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Sindisiwe Buthelezi: From rural poverty to PhD graduate

Sindisiwe Buthelezi is a science researcher.
Sindisiwe Buthelezi is a science researcher.

Despite starting her education at a rural school in eMondlo, 30km south of Vryheid northern KZN, Dr Sindisiwe Buthelezi was so determined to reach her dreams that she knocked on every door to move forward.

Buthelezi, who holds a PhD in protein engineering, researches medical treatment options that will see people receiving safe and effective medicine at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria.

She said the desire to become a role model to the youth in her community has kept her going.

"I want young people in my community to look at me and see that it is possible to go beyond what is in front of you. The world is big and full of possibilities. Hopefully [I can] inspire them to dream big," she said.

Buthelezi began her schooling at Silindekahle Primary before she was later accepted into a private Catholic missionary school that was dedicated to rural learners.

"I worked extra hard throughout my high school years and got elected as head girl and Grade 12 prefect." After completing her matric, the mother of one registered for a BSc in microbiology and biochemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

"My parents could not afford the fees [but] I was fortunate enough to get financial aid from the university. Coca Cola also contributed towards my tuition.

"Having completed my degree, I got accepted at Wits University for honours in biochemistry and cell biology. My parents helped me apply for a loan to pay for registration. I later got a bursary from NRF. It helped supplement my fees."

After completing the honours degree, Buthelezi worked for four months at SA Bioproducts before scoring a one-year internship at the CSIR- Biosciences.

In 2010 she got a CSIR studentship for an MSc degree, in medical biochemistry, at the University of Cape Town.

On completing in May 2013, she went on to receive the National Research Foundation professional development program grant. She then enrolled for a PhD in biochemistry at Wits University, completing in November 2017. She began her stint as a post-doctorate fellow at CSIR-Biosciences in January this year.

"I am currently working on a breast cancer project that aims to identify new drug targets for the South African population. I also mentor students and our group also supports various projects focusing on protein analysis, so I find myself also involved in other projects," she said.

Buthelezi said a career in science had unlimited possibilities but admitted as well that getting funding for projects was among the challenges in her field. She encouraged the youth to work hard on their dreams despite challenges.

Her dream is to lead her own research group in future. Apart from her hectic professional life, she still finds time to have fun with friends.

"I love dancing, so I usually go out with my girls. I am [also] obsessed with superhero movies so, yes I am one of those
people who are always waiting for the next Avengers movie. I [also] love writing."

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