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Avuyile Mbangatha (20)

Third year medical student, Stellenbosch University

Born in KwaZulu-Natal and raised in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape, Avuyile Mbangatha grew up in a community where socioeconomic and health issues were rife. Since he was a young boy, Mbangatha has always been motivated to find innovative solutions to address these issues.

“I am an innovative, community-orientated and all-rounded individual who is driven by grit and the need to lead from the back and put people in front,” Mbangatha says. It is his goal to use his expertise to help cultivate knowledge not just for himself, but for the people around him.

Mbangatha did just that in 2014 when he developed an award-winning fertiliser with the aim of enhancing nutrition and reducing poverty in rural settlements. He formulated a vermicompost solution (worm tea) as a substitute to conventional artificial fertilisers. The discovery that it was a natural pesticide and enhanced crop quality, growth and yield meant produce could be grown organically, reducing environmental issues triggered by artificial fertilisers.
The advantage of his fertiliser is its contribution to food security. An increase in crop yield increases food security and food security is a fundamental element of good nutrition. Improving food security in rural settlements helps reduce risks and susceptibility to lifestyle diseases and health conditions precipitated by malnourishment.

In 2016 Mbangatha represented South Africa at an international science fair in the United States as one of the world’s 30 youngest innovators. When he returned, he realised the importance of being a change agent, and decided to study medicine, with the intention of venturing into public health to make a difference in communities — especially rural settlements.

“Medicine is a dynamic career field that requires intense sacrifices, patient-centredness, empathy and humanity,” says Mbangatha, who is in his third year of study. “Medicine grants its practitioners the opportunity to integrate skills, knowledge and expertise to enhance South Africa’s level of healthcare, service delivery and healthy systems,” he adds.

At his university, Mbangatha works as a tutor and mentor. He believes that as society evolves, a decent education will empower young South Africans to optimise skill sets and competencies in different sectors and develop the country’s economy.

Mbangatha dreams of a future serving as a rural doctor and pursuing a postgraduate degree in public health to improve healthcare access. He also wants to be involved in research initiatives that will advance community health and eradicate communicable and non-communicable disease outbreaks. — Shaazia Ebrahim

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Nandipha Magudumana (29)

Nandipha Magudumana (29)

Founder, Optimum Medical Solutions

“If you do what you love you will never have to work a day in your life,” is the saying which inspired Dr Nandipha Magudumana to pursue a career in medical aesthetics.

“Medical aesthetics is a career path for people who are truly passionate about what they do, because you help people look and feel good about themselves,” she explains. “Choosing a career where you can inspire confidence and happiness in others was what attracted me to this field.”

Magudumana is the founder of Optimum Medical Aesthetics, a skincare and aesthetic clinic in Sandton that specialises in non-surgical treatments such as botox, hairline restoration and chemical peels. She also runs another business called VitaPush and co-owns Arum Holdings with two other women, focused on healthcare consultancy and IT services.

She grew up in Bizana, a small town in the Eastern Cape, and has wanted to be a doctor from the age of six. “My mother was in hospital for a while and I never understood the complexity of her condition at the time, and when I was around doctors I felt empowered, confident and fearless,” she recalls.

After obtaining a BSc in Health Sciences from Wits University, she went on to study medicine, thereafter spending some time in the public health sphere. The transition from public health to entrepreneurship, while being a giant one, has helped enhance her personal growth and inspire others to do the same. These days she is empowering hundreds of patients with confidence through her clinics.

“A lot of people lack the confidence to be their best selves because of minor or major physical attributes,” she says. “Although aesthetic medicine procedures are typically elective, they provide solutions for these challenges and these procedures can significantly improve the quality of life, psychological wellbeing and the social functioning of a person.” An NGO that provides healthcare and wellness programmes for the underprivileged is next on her agenda.

“Nothing is more gratifying that helping others.” — Fatima Asmal

Nicolette Comley-White (32)

Nicolette Comley-White (32)

Physiotherapy lecturer, Wits University

Nicolette Comley-White was drawn to the health sciences field, even as a child; she has always been fascinated by the idea of helping people to walk again after injury. Not surprisingly, she opted for physiotherapy as a career.

She is based at the physiotherapy department at Wits University, where she lectures undergraduate and postgraduate students. Last year her students nominated her for the best lecturer award in the faculty of health sciences, something she considers a great honour.

“I enjoy working with young adults as they are passionate and energetic and keep me on my toes,” she says. “I work hard to make sure that I use my position as a lecturer to train and influence future health care providers to the best of my ability.” Although she lectures in certain generic physiotherapy skills, her speciality is adult neurology, into which she has conducted extensive research. Comley-White has had the opportunity to present some of this research on local and international platforms and has also been published in various journals including the South African Journal of Physiotherapy.

She has worked clinically at public hospitals and continues to provide academic support and mentorship to clinicians and students working in the field of neurology. She is busy with her PhD, the focus of which is the physical challenges experienced by adolescents infected with HIV. The study will explore the experiences of these individuals and assess the different areas in which they face challenges, for example, muscle strength, fatigue and pain. Based on her findings, she hopes to develop a model of care to propose holistic services for HIV infected adolescents.

A mother of two, Comley-White is also passionate about striking a healthy work-life balance. Together with her husband, she is active in the field of marriage preparation for engaged couples within her community. “We believe that a solid marriage helps to build stronger family units and thus positively influences the future generations of South Africa,” she says. She hopes to complete her PhD in the next few years, thereby advancing herself as a lecturer, as well as a researcher, growing her portfolio of international conference presentations and article publications, and giving a global voice to the area of adolescents and HIV.

“I hope that the career that I build inspires my children to see the position that women can hold in science and research.” — Fatima Asmal

Nikhat Hoosen (34)

Nikhat Hoosen (34)

Researcher, Centre for Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Research, University of Cape Town

Nikhat Hoosen already holds three degrees — a BSc in Biological Sciences, a BSc honours in Biological Sciences and an MSc in Molecular Biology and Systematics — all from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is currently completing a master’s in Public Health, specialising in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Cape Town, after which she aims to head straight into her PhD.

Hoosen draws much of her strength from her childhood, during which she was surrounded by the strength and resilience of two women, her mother and her aunt. “Every day I watched them face and handle life’s small and big hurdles by themselves and it taught me independence, self-sufficiency and that we are definitely not the weaker sex. Also that while we should take care to respect and treat others well, our validation does not come from others.”

Hoosen went on to become the first person in her family to attain a bachelor’s degree. She has worked at several leading South African research organisations including the Medical Research Council and the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and is a researcher at the Centre for Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Research at UCT. She is passionate about researching the maternal health of pregnant and postpartum women. For her MA and her future PhD she is looking at postpartum service provision; its adequacies and gaps.

“The mother’s physical, emotional and mental needs at this time are critical but often get overlooked in the midst of the responsibilities of new parenthood,” she says. “I want to see if we can find out what works, what doesn’t and what can be improved for postpartum mothers.”

She loves every minute of what she does. “I truly, truly learn more every day,” she says. “Research is a mix of personal stories, hard science, medicine and that high school math everyone said I’d never use. You realise again and again patients have sometimes innovative ideas for their care based on their experiences — the key is that we need to listen to them — and then figure out how we can integrate what is needed and plausible into what exists to shape something better.” — Fatima Asmal

Dr Nirvana Morgan (34)

Dr Nirvana Morgan (34)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

Growing up Dr Nirvana Morgan was very close to a person with a mental illness. This made her question why people with mental illnesses are stigmatised and also sparked an interest in psychiatry. After completing her medical degree at Wits University in 2007, she chose to specialise in the field.

Her focus has since turned to addiction psychiatry and the surge of nyaope use in South African townships. “During my psychiatry training I worked in a rehabilitation facility that treated people with addiction and mental illness,” she explains. “During this time many of my preconceived ideas and judgements about addicts were challenged and I found the work incredibly rewarding. I also chose to focus on this area, as there is a dire need for more medical professionals in this field.”

Last year Morgan was awarded the Cassandra Miller-Butterworth Fellowship, which allows her to investigate the current nyaope pandemic as a PhD student. For this she has conducted detailed assessments of 300 nyaope users as they entered rehabilitation facilities, and she is now following up on them three months and nine months after leaving treatment. She was also awarded a National Research Foundation Thuthuka grant that further supports her studies and allows for interdisciplinary collaboration.

She is the co-chair of an international Network of Early Career Addiction Medicine Professionals, which aims to empower and support early career professionals working in the field of addiction medicine. She has spoken at forums at the World Health Organisation — where she highlighted the challenges faced by health care professionals working in the field of addiction medicine in South Africa and the need for more training at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels — as well as in Abu Dhabi. Later this year, she will be speaking at the International Psychiatry Congresses in Egypt and Mexico.

The sky is the limit for Morgan, whose aim is to continue to fight for better prevention, care and treatment for those affected by addiction. She has the following advice for aspiring psychiatrists: “Psychiatrists have the privileged position of being allowed into people’s inner world; respect this space and be inspired by it. Pursue your career with a hunger to see a better life for your patients.” — Fatima Asmal

Nkateko Mnisi (28)

Nkateko Mnisi (28)

JUDASA National Council

Nkateko Mnisi chose to study medicine because of her passion for working with people. “It allows me to interact with people from different walks of life — crossing barriers like age, race, gender and occupation. And it would also allow for me to make an invaluable impact on people’s lives — because the power of healing through medicine is indescribable.” However, while pursuing her two-year medical internship after graduating from the University of Cape Town a few years ago, she felt perturbed by the many flaws she noticed in the health system as well as the injustices she felt interns faced.

“I began to connect with my colleagues with regard to these issues and ways in which to address and possibly solve them,” she says. After she proved instrumental in helping to resolve many of these issues, Mnisi was elected to represent doctors at her institution in the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa). From there she progressed to representing her province, before finally becoming part of the Judasa National Council.

Some of the issues she is involved in addressing on behalf of junior doctors are: non-payments, non-placements and working and housing conditions. Her advocacy in this regard has involved finding solutions, strategising and taking the issues to the relevant structures, as well as directing colleagues to the relevant people within Judasa. Through Judasa Mnisi has also been involved in implementing various other projects aimed at improving healthcare services, including visiting rural and urban hospitals in Limpopo to document the prevailing conditions with the aim of helping to improve them.

Another project involves working with other organisations to provide career guidance and advice on pregnancy to teens. Together with her team, she also implemented a male medical circumcision drive in collaboration with different organisations and health institutions in Limpopo. This project afforded junior doctors an opportunity to learn about and be involved in providing safe, free circumcision services and health education to communities.
Mnisi is currently a medical officer at Mankweng Hospital. “I firmly believe that access to adequate healthcare is a right and not a privilege,” she says. — Fatima Asmal

Paul Letsatsi Potsane (30)

Paul Letsatsi Potsane (30)

Provincial HIV prevention co-ordinator, Right to Care

During the days of Aids denialism, Paul Letsatsi Potsane watched his aunt suffer with HIV. “Being a black woman with no source of income, she could not access antiretroviral treatment from private pharmacies,” he recalls. To Potsane his aunt represents the thousands of marginalised people who have limited access to the healthcare that they need. She was eventually able to access treatment and is still alive today. “I want marginalised people living with the virus to stay alive just like her,” he says.

In his role as the head of the HIV prevention programme for Right to Care, a nongovernmental organisation, Paul is realising that ambition by creating and implementing strategies to increase access to HIV healthcare services for vulnerable and stigmatised groups such as sex workers and the LGBTIQ community. In the two years since he has occupied this position he has been able to reach patients who were previously unable to access healthcare services.

“Marginalised groups are people too, and they are more vulnerable to the virus because, for instance, the LGBTIQ community are discriminated against for their sexual orientation, and there are stigmas attached to their HIV status,” he says. “Creating safe spaces for them to access HIV treatment and prevention tools like condoms helps reduce the load on the health system and takes the country closer to reaching our zero infections 2020 goals.”

Potsane grew up in Soweto where the only role models he could aspire to emulate were musicians and soccer players — until a case of food poisoning saw him being admitted to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. “There I was exposed to the health profession. The treatment and warmth that I received ignited a fire and love for being a doctor or nurse,” he says. Nine family members depended on his parents’ salaries, meaning that he could not afford medical school fees, and instead opted for for nursing, his second choice.

He is the deputy regional secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa. In this role, he advocates for the rights of nurses and empowers them through organising and facilitating workshops that help enhance their skills. His aim is essentially to restore dignity to the image of the nursing profession. Potsane also holds an MBA in Leadership and Project Management, and is currently studying towards a master’s in Public Health at the University of Johannesburg. — Fatima Asmal

Sanele Lukhele (26)

Sanele Lukhele (26)

Nurse and lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Nursing is in Sanele Lukhele’s blood. Her grandmother is a retired theatre nurse. One of her aunts is a neonatal critical care nurse specialist and the other is a paediatric nurse. “It therefore did not come as a surprise when I decided that I would like to follow suit,” she says. “I was very inspired by their passion for nursing and the stories they shared about their experiences of working with patients.”

Lukhele recalls with great fondness the first Friday in 2012 when she finally went to care for patients as a trainee nurse. To her, the hospital felt just like home, and she passionately embraced her studies.

During her years as an undergraduate at the University of Pretoria she was involved in various leadership structures within the faculty of health sciences. In 2014 she was elected the first black chairperson of the nursing sciences house committee. A year later, she co-founded the South African Nursing Students’ Association, a nonprofit organisation aimed at uniting nursing students across the country in order to improve the image of nursing in South Africa. The organisation also encourages research outputs from young nurses in order to implement evidence-based nursing practice and foster a culture of learning and continuous professional development amongst young nurses.

In the same year Lukhele was invited to join the Sigma Theta Tau International Honour Society of Nursing, which is made up of 135 000 nurse leaders from around the world. She has just been selected to be Africa’s sole representative in Sigma’s Next Generation eight-member task force for the next two years. The task force will tackle the goal of promoting the recruitment, retention and engagement of new members who will serve as next generation leaders.

She was recently appointed as a lecturer in the University of Johannesburg’s nursing department. She is simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in midwifery, her passion, via the University of Pretoria. “I love births,” she says. “I love uniting healthy babies with their families. I love that moment of relief and excitement when a baby is born and we all shout joyfully ‘Congratulations’ to the mom and dad.”

For Lukhele, nurses constitute the eyes, hands and feet of a multidisciplinary team: “When the hospital corridors are quiet and all the other professionals have left to go and be with their families, it is the nurse who stays behind and burns the midnight oil.” — Fatima Asmal

Andile Mthombeni (25)

Andile Mthombeni (25)

Research co-ordinator at Wits psychology department

“I am an evolving, God-fearing, intellectual young woman, who is a product of mentorship,” says Andile Mthombeni. Her job as a research co-ordinator came about as a result of mentorship.

In the second year of her undergraduate degree, Mthombeni attended a psychology seminar on research presented by her social psychology lecturer. After her fourth year, this lecturer offered her a job as a researcher at the African Gender Institute (AGI), which aims to empower young black women to become researchers working in sexual and reproductive health and rights in Southern Africa.

Before that Mthombeni was not even aware that research could be a career, but today she couldn’t dream of a better vocation. “The project opened my eyes to how you can use research to change policies, how you can use research as an advocating tool to change people’s lives,” she says.

At the AGI, researchers at Wits University and a number of other universities in southern Africa embarked on a research project on sexual harassment in institutions of higher learning. Researchers interviewed students and staff about harassment in their respective campuses.

The participatory research method meant that researchers participated, which made the process quite difficult. However, the research highlighted the detrimental health consequences of gender-based violence against women.
Through the sexual harassment research, Mthombeni was selected as part of the technical task team, led by the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme, in response to sexual and gender-based violence in higher education. The team is currently drafting policy for higher education.

This research also allowed her to work with the Aids Accountability International research organisation on sexual orientation with the aim to destabilise heteronormativity, with academic and non-academic outputs that she co-ordinates.

Mthombeni says it is difficult to find African research about the LGBTQIA+ community, as there are hardly any African or African diaspora researchers working on this field, but they are are aiming to change this.

Currently completing her master’s in research psychology at Wits University and selected as the youngest black female board member for the South African National Aids Council, Mthombeni will have her hands full for the next three years. She wants to be involved in HIV policy research and decisionmaking, considering how many young black women are infected with HIV weekly.

She says the statistics indicate that something is very fractured in our society. She wants to immerse herself in HIV research and create change. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Simphiwe Zanele Mthimunye (28)

Simphiwe Zanele Mthimunye (28)


Simphiwe Zanele Mthimunye is a phlebotomist who has already been recognised in her field as excelling in her line of work and her commitment. She was the first black woman to receive the award for Excellence in Phlebotomy by the Society of Medical Technologists in South Africa (SMLTSA) Congress, and is set to be a guest speaker at the SMLTSA conferences until 2020.

“I specialise in blood collections for laboratory testing and pathology,” says Mthimunye. “I believe that women are more than capable of building our own empires, we can change the world. I am not only a qualified phlebotomist and Unisa psychology student, but a businesswoman — I own my own beauty bar in Port Elizabeth called Glamspot Emporium.”

Mthimunye plans to open up her own psychology practice while simultaneously franchising her business and opening an education foundation that will cater for at least 100 students. Her simple goal? To be as influential as possible.

“The best method for achieving success is to believe in yourself,” she says. “It was hard at first and I didn’t know how I was going to make it, but thanks to self-trust and self-belief, I managed to beat the odds. Life is challenging and hard, but it hasn’t stopped me from chasing my dreams.”

After completing her studies Mthimunye realised that there was a need to help and empower other people who wanted to achieve their dreams. She met with a team who shared her vision, but finding funding was close to impossible. Undeterred, she has instead created Role Model Luncheons that are self-funded, but motivate and inspire people to take control of their lives.

“The little you have can make a huge difference to someone else; in the past three years we’ve helped four people further their careers, and 80% of those who’ve attended our luncheons are now successful business owners,” she concludes. “You don’t need to be a millionaire to make change a reality.” — Tamsin Oxford

Buyani Mxolisi Phakathi (30)

Buyani Mxolisi Phakathi (30)

Safety, health and environmental specialist, South African Airways Technical

The most fulfilling part of Buyani Mxolisi Phakathi’s day is when his South African Airways (SAA) Technical family go home safe and healthy after a long day’s work. In his role as a safety, health and environmental specialist at SAA Technical, Phakathi shoulders the responsibility of ensuring that aircraft engineers and maintenance employees are working in a safe and healthy environment. “There are so many developments in my area of expertise and regulations keep changing so that even after a number of years in this job, my day-to-day work remains diverse and interesting,” he says.

Not that his job comes without its challenges. When things go wrong, safety, health and environmental specialists can be prosecuted. They must to ensure that they keep their skills up to date and never advise on anything they aren’t entirely sure about. But Phakathi is up for the challenge. “This keeps on my toes and eager to learn every day,” he says.

He grew up in the township of Umlazi and attended high school in the south Durban basin where there were many industries and refineries. He was therefore an active participant in environmental projects at school, like pollution prevention and clean-up campaigns, which sparked his interest in environmental health and management. Before he moved to Johannesburg, he was involved in a school beautification project in the southern rural Durban area, which focused on rewarding rural primary schools for going the extra mile to clean up and beautify their properties.

Through that journey he learnt the value of working together to effect positive change and create environmental health sustainability. Phakathi is currently completing his MBA and concurrently pursuing a master’s in public health. Next on his to-do list is a PhD in leadership: “A PhD will enable me to look forward to being able to provide more interesting and valuable advice and research and development in the field of work I do. I believe that the more informed you are, the more empowered you are and the greater your chances of achieving success to make a significant contribution to new knowledge in business and area of expertise.” — Fatima Asmal

Stephanie de Rapper (30)

Stephanie de Rapper (30)

Lecturer, department of pharmacy and pharmacology, Wits University

Stephanie de Rapper is an academic at the department of pharmacy and pharmacology at Wits and has a reputation for hard work and inspiring others. She co-developed an initiative known as INVEST — a pharmacy career mentorship programme that exposes undergraduate students to different career choices. She also won the Faculty Mentorship Award 2017, joined the Young Pharmacists Group of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa as a member of the steering committee, and targets young girls in underprivileged societies to achieve their potential. It’s a mouthful, but then so is her commitment to changing the lives of others through her career.

“During my undergraduate studies I was afforded the opportunity to do research under the supervision of a leading female academic, Professor Sandy van Vuuren,” says de Rapper. “It was one of those ‘stars have aligned’ opportunities that I will always be grateful for. I completed my master’s in 2013, then went on to join the University of the Witwatersrand and registered for my PhD.”

In the years de Rapper has been in academia she has presented at a number of conferences, including the most recent conference hosted in Bonn, Germany, in which she presented on the concepts of synergy among natural products. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and continues to aim to improve on her understanding of natural products and their collective traditional use.

“I have a deep and profound love for my profession and all those who work within it. In my final undergraduate year, I was awarded the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa Southern Gauteng Branch Award for commitment to the profession,” she says. “On returning to the university in the capacity of staff rather than student, I hoped that I would inspire my students to feel the same immense love and dedication to the promotion of pharmacy. In order to cement this, my colleague, Rubina Shaikh, and I developed INVEST.”

For de Rapper it is her students, the profession, academic research and the promotion of all three that are her greatest joy. She is constantly inspired by her career choice and the ppportunities she has to use her career to help others achieve their own professional dreams. — Tamsin Oxford

Itumeleng Tsatsi (26)

Itumeleng Tsatsi (26)

Lecturer, Occupational Therapy department, University of the Free State

Growing up with her four siblings in a single-parent home in Lebowakgomo township, north of Polokwane, Itumeleng Tsatsi explored her creative side, making paper gift bags and clothes for dolls, which she sold. She once organised a beauty pageant, collecting R5 from each of her peers, buying prizes for the runners up and winners. “At the heart of all this, I found joy in bringing people together, helping them realise their potential. Even if it was not on TV, it was okay,” she recalls. But in high school, she let go of her creative side, turning her focus to science.

In matric, she came second in her class and was recognised by the Limpopo province in its results ceremony. But to her dismay, she was unable to secure a place to study engineering at the only university she had applied to. She did a stint studying engineering at a college and decided it was not the field for her.

It was during a gap year that she stumbled upon occupational therapy in a UCT prospectus and decided to job shadow an occupational therapist working at a psychiatric hospital. Intrigued by how the occupational therapist helped make other people’s lives more meaningful, Tsatsi applied for admission into the UCT programme and was accepted. She had no intention, however, of working in the mental health field. “It was uncomfortable and challenging and I wanted nothing to do with it,” she says. But this changed when she was forced to work at a Thabamoopo Psychiatric Hospital after completing her community service. “I soon realised that my attitude as a health professional towards mental health was contributing towards perpetuating the stigma and further marginalising mental health service users.”

Tsatsi is now passionate about mental health and a lecturer in occupational therapy, specialising in psychiatry and community based education at the University of Free State. She is also an occupational therapy master’s student at Stellenbosch University, conducting research into the experiences of long-term mental health care users who are living in Thabamoopo Hospital’s halfway house. She aims is to use her findings to enhance the services provided by the halfway house to its residents. “We are all affected by mental illness, even if we have not personally experienced it. Let us be a country that is supportive of mental health care users and normalise it like any illness, in our office corridors and communities.” — Fatima Asmal

Stephanie Redinger (29)

Stephanie Redinger (29)

Occupational therapist, MA student and author

Stephanie Redinger is a postgraduate student studying her master’s in Medical Science in Paediatrics at the University of Witwatersrand. What makes her stand out, however, is that she was the lead author on the publication of a journal article — an outstanding achievement for a master’s student. Passionate about her research and maternal perinatal mental health and child development, Redinger is a force for change in South Africa.

“I began my career as an occupational therapist at a hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal in 2013,” says Redinger. “I realised it was important for me to work in the helping professions and, as a young white South African, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to commit to a life of service to those less fortunate than I am. I saw mothers and babies in very vulnerable states and began to search for other ways to influence their care in South Africa.”

In 2015, Redinger met Dr Tamsen Rochat, a research director at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presenting research on interventions for mothers with antenatal depression, and she told Redinger to get in touch if she ever wanted to work in research. In 2016, Redinger did just that.

“By June I had registered for a master’s in Medical Science in Paediatrics, focused on antenatal mental health, with Dr Rochat as my mentor and supervisor. I also applied for and was granted a master’s scholarship from the Centre of Excellence in Human Development,” she says. “In late 2016 I successfully applied for my first grant with Dr Rochat for funding to evaluate participants’ perceptions of the integration of HIV services and the Care for Child Development (CCD) intervention in Malawi. We were awarded the grant.”

In 2017 Redinger published her first author publication using her master’s research results in the Journal of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and was selected to present a paper at the 2017 DOHaD World Congress in Rotterdam. She also successfully applied for a junior researcher role in the Human and Social Science Research Programme at the HSRC. — Tamsin Oxford

Julia Turner (31)

Julia Turner (31)

Medical adviser, Right to Care

Julia Turner first thought about becoming a doctor as a teenager when she encountered a man who had been attacked by an elephant during a trip to Zimbabwe. “I desperately wanted to help him but I didn’t know how to,” she says. “I hoped that (by becoming a doctor), the next time I was in a similar situation, I might be able to help the person in need.”

This is exactly what Turner is doing in her role as paediatric medical advisor at Right to Care, a nongovernmental organisation. She trains doctors, nurses, pharmacists and counsellors on how to treat children and teenagers with HIV (especially drug-resistant HIV) and how to help them with the psychosocial challenges they face like stigma and adherence to medication. She also visits clinics and hospitals, assessing their health care systems and HIV management and helping them to improve in these departments where possible.

But that’s not all. In 2016 when Right to Care was asked to support Zambia with its HIV programme, Turner assisted the country’s ministry of health by assessing its paediatric and adolescent HIV care in 21 hospitals and clinics and then advising them on how to improve. She is also involved in various other projects including researching an easier method of taking blood from children for HIV monitoring and a project with a pharmaceutical company which provides free third line HIV medication to other African countries for children and adolescents with drug-resistant HIV. This year she will be training doctors in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe as part of this project.

In the past, Turner has presented her research at the Zambian National HIV Conference as well as the USAID Best Practices for Paediatric HIV Conference in South Africa. She has also received a scholarship to present at the Global HIV Clinical Forum in Amsterdam later this year. Her goal is to remain in the public health field and look for innovative opportunities to improve the country’s health care on a large scale. She is currently working towards attaining her master’s in Public Health through UCT. “I have a huge amount of admiration for all the health care workers in our country — doctors, nurses and counsellors for example — as they are expected to know everything and work tirelessly in an overburdened, understaffed health system, often without any recognition other than being reprimanded or sued when they make a mistake.” — Fatima Asmal

Dr Thandeka Ngcobo (25)

Dr Thandeka Ngcobo (25)

Doctor, Mafikeng Provincial Hospital

Dr Thandeka Ngcobo is a medical intern doctor at Mafikeng Provincial Hospital, an executive board member at the Godisanang Youth Empowering Foundation and a corporate affairs officer at Ngcobo Empire.

She hails from a small village called Hluthankungu in KwaZulu-Natal. She fought hard to achieve in spite of the difficulties life threw her way. Ngcobo wanted to be a doctor from a young age, but found out she was pregnant while still in her teens. She still managed to complete her matric the same year and achieve results that put her in the top 10 students for the region. She went to university and completed her first year, even though she gave birth that same year. With this level of determination it should come as little surprise that she achieved her qualification and became a vocal advocate for young girls and preventing teenage pregnancy.

“I lost my niece when she was only five; the doctors said there was nothing they could do,” says Ngcobo. “This inspired me to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I felt that if I joined the medical field I could make a difference and improve the quality of healthcare, especially in rural areas.”

Coming from a disadvantaged family and rural area meant that Ngcobo had to relocate from her village to a school in a Durban township. When she found out she was pregnant it never crossed her mind to give up.

“I was so disappointed in myself and had no idea how I would face my family, who had sacrificed and invested so much in me,” she says. “Giving up was not an option. As much as my mother was disappointed about the pregnancy, she was more worried about what would happen to my studies at medical school. I remember her asking me whether pregnant students were even allowed to study medicine. She agreed to look after my baby while I went back to carry on with my studies.”

Ngcobo’s mother is her heroine. She could have told her to stay home and raise her daughter, but instead she gave Ngcobo the chance to thrive. And thrive she did. Today she is set to specialise in paediatrics to ensure the children of South Africa are cared for. — Tamsin Oxford

Keaton Harris (23)

Keaton Harris (23)

MBChB student, Stellenbosch University

When Keaton Harris cried after finding out that he had not been accepted to study medicine, his mother (who is his best friend) had this to say to him: “One day you will see why God doesn’t want you to study medicine now — but trust me when I say that one day you will.”

Her words proved prophetic. Harris studied pharmacy at the University of the Western Cape (UWC)instead and earned 24 distinctions during his degree. When he graduated — summa cum laude — he was named valedictorian, Top Pharmaceutics Student and Top All Rounder. He was also able to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. Harris is currently studying medicine at Stellenbosch University.

But his has been a journey fraught with challenges. His mother, a single parent, struggled to make ends meet. Due to their financial circumstances, he had a preconceived idea that he was constantly being judged. He was forced to apply for financial aid at one stage and faced financial exclusion during his second year. Luckily for him, the dean intervened and he was able to continue. He persevered, studying hard, and this paid off. Harris was awarded an Abe Bailey Travel Scholarship which saw him representing UWC on an all expenses paid trip to the United Kingdom in 2015 where he interacted with other young leaders from around the world. He is also one of 21 and the only South African out of 8 650 applicants who has been chosen for the Young Sustainable Impact 2018 intake. The project groups teams of three from around the world together and tasks them with solving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

These days Harris draws strength and inspiration from his past. Some day he’d like to establish a bursary fund for people who want to study medicine. “Having gone through the struggles of wondering whether there will be food on the table that night has sensitised me to the daily struggles that many South Africans face. We always need to remind ourselves that everyone is fighting their own personal battles — which we may know nothing of. Remaining open-minded and showing everyone you interact with respect and integrity are pillars that have stemmed from the experiences I have had in my childhood. These pillars I will take with me, along with a feeling of beneficence, as I traverse into my next journey.” — Fatima Asmal

Dr Boitumelo Phakathi (33)

Dr Boitumelo Phakathi (33)

Specialist surgeon and consultant, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital Breast Unit

In 2014, Dr Boitumelo Phakathi was the youngest surgeon in the country at the age of 29.

“I was initially told I wasn’t going to last longer than three months in surgery, a then male-dominated speciality,” Phakathi says. Surpassing the expected period, and at that age, motivated her and reaffirmed that you can achieve anything the mind conceives despite the limitations set by those around you.

Being among few female surgeons at the time and overcoming the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field led Phakathi to realise the responsibility she had to ensure that female surgeons after her are supported and mentored to fast-track their success.

Which is why she started the Boitumelo Phakathi Foundation, which focuses on career advancement and career development for youth in rural areas.

Born and raised in the North West village of Taung, Phakathi describes herself as a “humble, smart and ambitious young woman who has a steadfast faith in God of impossibilities”.

The 33-year-old is in the process of completing her PhD in the molecular biology of breast cancer and HIV. She says breast cancer and HIV are both burning issues in women’s health in our time but not a lot is understood and known about these two diseases — especially when they co-exist.

Beyond her PhD, Phakathi is working towards her professorship by improving her teaching profile, research and polishing up her leadership skills to prepare her for her ultimate goal of being a vice chancellor some day. She currently lectures, publishes and supervises master’s students at Wits University.

Among her numerous pursuits, Phakathi is also a wife and a mother. About keeping the balance, she says being able to prioritise, as difficult as it seems, and remembering the importance of placing God and family before her career has helped her a lot. The unwavering support and encouragement from her husband and her helper who helps take care of her children and home make it possible for her to pursue all that she is doing. She is also truly thankful for the tremendous support she receives from the hospital she works for. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Kim Buchholtz (35)

Kim Buchholtz (35)

Physiotherapy lecturer, University of Cape Town

At the age of just 26 Kim Buchholtz started a private physiotherapy practice in Plumstead, Cape Town. She completed a postgraduate certificate in Orthopaedic Manipulative Physiotherapy in the same year, following this up with a Master of Philosophy in Sports Physiotherapy in 2013 — this in spite of the fact that she was working full-time, running her practice and managing a medical centre with four tenants.

At around the same time, Buchholtz began assisting the University of Cape Town (UCT) with the supervision of students in clinics around the city, and lecturing on an ad hoc basis. It’s difficult to believe that she wasn’t even sure that she wanted to study physiotherapy to begin with.

“After taking a gap year in the UK, I decided to apply for physiotherapy and believed that if it was the right thing for me, then I would be accepted,” she says. “I still wasn’t 100% sure that it was what I wanted when I got accepted, but by my third year, when we were doing mostly clinical training, I was loving it.”

Buchholtz grew up in a physically active family (her father completed 32 Argus Cycle Tours) and is a cyclist and runner herself. So it is no surprise that her focus soon turned to sports physiotherapy; and she has been the course convener for a one-year postgraduate certificate in Sports Physiotherapy on behalf of the South African Society of Physiotherapy since 2014.

In the same year, she worked as a voluntary physiotherapist for the Australian blind cricket team during the T20 World Cup hosted in Cape Town, and was subsequently selected as their travelling head physiotherapist for the world cups in India in 2017 and in the United Arab Emirates this year.

“It was an amazing experience and it opened my eyes to how people with disability are able to perform at such a high level of sport,” she says. Buchholtz began working as part-time lecturer at UCT in 2016 and decided to sell her practice earlier this year to focus on academics. She is concurrently working on her PhD, in which she is investigating the factors affecting injury in multi-stage mountain biking events.

“Moving into education has allowed me to help shape the future of the physiotherapists in South Africa and ensure that we are training competent, caring and well-balanced physiotherapists who can improve the quality of lives of people across South Africa,” she says. — Fatima Asmal

Michael Van Niekerk (28)

Michael Van Niekerk (28)

Medical doctor

Michael van Niekerk is a committed advocate for health in South Africa and globally.

He made the decision to become a doctor at a very young age, and by 16 he was an ambulance assistant, an opportunity that allowed him to experience death as a process and therefore mentally prepare himself for one of the most challenging aspects of being a doctor.

Van Niekerk has seen first-hand the effects of poverty on people’s life chances, as well as how poverty impacts disease. His leadership potential was further honed by the University of the Free State’s Leadership for Change Programme study abroad international programme, as it gives first-year students international exposure to top universities throughout the world, with the aim of giving them the tools to experience models of integration across lines of culture, colour, and language and gender.

Van Niekerk is on the Samsa (South African Medical students Association) board of directors and has dedicated his time to activism in the medical space, often fighting for health and safety standards to be upheld in hospitals, pushing back against the bullying and intimidation of junior doctors and fighting against harsh working conditions that leave doctors overworked and with compromised cognitive functioning and personal health. — Nomonde Ndwalaza

Motlatso Refilwe Rampedi (25)

Motlatso Refilwe Rampedi (25)

PhD candidate (demography), Wits University

Throughout her life Motlatso Rampedi has encountered young women who have had to delay their dreams of finishing school and seeking employment due to unplanned pregnancies. In fact, she herself was born when her mother was still a university student, but fortunately her grandmother took on the role of raising her.

Rampedi is also concerned about the fact that in unplanned pregnancies the mother-to-be is less likely to seek antenatal care, increasing the risk of a range of maternal and foetal complications. She has therefore made it her mission to to empower young women with knowledge about the use of contraception.

While conducting research for her master’s in Demography, she found that South African women do not use the methods of contraception which correspond with their childbearing intentions. This inspired her to initiate a project called “iLoveCondoms” which sees her conducting presentations about the various methods of contraception available, how to use them, their side effects, etc. These presentations also use storytelling and role play to demonstrate how young women can build their confidence to request family planning assistance at health centres and have discussions about contraception with their sexual partners.

“On several occasions, after these presentations, the young women want to know more about whether the current contraceptive methods they are using are appropriate,” she says. “This is encouraging because I am then able to refer them to health facilities, where they are better equipped to have conversations about contraception.”

Until recently Rampedi worked as a health analyst at Genesis Analytics, a Johannesburg-based consultancy firm, where her role included analysing evaluation outputs of health programmes in the sexual and reproductive health and HIV fields. She resigned earlier this year to pursue a PhD in Demography and Population Studies at Wits University. Unsurprisingly, her thesis is focused on understanding the determinants of contraception discontinuation among young women with recent disease diagnosis.

She admits it is somewhat challenging discussing issues such as sex, contraception and pregnancy with women who are sometimes older than she is. But this doesn’t deter her from her goal: “Empowering young women about the use of contraception is an important way to ensure that women (particularly those in their adolescence) who want to avoid or delay pregnancy are able to do so, allowing them focus on other aspects of their life development,” she says. — Fatima Asmal

Mvuwo Tshavhungwe (29)

Mvuwo Tshavhungwe (29)

PhD candidate in Neuroscience, University of Cape Town

As a scientist, Mvuwo Tshavhungwe enjoys learning about old and new discoveries. “Scientific research enables me to contribute to the body of knowledge and trigger a rethink in an ancient disease that continues to kill many, especially in resource limited settings,” she says.

Tshavhungwe is currently a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Cape Town. She is researching paediatric tuberculous meningitis, the most lethal form of tuberculosis, which affects mainly children. Her research — which looks at the medication used to treat tuberculous meningitis in children and if enough is being delivered to the brain (where it is needed the most) — is being conducted under the wing of the Division of Neurosurgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. This, for her, is a dream come true.

Tshavhungwe lost her mother at the age of 14, and faced some financial difficulties thereafter. However, buoyed by the support of her family who encouraged her in her academic path, she forged ahead with pursuing her goals and snapped up a place she was offered on merit by the University of Limpopo. Medicine was her initial choice of profession but she has no regrets about opting for science instead.

“Medicine is a science and even though I do not have direct contact with the patient, research provides the platform to rethink patient treatment and help improve disease outcomes. I also trust that God, who orchestrates my life, will lead me to the next path.”

She is passionate about serving deserving communities and volunteers her time to two projects: “Adopt a School,” which provides grade eight and nine maths tutoring at a local school in Mowbray, Cape Town, and “Girls with Wings,” which provides sanitary pads for homeless women.

Moving forward, she hopes to continue with her research, particularly in the clinical environment. “This gives me a sense of purpose — knowing that I can contribute to helping better patient treatment.” Tshavhungwe has the following advice for historically disadvantaged young women who think they have no hope of creating a brighter future for themselves: “Do not limit yourselves based on your current situation or environment; work hard and doors of opportunity will open.” — Fatima Asmal