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A heart-breaking picture of a 16-year-old girl accepting an honours degree on behalf of her dead mother has left many South Africans in tears.

The picture of Akhona Wali, dressed in blue jeans and a black leather jacket, walking onto the stage to accept the certificate from Nelson Mandela University registrar Edgar de Koker has gone viral.

Her mother, Nandipha Wali, 41, a Grade 7 maths, science and technology teacher at Charles Duna Primary School in Gqeberha's New Brighton township, obtained a Bachelor of Education honours degree this year, majoring in educational psychology.

But she could not attend Saturday's graduation ceremony to accept her degree herself because she died of an illness on 31 March.

Nandipha initially graduated from the university in 2017 with a Bachelor of Education in intermediate phase, specialising in maths and science.

On Saturday, she was meant to receive her honours degree alongside 13 other graduates.

Instead, her daughter, Akhona, the second of her three teenage children, stepped up and accepted the degree on behalf of her late mother.

Akhona's aunt, Ziphozihle Wali, said the graduation ceremony was a bittersweet moment for the entire family.

"We were happy for her (Nandipha's) achievement, but it's sad that she was not there to see the fruit of her hard work. We would have loved to see her witnessing the results of her good effort," said Ziphozihle.

She added that her sister dropped out mid-course to pursue teaching because it was her calling.

"She was very passionate about teaching. For her, it was not a job. Education was close to her heart. She tutored underprivileged learners in her spare time for free.

"We would have loved to see her there on stage, but God had her own ways," an emotional Ziphozihle said on Monday.

According to Ziphozihle, her sister's children – Ikho, 18, Akhona and Luphumlo, 14 – have decided to take the tragic loss of their mother and use it as motivation to excel in life to honour her memory.

Life has not been easy for the children, who lost their choral musician father when they were in primary school.

They live with their grandmother in Overbaakens and attend Victoria Park High School.

Only Akhona and younger brother Luphumlo could attend the graduation ceremony as their older brother, Ikho, had to go on a crucial school trip.

Ziphozihle said although Akhona was emotional and nervous on the stage during the graduation ceremony, she felt confident due to the warm reception of academic staff and her mother's peers.

She revealed that after receiving such a warm reception and getting an opportunity to tour the university campus on Saturday, Akhona now planned to study medicine or education there.

The dean of the faculty of education, Dr Muki Moeng, said she received the sad news of Nandipha's death while she was at a faculty management meeting.

"We had to observe a moment of silence, we were really shocked and saddened more especially because we don't have enough maths, science and technology teachers who can teach in primary school," added Moeng. 

This article appeared on News24 on 26 April 2022 written by Malibongwe Dayimani. Read the origial story at: 

Also on Saturday the 23rd, a second qualification was awarded posthumously to Lindokuhle Thala, who would have received her BEd in Further Education and Training (FET) specialising in the teaching of Life Science and Maths Literacy. She was 23 years old and lived in Mount Freire in the Eastern Cape. She drowned on Christmas day in 2021.

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