The Chariot

The Princess Diaries

Senior Zama Buthelezi spends four years with her family in South Africa.

Senior Zama Buthelezi’s paternal grandfather is the chief of a tribe in Cameroon, technically making Buthelezi a princess.

Senior Zama Buthelezi’s paternal grandfather is the chief of a tribe in Cameroon, technically making Buthelezi a princess.



Senior Zama Buthelezi’s paternal grandfather is the chief of a tribe in Cameroon, technically making Buthelezi a princess.

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It started with her grandmother’s funeral, what was supposed to be a quick family visit to South Africa in the eighth grade. It turned out to not be a quick visit at all; her mother told her they would be moving to the country within the week. So, senior Zamashenge Buthelezi- who goes by Zama- packed her things and spent the next four years of her life on a different continent.

“It was a culture shock, definitely,” Buthelezi said.

Buthelezi grew up in a Chicago suburb and vaguely knew of her heritage. Her father’s side is from Cameroon and her paternal grandfather was chief of a tribe, technically making Buthelezi a princess. Her mother’s side of the family is South African. She had never been to either country before and when she arrived, she was surrounded by extended family she had never met.

“I had met my grandparents and my uncles, but all the family I had were other Africans we knew in the States,” Buthelezi said. “When I met the people I was actually a blood relative to, it was extremely overwhelming.”

For about a year and a half, Buthelezi did not attend school and spent time getting to know her roots. She said starting high school helped her acclimate to the culture.
“I went to a school that was half-Afrikaans and half-English,” Buthelezi said. “It had two mediums of education. I got to know the white side of South Africa and the black side and the Indian side and the Chinese side all at once, and that is not something a lot of people get to know.”
Despite the cultural benefits Buthelezi received from her education, she had a negative outlook on the school system. A 2014 report published by the World Economic Forum ranked the quality of South Africa’s math and science education last out of 148 countries.
“The education system there is the worst one thing,” Buthelezi said. “You know how you learn everything in one year? Imagine taking a test at the end of the year that counts for 100 percent of your grade. It was too stressful for me.”
Modern South Africa is still deeply affected by Apartheid, an aspect Buthelezi noticed through her education. According to the Economist, under the Bantu Education Act of 1953, black pupils received about a fifth of the funding of their white peers. They were taught almost no STEM classes. Many schools were shut down in predominantly black areas. A study by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa found that just one out of every 200 black students who start school is anticipated to perform at a high enough level to go on to study engineering. Out of every 200 white kids, ten can expect to pass the same threshold.
“On top of [the education system], I had to deal with, to put it bluntly, racist teachers and classmates,” Buthelezi said.
Before moving, Buthelezi’s mother deliberately sent her to predominately white schools.
“Here, especially being black, black schools don’t have the best education, black children aren’t really looked at as promising as white children,” Buthelezi said. “If I were more submersed in white culture, I would have the opportunities they had.”
Buthelezi said this warped her sense of identity and worldly outlook.
“I started believing that being white was better,” Buthelezi said. “When I moved to South Africa, I made my first black friends and I saw that it was the same- I saw that black people had the same potential as white people.”
Being raised by a multitude of cultural viewpoints and in various locations has given Buthelezi a better insight to other people.
“I have seen the lowest of the lows, I have seen the highest of the highs and I have seen people go through the craziest things,” Buthelezi said. “I feel like that makes me more understanding of people.”
Buthelezi encourages her peers to reach out in school.
“Troy is extremely diverse,” Buthelezi said. “People don’t realize there are a lot of different cultures just in one space, like the whole world is right here and we don’t take advantage of that.”
She found herself very distracted outside of schools and realized she wanted to be somewhere that would allow her to gain a strong academic background.
At the time she moved back to the U.S., Buthelezi’s sister resided in Detroit. Knowing that Troy School District was known for their academic prowess, Buthelezi and her sister made the move.
Buthelezi connected with peers and teachers quickly. Math teacher Margaret Slankster has had Buthelezi in class since Buthelezi started at Troy.
“Zama is well-rounded,” Slankster said. “She is intelligent, she is cultured, she has been to a lot of different places and has a lot of experiences that most people do not.”
Buthelezi is also a member of the Troy Social Justice Project.
“You can tell she’s very accepting and wants to reach out by the way she carries herself and by the way she speaks,” fellow TSJP member senior Jordan Jackson said.
Buthelezi is extroverted, constantly making friendly conversation with fellow students and cracking jokes.
“I like talking to people and getting to know people,” Buthelezi said. “What I want to do with my love for socializing is just spread knowledge and the idea that people are good.”
She wants to teach at the elementary level in order to work with the “people who can soak it up the best.”

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