Matric Farewell: Party of the Year in Bulte

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Johannesburg, Soweto, Townships/Informal Settlements | 18 comments

When I moved to South Africa I was very confused by the word matric. “My daughter is in matric,” someone would say, or, “My son is studying for matric exams,” and I would smile and nod, wondering what they meant. Eventually I figured out that matric is short for matriculation, and “passing matric” is sort of like graduating from high school, but more than that because the matric exams are also university entrance exams. (You can finish high school without passing matric, but you need to pass matric to go on to university.) South African 12th-grade students are “in matric”. And once they finish those dreaded matric exams at the end of the year, the students go to a banquet called “matric farewell”.

Micayla dressed up for her matric farewell
Micayla Williams, on her street in Noordgesig (Bulte), dressed to the nines and ready for her matric farewell.

Matric farewell is like the American prom, but bigger — like prom and graduation rolled into one. It’s not just a big party for matriculants; the whole day is a celebration for the entire extended family and community, recognizing this huge achievement to which everyone has contributed. And, as my friends Lavinia and Fabian explained to me, matric farewell is a particularly big deal in the Coloured community. (For more about the what the word “Coloured” means in a South African context, read this post.) In Noordgesig, also known as Bulte (which means “Hills”), where Lavinia and Fabian live, matric farewell is a huge event of note.

I don’t have kids or lots of friends with kids, so even after many years in South Africa, the whole matric thing was still pretty foreign to me. So when Lavinia and Fabian invited me to photograph their oldest daughter, Micayla, as she got ready for her matric farewell celebration, I had to accept.

Micayla’s matric farewell was several weeks ago, on December 14th, so this story is rather late. But it’s actually a good week for it because the matric exam results are only released about a month after the students take them. This year’s nationwide results were officially released a few days ago, and South African matriculants have achieved their highest pass rate in history. I’m pleased to announce that Micayla also passed and her family is ecstatic.

The Otto and Williams family at Matric Farewell
Micayla, her parents Fabian and Lavinia, her younger sisters Nesia and Azariah, and her cousin Deandre (who was also Micayla’s date for the farewell) at the celebration.

Here is a photo story of Micayla’s matric farewell day.

Micayla’s Matric Farewell

The day started with Micayla getting her nails, hair, and makeup done. This in itself was a huge deal, as Micayla normally doesn’t wear makeup or fancy hairstyles and refuses to wear any shoes but sneakers. (Her cousins explained all this to me over the course of the day.)

Micayla getting her makeup done
Unfortunately I arrived a little late and wasn’t able to get a full-on “before” shot. But here’s Micayla in the early stages of her hair and makeup journey.
Micayla and makeup artist
She hadn’t seen herself yet at this point.
Micayla getting ready for her Matric Farewell
The big reveal — she looked truly gorgeous.
Micayla made up
It was really fun seeing her reaction.
Micayla with her makeup and hair done
Micayla looking flawless in her pre-farewell loungewear. It was about noon at this point and the real festivities didn’t start until around 5. Micayla told me she was not allowed to go outside the house once her hair and makeup were done.
Micayla and Lavinia
The whole day was filled with various family members and friends parading into the house and reacting with total delight when they saw Micayla. I can’t remember who came in as I took this photo.
Matric nails
Matric farewell nails. Micayla’s are in the middle.
Kids practicing for a dance routine
Kids practicing for a dance routine to be performed during the events programme.

At around 3:00 p.m., it was time to get dressed. Micayla is not the Cinderella-gown type so she wore a custom-made suit by local designer Donna-Lee Wentzel.

Getting dressed with mom
Getting dressed with Mom.
Micayla's matric farewell sneakers
These fly sneakers by Karl Lagerfeld completed the outfit perfectly.
Micayla dressed
The lewk.

Fabian and Lavinia transformed the outside of their house for Micayla’s farewell programme, putting up a tent and draping the whole place in black, silver, and gold. There was a sound system, and a beautiful cake, and a red carpet and even a throne. Throngs of family and friends wearing white t-shirts and blue jeans (the assigned dress code for guests) started to arrive, gathering in small groups and sitting in chairs lining the perimeter of the property. The excitement was palpable.

People waiting for Micayla to come out
Waiting for the matriculant to arrive.

Finally it was time for Micayla to make her public appearance. She danced out through the silver-draped doorway, to much cheering and adoration, and seated herself upon her throne.

I don’t know Micayla well at all. But just hanging out with her for those few hours before the big event, I could tell she wasn’t used to being in the spotlight and nervous about all of this fanfare. Nonetheless, Micayla came through that doorway and OWNED it, with no sign of nerves whatsoever. I was so impressed.

Micayla arrives
Micayla arrives.
Micayla on her throne
Seated upon her throne as her aunt makes a speech.
Fabian speaks at Micayla's farewell
Fabian, clearly the public speaker of the family, was in his element.
Micayla thanking the guests
Micayla also said a few words to thank the guests.
Matric farewell dance programme
The dance programme was lit.
Micayla getting swarmed by papparazi
Micayla getting swarmed by papparazi.

I already had goosebumps at this point. But the thrills had hardly begun.

Micayla’s date — her very handsome cousin, Deandre — pulled up in a vintage, convertible, maroon-colored BMW 325i with a shiny, low-riding VW polo trailing behind as its support vehicle. Exhaust pipes roared and the crowd went wild. Deandre waded in to the fray, met up with Micayla, and the pair was engulfed by paparazzi. I had to shove my way through to get some pictures.

Deandre pulls up in a BMW
Deandre (right) fetching his date. I didn’t get the name of the driver, who was incredibly cool in his own right.
Micayla and Deandre
They made a striking pair.
Micayla dancing down the red carpet.
Micayla dances down the red carpet toward her awaiting chariot.
Micayla and her pastor with the car
Micayla and her family pastor — this was the only shot I managed to get of the full car.
Micayla and Deandre ready to drive off
Ready to drive off.

The cars eventually drove off, in a literal blaze of glory, and Micayla was on her way to the matric farewell banquet — to be followed by an after-party that apparently lasts until the early hours of the morning. I thought maybe that was the end of the experience for the old (and young) folk left behind. But no: There was still one more crazy phase to this celebration.

Micayla was not the only matric celebrating in Bulte that day. All the other matrics were having similar events at their own homes, and around 6:00 p.m. they were all taking off, as Micayla was, to go to the banquet. It’s an annual tradition for all of the matric farewell cars to parade around in Noordgesig’s main square before they leave, and the entire neighborhood comes out to see them off. So Fabian and I and a bunch of other family members hurried up to the square to catch the parade.

Fabian and other members of the family waiting in the crowd to see Micayla off one more time.

Neither words nor photos can express the utter joy I saw, and experienced, in that parade. Maybe it’s like this every year. But I can imagine that after the covid years of 2020 to 2022 — which all of these matrics experienced as they worked to finish high school while dealing with hard-core lockdowns and maybe even losing family members — perhaps this particular matric farewell celebration was even more poignant than most.

A happy matric
A happy matric.
Stance car doing its thing
A stance car doing its thing.
Couple at matric farewell parade
I have no idea who these people are but they looked freaking amazing.
Micayla and Deandre in their element, with Bulte’s famous mine dumps (which earned the suburb its nickname in the first place) in the background.

Congratulations to Micayla, who plans to study IT at college this year. And special thanks to Micayla and her entire family for inviting me to experience this special celebration with them. It meant a lot.

Micayla celebration matric farewell
Thanks again, Micayla.


  1. Marco Brown

    Very nice post! I commented on your last post about Noordgesig aka “Bulte” that my parents are from there and I have very fond memories of visiting their families there when I was a child growing up in the 70s and 80s. Again, great to see the place still going strong and actualy improved from the old days. People like Lavina and Fabian are the best kind of people who support and uplift their communities!

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Marco, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Lavinia and Fabian are indeed the best 🙂

  2. Ms. Nancy Anne McDaniel

    Oh what a wonderful piece. I am so glad you explained what matric is and is huge importance Hooray for Micayla and her whole family ,And she is stunningly beautiful. I wish her the greatest success in college and beyond, Thank you for documenting her big day!

    • 2summers

      Thanks Nancy, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  3. dizzylexa

    Wow what an amazing celebration! Congratulations to Micayla and to both Fabian and Lavinia who sure did show how proud they are of her.

    • 2summers

      They all deserve congratulations!

  4. Dieter Aab

    Wow, they sure know how to party. I wonder what weddings are like there? What a contrast to my situation long ago – most of the guys were in the army when matric results were published.

  5. Brenda Reiss

    Congratulations Micayla! American readers might not realize how much of an achievement passing Matric is for the entire family. South African parents have to pay school fees, provide uniforms and books for their kids….an impossible hurdle for many. It’s no wonder everyone is ready to party! Woo hoo!!

    • 2summers

      It definitely seems like a lot of work!

  6. Jeroen

    Ooh I love that word Bulte for hills – bulten means ‘bumps’ in Dutch.

  7. Glossarists

    This is such a heartwarming and lively account of Micayla’s matric farewell! The way you captured the moments leading up to the grand event and the vibrant celebrations afterward is truly remarkable. It’s clear that this is not just a personal milestone for Micayla but a community celebration, resonating with joy and pride.

    The photos beautifully capture the anticipation, the transformation, and the sheer exuberance of the occasion. From the pre-farewell preparations to the red carpet entrance and the parade, each moment radiates with the joy of achievement and the support of a loving community.

    Congratulations to Micayla on passing her matric exams, and best wishes as she embarks on her journey to study IT. It’s inspiring to see such communal celebration and support, especially after the challenges of the past years. Thank you for sharing this uplifting story and allowing us a glimpse into the vibrant traditions of matric farewells in South Africa!

  8. AutumnAshbough

    That is pretty cool! Achievements worth celebrating, and with more familial support than in white/ western communities. Those photos were great.

  9. Tumtum

    I’ve lived all my life in South Africa, attended a snazzy matric farewell but I have never seen anything like this.

    I’m getting goosebumps thinking about the joy that reverberate throughout the Bult during the matric farewell season. I must agree with your hosts that no one does it like the coloured community.

    • 2summers

      Hahaha, I’m glad you agree! It was a day to remember.

  10. Lani

    I love these everyday slices of life. It sheds light on what’s important and what brings us together. High school graduation is more important than college (or any other kind of academic achievement) in the shared culture of Hawaii, so in a small way, I can relate. Thanks for letting us in on the celebrations!

    • 2summers

      That’s so interesting. I’d be curious to attend a high school graduation event in Hawaii!


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