024


Durban — From shy to outspoken, Fezeka Nxumalo, 18, who was accepted to study at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (Owlag) in Johannesburg in 2018, completed her matric with a Bachelor’s pass and three distinctions.

In 2018, the Daily News interviewed Fezeka at Inchanga Primary School after she was selected for Owlag.

Speaking of her achievement, Fezeka said: “I’m happy but as a human, you’re always greedy for more. But I’m happy, I’m content.

“For the past five years, I did well. I’m very proud of myself,” she said about her time at Owlag.

“The first year wasn’t easy. It was one of the hardest years ever. I’ve never been away from my mom. It was a bit challenging but with technology, such as video calls and phone calls, we kept in contact, and we knew I would return home.”

The 2018 article: Fezeka beats all odds to join Oprah school.

During her five years at Owlag, there was the Covid-19 pandemic, July unrest and higher stages of load shedding.

Fezeka said that in Grades 9 and 10, they did online learning and but were also sent home during that time. In Grade 10, they returned to school for two months but someone tested positive for Covid-19, and they returned home.

She added that in Grade 11, they were not affected by load shedding when they were at school because there was a generator, and were only affected when at home for the holidays.

Fezeka Nxumalo at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Picture: Supplied

Fezeka said she met Oprah Winfrey, Owlag founder, when she was in Grade 8. However, Winfrey could not attend their graduation in November last year.

Fezeka said she had been accepted to several universities but she chose the University of Pretoria (UP) where she would study law.

“I chose UP because it has a good law faculty,” Fezeka said.

“It’s far, but manageable,” she said about the distance between KZN and Pretoria.

Fezeka believes that when she does her postgraduate studies, she will either go into family law or corporate law. She will look at other options but those were her first choices. She said that even though she came from a disadvantaged background, she would be able to further her studies under the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation (Owlaf).

Fezeka said Owlaf stepped in where the National Student Financial Aid Scheme could not reach, but one had to have both.

“Gratitude goes out to my mom, Mrs Leashnee Pooran (former teacher), Jill (Drummond) and everyone who was my cheerleader,” Fezeka said.

Fezeka Nxumalo and her mother, Zinhle, at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Picture: Supplied

Her mother, Zinhle Nxumalo, said she could not describe how happy she was.

“She (Fezeka) did as much as I wanted. She went beyond, where I couldn’t get to,” Nxumalo said.

Nxumalo said the first year without her daughter was hard. Fezeka was with her from birth, but after some time, she got used to Fezeka being away and coming home for the holidays. It had only been Nxumalo and her two daughters.

Nxumalo said when Fezeka was in her first year of high school, she lost her job and kept it to herself until Fezeka returned home for the holidays.

“It was difficult. There were things she needed that I couldn’t get but she was understanding. She would advise me when I was stressed,” Nxumalo said.

She said she was also happy that she was not alone. She had the support of the community, Fezeka’s primary school teachers and the principal. They still kept in touch.

Nxumalo said Drummond always helped. She would visit them, take Fezeka out and help her when she, Nxumalo, was unable to.

“I believe I raised my daughter right. She knows what she wants in life”.

Nxumalo said that’s what she told herself when people said negative things.

Over the years, Leashnee Pooran, Fezeka's primary school teacher, and her husband, would take Fezeka to the airport or bus terminal. Picture: Supplied

Pooran said it was a proud moment when Fezeka messaged her about her results.

“I’m so proud of this young lady, that she got to have a better life,” Pooran said.

“Seeing them (Fezeka and other former pupils) matriculate, it’s like my own kids are matriculating.

“We get nothing out of this except the pride and joy from seeing these children become something.”

Pooran said that when Fezeka started at Owlag, the school invited her and Nxumalo to go and see Fezeka at the school.

“That was the most amazing experience as an educator, to go and be part of a different world,” she said.

“I’ve always taught in township and rural schools. So when I went to that school, it was amazing, it was beautiful.”

Pooran said Fezeka was shy and quiet before, but now she could not stop speaking.

“I’ve become Aunty to her and not ma’am. I feel blessed to be part of this journey with her and be able to help her.”

The first time Fezeka Nxumalo went to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls for an interview. She was in Grade 7 and her first time travelling alone to Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

WhatsApp your views on this story to 071 485 7995.

Daily News