Six years ago, Sabelo Zungu accepted a lift from a stranger on his 15 kilometre walk home from church that would change his life. The car ride would not only see him to his home, but also open a door that would help him fulfil his dream of one day becoming a doctor.

Sabelo is from Ophondweni, just north of Mtubatuba, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The area falls into the uMkhanyakude district where Africa Health Research Institute (previously called Africa Centre) has been doing research for nearly two decades.

Relating the story, Sabelo said the man – who happened to work for Africa Health Research Institute – asked him about school and his plans for the future, and mentioned that there might be an opportunity for a bursary from AHRI for his tertiary studies.

“When I got the response that I was accepted into medical school I was anxious for a bit, wondering how I was going to pay for my studies. I couldn’t even work out where I was going to get the R6 000 registration fee from. But then I remembered the conversation that I had with the man who gave me a lift,” he said.

“I put all my documents together and went straight to AHRI, and told them that I had heard there might be a way they could help me.”

A number of researchers working at AHRI’s Somkhele campus were impressed by his school results and his determination to achieve his dream of being a doctor. They decided to support Sabelo’s studies by donating their discretionary publication funds, which they get for publishing journal articles, into a bursary for him.

(Above: Sabelo Zungu, at work as a medicine student) 

Sabelo graduated from UKZN’s Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the end of 2017, and in January 2018 he begins his medical career as an intern at Newcastle Provincial Hospital and Madadeni Hospital in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal.

He recently spent three weeks at AHRI’s research campus at Somkhele, where he rotated through several research departments and clinical sites.

“The objective of his visit to AHRI was that he would find our research exciting, and one day consider going into a medical research career,” said AHRI COO, Costas Criticos. “One of the things we encouraged Sabelo to reflect on when he starts his medical career is that it has been the product of important research. He starts his career on a good foundation.”

“Successfully completing his medical degree is an incredible achievement for Sabelo, given his background,” added AHRI Science Engagement Fellow Professor Nceba Gqaleni. “I am certain he has a bright future. The community of Mtubatuba are proud of him.”

Sabelo believes that through his qualification he will make a difference in many communities in South Africa. He says he cannot wait to get started.

“I’ve been dreaming of this for a very long time. In our final year we are exposed to a lot of things that happen in a hospital, so I’m used to it. I’m ready!”

– By Phumla Ngcobo