SA’s Grade 4 maths whizz

No sum is too big for maths whizz Sibahle Zwane – his skills have even earned him a schol­ar­ship and his mom a job


HIS brow barely creases as he men­tally cal­cu­lates the an­swers to com­plex sums that would have most of us reach­ing for the cal­cu­la­tor. “What’s 85 000 times 15?” he’s asked. “One mil­lion, two hun­dred and seventy-five thou­sand,” Sibahle Zwane replies with­out a sec­ond’s hes­i­ta­tion in one of the vi­ral videos that have made him an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion.

It’s im­pres­sive stuff – but mak­ing it all the more re­mark­able is the fact Sibahle is just 10 years old. And his pre­co­cious tal­ent for num­bers is rapidly chang­ing his and his mother’s lives.

The lit­tle boy was plucked from ob­scu­rity when a po­lice­man on pa­trol near Sibahle’s home in Le­hae, Gaut­eng, heard of his skill and de­cided to put him to the test.

He filmed Sibahle an­swer­ing a range of com­pli­cated mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ques­tions and posted the clip on­line. Since then the Grade 4 learner has be­come a mini celebrity and been fea­tured in news­pa­pers, as well as on TV and ra­dio shows.

As news of his ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity spread, South Africans leapt at the chance to help the boy and his un­em­ployed mother.

Sibahle, who cur­rently at­tends Oli­fantsvlei Pri­mary School in Eiken­hof, south of Jo­han­nes­burg, has also been of­fered a schol­ar­ship to study at the new Curro Acad­emy Protea Glen open­ing in 2019.

His mother, Mbali, has been of­fered a job there too as a gen­eral worker.

Mother and son were also treated to a plane ride to Dur­ban – the first time ei­ther of them had been on a flight – and had a care­free time en­joy­ing the beaches and warm ocean of the hol­i­day city.

“It’s over­whelm­ing,” Mbali says. “I can’t ex­press my feel­ings. I just want good things for him.”

SHE didn’t re­alise her son was such a maths whizz un­til he was in Grade 2, Mbali says. His teacher called her in for a meet­ing and told her her son had a real ap­ti­tude for num­bers. “When I checked his books I was very im­pressed.”

Shy Sibahle, who’s been lis­ten­ing, sud­denly lights up. “I get 100%,” he says. “I come out tops and beat all the kids and

teach­ers.” There was a limit to what Mbali, who has a younger son, Melokuhle (6), could do to nur­ture Sibahle’s tal­ent as she couldn’t af­ford ex­tra classes for ad­vanced kids. “I didn’t even know where to start,” she says. All she could do was en­cour­age him – although Sibahle has never needed push­ing when it comes to do­ing his home­work. “I don’t ever re­mem­ber help­ing him with his home­work be­cause it’s al­ways com­pleted be­fore he even gets home,” she says. Sibahle can’t ex­plain his gift. “I don’t know,” he says, shrug­ging. “The an­swers just come into my head.” He has a short con­cen­tra­tion span and is eas­ily bored, his mom adds, but he never loses fo­cus when he’s cal­cu­lat­ing num­bers. “Some of my class­mates do ask me to help them when they’re bat­tling,” he says. “Once I was whis­per­ing an­swers to a class­mate and the teacher caught me.” Sibahle tried to put his tal­ent to use to make money in or­der to help his mom out, and in ex­change for a few rand would solve com­plex sums for peo­ple at the lo­cal park and taxi rank. “An old man once asked me to count for him, and he gave me R50.” But Mbali put a stop to that – it makes him a tar­get for thieves and skol­lies, she says.

NUM­BERS oc­cupy most of Sibahle’s wak­ing time. “He some­times wakes me up with, ‘Hey, Mom, what’s 900 times some­thing?’,” Mbali says. “That’s his good morn­ing!” And he’s al­ways on hand to help his mom with cal­cu­la­tions dur­ing gro­cery shop­ping trips.

We put the lit­tle boy to the test dur­ing our visit and he doesn’t dis­ap­point, scor­ing full marks ev­ery time – although we have to use a cal­cu­la­tor to check.

No num­bers are too big for him, his proud mom says.

She was just 18 when she had him and life has been a strug­gle for this sin­gle mom, but it seems her son’s tal­ent is hav­ing a re­mark­able ef­fect on the fam­ily’s for­tune.

Many peo­ple con­tacted her af­ter Sibahle’s vides went vi­ral and while some of the promises made to them evap­o­rated, she’s grate­ful to the bene­fac­tors who made good on their of­fers – es­pe­cially for Sibahle’s schol­ar­ship to the new school and her up­com­ing job.

“I’m over the moon. For the longest time I wasn’t work­ing but at least now I can be a mother who pro­vides for her kids. And it’s all thanks to Sibahle.”

Their lives have changed dras­ti­cally in the past few months.

And Sibahle has be­come a bit of a star. “Ev­ery­where we go, peo­ple recog­nise us. They say, ‘Here’s Sibahle, the celebrity!’”

He was so de­lighted with his trip to Dur­ban he hopes to be­come a pilot when he fin­ishes school, he adds.

Dur­ing his plane ride he re­ceived a spe­cial wel­come from the pilot and got to sit in the cock­pit with the flight crew.

“He loved his time in Dur­ban too,” Mbali says. “If he had his way he would’ve slept on the beach. He en­joyed swim­ming so much he didn’t want to come out of the sea.”

Sibahle also loves buses and of­ten tells his mom he’s go­ing to own one some day.

But prob­a­bly his big­gest pas­sion – af­ter maths – is WWE, which he watches as of­ten as he can. If he had his way he’d change his name to Seth Rollins, his favourite wrestler.

“He’s Seth when he’s watch­ing wrestling, but his grand­mother doesn’t let them watch too much be­cause it’s too vi­o­lent,” his mom says.

He loves play­ing games on his mom’s phone and she lets him be­cause it keeps him busy and off the streets. “It’s not safe for kids to play out­side these days,” Mbali says.

Sud­denly out of nowhere Sibahle de­clares, “Mommy, you owe me 700 bil­lion,” and she bursts out laugh­ing.

This child, she says, shak­ing her head. Sibahle – when he isn’t hit­ting his mom up for out­ra­geous sums of money – has great am­bi­tions not just for him­self but for his mom who’s been his an­chor, great­est sup­port and best friend.

“I’m go­ing to buy mom a house one day,” he tells us.

An d we don’t doubt it for a mo­ment.

‘It’s over­whelm­ing – I can’t ex­press my feel­ings. I just want good things for him’

Sibahle Zwane is mad about num­bers, and he has been of­fered a chance to study at the Curro Acad­emy fol­low­ing a vi­ral video show­cas­ing his maths skills.

Proud mom Mbali Zwane, wants the best for her sons, Melokuhle (left) and Sibahle. El­dest son Sibahle’s tal­ents have al­ready brought the fam­ily good for­tune by se­cur­ing Mbali a job.

Sibahle en­joys im­press­ing strangers with his abil­ity to cal­cu­late maths sums with­out us­ing a cal­cu­la­tor. He’s also a big fan of WWE wrestling.

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