BOOK EXTRACT | Bongani Mayosi nurtured from home to do what was right
‘The more one pushes for transformation, the more mercilessly one is vilified’
The apple does not fall far from the tree. This is true of Bongani Mayosi, apparent not only from his career choice, but also from the characteristics he shared with both his parents.
He was born in Nqamakwe, a small town in Amatole District Municipality in the Eastern Cape province of SA, on 28 January 1967 as the second son of Mrs Nontle and Dr George Timketson Sikhumbuzo Mayosi. His father was a medical doctor and his mother a professional nurse. They met at King Edward VIII Hospital, where they were training in medicine and nursing.
Bongani’s dad ran a medical general practice in partnership with Dr ABL Pupuma, while also serving as a regional district surgeon in the Eastern Cape Province. After working for a few years, he left the family in the Eastern Cape to go and specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban. His mother suspended her nursing career for 14 years to raise their five children.
I had a conversation with Dr Aubrey Kali who was a friend and colleague of Bongani’s dad. They trained as medical doctors at the University of Natal Black Section (UNB) (as it was known then, now called Nelson Mandela Medical School at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN).
After qualifying, many of them (those who came from the Eastern Cape) went back to the Eastern Cape to open general practices in the rural villages. There were very few black doctors at the time, and black patients didn’t trust them. The apartheid system had a huge impact on how black people viewed themselves. Anything black was considered to be inferior. Patients would only consult a black doctor if they were rejected by a white doctor or after they had experienced complications. As such, they were considered doctors of last resort. Both Dr Kali and Dr Mayosi senior were members of the Transkei Medical Association.
Dr Kali shared his memories of those difficult times: “We maintained an interest in our alma mater, UNB. There was a year, I think it was 1971, when all African students failed their final year. We called the dean of the medical school at the time, Prof E Barry Adams, who came to address our group in Mthatha in May 1972. We decided then that as black doctors we needed to have representation in the students’ selection panel. One way of achieving this was through offering a scholarship to a student.
“That gave birth to the Medical Scholarship Group (MSG). Every three months each member of the group contributed R350 towards the fund. We also used the time to meet at a member’s house, with our family members. It served as a bonding session for families, peer to peer mentorship and selection of the black student to be funded the following year. Students paid the money back after qualifying. This ensured that money was circulated back to the fund while an ethos of ploughing back was created.”
The MSG members took turns to host the quarterly event at their homes. Khuthala, Bongani’s younger sister, shared a picture that was taken with her siblings at one of these events. They were all dressed in formal suits. This was a very important event, with good food and much fun, while the parents discussed matters of national importance.
“I have so many memories of those difficult apartheid times. Most members of the Transkei Medical Association (TMA) were also members of the MSG. Dr ABL Pupuma was the president of the TMA, with Bongani’s dad as his deputy.
The TMA was affiliated to the World Medical Association.
“A few years after the execution of Steve Biko, we as TMA wanted to send a delegate to the World Medical Association Assembly in Lagos. The meeting had to take a stand on the unethical behaviour of the medical professionals who were involved in his case. The president of the TMA felt it was a political issue, refused to deal with it, and left the meeting. Bongani’s dad, as the deputy, took over the chair and the resolution was passed stating the position of the TMA on the matter. He was not scared of taking difficult positions, especially when it came to matters of principle and ethics.”
It was interesting to get a glimpse of the character of Bongani’s dad. His activism, caring for the less fortunate and standing for justice shone through and it is clear, as one will read in the chapters that follow, that these would be values that his son Bongani would take forward in his own life. As shared by Dr Dumisani Bomela in a later chapter, Bongani the Friend, the advice that Bongani’s dad gave to him when he left for medical school, was to get involved in politics and lead a holistic life. Bongani, the activist who cared for others, was nurtured, and encouraged from home to do what was right.
The founding dean of the medical faculty at UNITRA (now Walter Sisulu University), Prof Marina Xaba-Mokoena, attended high school with Bongani’s dad at Healdtown Missionary Institution in the fifties and later became a next-door neighbour to the Mayosis. She shared her views on Bongani. “The more one pushes for transformation, the more mercilessly one is vilified. Bongani was a cardiologist of outstanding intelligence and humility who was determined to transform and decolonise his workplace, (including) focusing on poor communities and their diseases by way of research.”
She shared many stories of Bongani’s outstanding leadership from a very young age, always caring for the less privileged. Prof Marina played an important role in ensuring that Bongani did not lose his scholarship when he branched out of medicine to pursue research between his third and fourth years of his medical degree.
Doctor of Hearts: The Biography of Bongani Mayosi, authored by Dr Judy Dlamini and Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso
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