Tears of joy as young KZN bursary recipients jet off to the Univerisity of Cape Town to study medicine; Health MEC says the empowerment of these youngsters is meant to assist rural clinics and hospitals with doctors as part of government's National Health Insurance (NHI) programme

28 February 2021

Hammarsdale youngster Sibahle Ntuli's family was full of sadness as they buried their 83 year-old grandmother about a month ago (30 January 2021). Today, the straight-A student's wheelchair-bound guardian (aunt) cried tears of joy as she watched him pack his bags, en-route to the University of Cape Town, where he will be studying to become a doctor.

Ntuli (18), and fellow bursary recipients Thembelihle Tsengane (18, from Ixopo), Bongeka Sibiya (17, from Empangeni), and Lwazi Mhlongo (17, from Port Shepstone) were part of the Matric class of 2020 who achieved top academic marks, in spite of the tough challenges and disruptions caused by COVID-19.

But, without the funancial means to further their studies, their future looked bleak.

That was until KZN Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane was told about their plight by concerned community leaders and other sympathisers, and leapt to action.

Now, just days later, they have received an opportunity of a lifetime after being awarded bursaries.

MEC Simelane bade the students farewell at the King Shaka International Airport earlier this afternoon, amid scenes of jubilation, with emotional parents and relatives wishing them well as they embark on this new and exciting chapter of their lives.

In congratulating the students, MEC Simelane urged them to take care of themselves, avoid peer pressure, and never forget their families and where they come from.

She appealed to them to continue studying once they graduate, so that they can eventually become medical specialists - and begin addressing the dire shortage of Black doctors at that level.

Explaining how the bursaries came about, MEC Simelane said: "Since the matric results came out on Thursday, from Friday and Saturday we have been inundated with a number of requests to help these students who have been admitted at different universities for medicine in particular, but had no idea how they were going to get there, and who was going to find their studies.

"Now, as a Department of Health, usually, we do have bursaries, but because of COVID-19 in the previous year, it has been very difficult for us to actually put aside the amount for bursaries that we normally do put aside.

"But when you do listen to the stories of these students and their background, you realise that we couldn't just keep quiet and allow such intelligence not to be assisted. So, on Saturday the Department worked around the clock trying to get hold of the university, which had already accepted them; and giving them the assurance and confirmation that we are indeed going to provide them with bursaries. We had to move monies around a little bit so that we are able to fund them."

The MEC also saluted the students for their academic excellence in spite of disruptions and the abnormalities that beset their academic year.

"The fact that they did so well during the time of COVID-19 is an indication that they are very resilient, and they're the kind of young people that we need within our society. I was saying to them that if they could do so well amid COVID-19, if the conditions were normal they would have received more than 100%, if there ever was such a thing.

"So, we are quite proud of what they've done. What I do like about them is the fact that they've come from different districts. This means when they graduate, we will be able to put doctors in clinics as we are planning for NHI. One of the strategies of NHI is to ensure that each and every clinic has a doctor, whether they're in rural areas or not. You can only do that by ensuring that you increase the number of doctors that you are producing. So, this is a contribution towards that."

Ntuli - who matriculated from eMhlwaneni High School in Driefontenin, Ladysmith, where he was living - obtained A-symbols in all his eight subjects.

He recalled how his now-late grandmother shelled out a few bank notes from her meagre pension money recently, and told him to buy something in which to carry his clothes when he goes to varsity.

"She said, 'Take this money and buy yourself a suitcase. You are going to university. Even though I had not received the bursary, and didn't know how my studies would be financed, she somehow knew that I would be going to UCT.

"My grandmother raised me, and we were all saddened when she passed away. Although she had been ill for a while, we did not expect that she would leave us when she did. She may no longer be alive today, but I want to make her and the rest of my family proud."

The shy and soft-spoken wannabe surgeon expressed his sincerest appreciation to the Department, and other role-players who have come to his aid.

"My dream has always been to become a doctor. Now that it's happening, I'm really out of words. I'd like to thank everyone that supported me; especially my school teachers. The year 2020 was difficult, especially with COVID-19. We never thought the schools would re-open, and never knew whether we'd be able to adapt to the circumstances that we faced. But through hard work and the support of my family, my teachers and everyone, I managed to succeed. I'm very happy to be here today, and I'm very, very grateful. I'm looking forward to exceeding everyone's expectations."

ENDS Issued by the KZN Department of Health

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This page last edited on 01 March, 2021

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