Dreams of Drakensberg

The Palagangwe family from Eastridge are from left, Cade, Kagiso, Ethan, Candice and Kaycee.

An Eastridge boy who was accepted at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in KwaZulu-Natal still needs funds to attend the school next year.

After seeing a notice in the Plainsman calling on boys to audition in order to join the world’s best boy choir, Ethan Palagangwe, 10, blew the judges away with his voice audition, “mastered” his English and mathematics entry assessment test and passed his online interview with the new school.

Ethan’s school acceptance fee of R10 000 was paid to the school after his story and video of his audition song, Michael Jackson’s Ben, posted by the Plainsman, was shared dozens of times and was viewed hundreds of times on Facebook.

His parents, Kagiso Palagangwe, 34, and Candice Palagangwe, 29, said after the Plainsman’s online story, many people reached out to them to assist Ethan.

Ethan, however, still needs to raise R160 000 for his tuition fee to be enrolled as a Grade 5 pupil.

He also needs assistance with travelling costs, boarding items, stationery, and tours with the school.

Founded in 1967, the Drakensberg Boys Choir is unique in that it is the only choir school on the African continent, being a boarding school that uses choral music as a significant vehicle for holistic education.

The school is nestled in one of the world’s major heritage sites, the mighty Okhahlamba Mountain range, and provides, not only training and performances in choral, contemporary and pop singing but also African folklore music and choreographed movement.

The school allows boys the opportunity to experience a vibrant outdoor life with cycling, swimming and hiking, integral to the curriculum.

The family have raised R11 700 so far with the BackaBuddy crowdfunding campaign.

The acceptance fee of R10 000 is excluded from the tuition fee of R160 000.

Ethan Palagangwe

Author Athol Williams, originally from Mitchell’s Plain, who is also the founder of the Mitchell’s Plain-based non-profit organisation Read to Rise, which aims to inspire reading and making high quality books available to young pupils, assisted the family with Ethan’s acceptance fee.

“I was moved instantly by Ethan’s story,” said Mr Williams, who authors the Oaky book series.

“Anyone who has had an impossible dream frustrated by the lack of money would be moved by Ethan’s story,” he told the Plainsman.

When Mr Williams, who grew up in Westridge, was 12, he was offered a place at a top private school in Cape Town after writing the entry exam, but couldn’t go because his family didn’t have the money.

“I didn’t want Ethan to have to suffer the same fate. I believe we should be celebrating and enabling excellence among our youth and helping them fulfil their potential,” he said.

Ms Palagangwe said Ethan came home with a copy of the Plainsman, saw the advertisement and wanted to audition.

“We all agreed and took Ethan to audition. It was a professional atmosphere but we were so excited for Ethan,” she said.

Ethan said he was nervous but when he closed his eyes and started singing the song Ben, he had all the confidence in the world.

“The judges were very impressed with me, I could tell. I just smiled after their polite and kind response,” he said.

His favourite singers are Chris Brown and Michael Jackson, he liked the song Ben and chose to sing that song for his audition, he said.

Mr Palagangwe said after Ethan’s audition, he wrote the English and mathematics entry tests, and he “mastered” it.

The final stage was his online interview.

“We were so excited that we drove to Mnandi Beach for the view for Ethan’s interview. We struggled to log into Zoom; we asked the lifeguards to assist us with it and after some time it worked. The headmaster spoke to Ethan as though he was already accepted on Monday November 2,” Mr Palagangwe said.

On Tuesday November 3, Ethan received a letter of his acceptance to Drakensberg Boys Choir School.

“It was disheartening to know how much the finances were to attend the school but we prayed as a family and told our son to remain positive – he wouldn’t pass every level and not get into this school,” Mr Palagangwe said.

His Grade 4 teacher, Liezel Klaassen, said Ethan is an amazing boy.

“He is very dedicated and passionate about the things he loves. He’s polite and very well-mannered,” she said.

“I know that Ethan will achieve great heights, his acceptance at Drakensberg is but one step in his journey to greatness. Maybe it’s because we share a birthday on August 20, that I hold him dear. Go on and do great things Ethan – I’m so proud of you my boy,” Ms Klaassen said.

Deidre Alcock, the marketing manager at Drakensberg Boys Choir School, said there are several boys in South Africa, just like Ethan, who would love to attend the Drakensberg Boys Choir School, and who have significant talent. Unfortunately, finances are usually the main issue, she said.

Ms Alcock said the Drakensberg Boys Choir School’s auditions held in Cape Town and the rest of the country were open to all from wherever they came, but it was explained that parents would be responsible for the fees.

The school has very limited funding, and while it is given to people on a needs basis, it is uncommon to be given to new boys, as they have yet to prove their worth at the school, and in the choir, said Ms Alcock.

Ethan can look forward to a brotherhood, but also lots of hard work as he’ll need to pass a series of 30 new boy tests before he can join the concert choir, said Ms Alcock.

“The impression of Ethan at his interview was that he loves singing, he wants to see the rest of South Africa, and he was very excited to have the opportunity to join the school,” she said.

Ms Palagangwe said they are very excited for Ethan.

“This is something we cannot forget. Once everything starts aligning, that is when it will feel real. It still feels surreal,” she said.

Those who want to help and donate to the crowdfunding campaign, can do so via BackaBuddy or follow Mr and Ms Palagangwe’s Facebook accounts.

The Palagangwe family will be hosting several fund-raisers to help realise Ethan’s dream; call them on 083 583 1345 or 078 029 8913 for more information.