From Village Girl To Wits University Youngest Engineering Student: Meet 15-Yr-Old Tapiwa Shendelane


Vince Lombardi once said “the price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

His saying applies to the case of a teenager whose brilliant educational record began in a village called Hluvukani, near Thulamahashe. Tapiwa Shendelane was born in Thulamahashe near Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga. According to her, she realized how intelligent she was right form when she began school and had to be stepped down from climbing to a higher class, just because she was too tender.

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“I went to crèche there and I cried the loudest in the class to be moved to Grade R with my friends. They negotiated with me that I would have to repeat Grade R because I was so young.”

“At the end of Grade R, I kicked and screamed again because I wanted to wear school uniform like my friends and so I started Grade 1 at the age of 6, ” Shendelane said.

The smart genius said that she never realised how brilliant she was until she noticed that she usually excel in all subjects in her lower primary school with little/no effort. She said,

“I used to get 100% in tests all the time without even putting in an effort. Even in my matric year, I didn’t expect to do as well as I did, because I did not put in an effort.”


Her brilliant performance at Orhovelani High School in Thulamahashe near Bushbuckridge saw her matriculating with six distinctions in her seven subjects.

Today, 15-year-old Shendelane is the youngest engineering student in The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She was offered admission to study a BSc in Industrial Engineering having made waves in her matric examinations.

Shendelane had wanted to be a doctor but changed her mind because she wanted to challenge herself. Speaking more on why she chose engineering, she said,

“It might look great with the white coat and the high heels, but I am actually not passionate about it and I don’t like blood.”

How Does She Feel About Her Age As An Undergraduate?

“Being the youngest in my class does not bother me. In fact, it makes me want to work harder and achieve more. When people look at me they see a young village girl, but I am more than that and I want to make a name for myself.”

“Age means nothing to me. I believe that education creates success and I want to encourage every young person to work hard despite their circumstances.

“I have already made friends and it is really nice to be independent. Classes have been very interesting. I’m loving it,” Shendelane replied.

How has she been coping with lectures?

“Sometimes the school work wasn’t really that challenging, but it got better when I got promoted the second time in high school,” .

“I want to go on to do my masters degree and then maybe I will open my own company.”

“South Africa needs engineers.

“I have faith that I can do it, especially because it’s something I love,”

“I cannot wait to graduate and make a difference,” she said.

Commenting on Shendelane’s feat, the dean of engineering department Professor Ian Jandrell said:

“As far as we can tell, Tapiwa is the youngest engineering student at Wits.

“Readiness for university is a state of mind, not age.

“She is a phenomenal young person.

“We are proud to have her as part of the Wits community,” said Jandrell.

Mpumalanga education has also identified with the teen. Speaking through its spokesman Jasper Zwane, the body said:  “We congratulate her on her wonderful achievement and wish her all the best.”

“She is a true role model for children, especially those in poor areas.
“Her achievement is proof that hard work pays off.”

15-year-old Shendelane who refused to be let down by her poor background said, “my mother is unemployed and my father is a prison warder in Limpopo. I was raised by my grandmother and she was very strict.”

However, she owes much to her 67-year-old grandmother, who she said ignited and sustained her passion for books. She also prays to fulfill her dream – which is to build her grandmother a house and buy her a car.

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