When Cebolenkosi (Cebo) Buthelezi, 21, was in Grade 9 he resuscitated someone who’d been electrocuted by a stove. He had learnt CPR at school. “I still remind the person that I saved his life,” he laughs, “and it was that moment that made me realise that I wanted to go into medicine.”
The idea of becoming a doctor had rooted years before that, however, when he was a young boy. “In Grade 5, my grades were picking up and it was around then that I heard that doctors made a good living, but I also started to realise how much I loved helping people,” recalls Cebo, now in his fourth year at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban.
It took many struggles to get here, and in first year he doubted he could ever finish what he had started. “I was a rural boy from Nqutu (between Dundee and Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal), and my English was poor as I’d been taught only in isiZulu at school. It was very difficult for me to adjust to the city, and university life, and my grades in the first semester were not good,” he says.
The biggest burden was a lack of funding. “My mother was sending me R200 here and there, but it wasn’t enough. With no financial aid, I was stressed out,” he says.
Then he got the call that changed the course of his life. He clearly remembers the day: “It was a Friday, in May 2014, and I was studying when I got the news. I was so excited about it because I knew that it meant no more financial worries for me. I could just get on with studying.
“The Moshal Scholarship also gave me confidence that I could do this, that I had the ability, and my grades immediately picked up from second year.”
Born in March 1996, Cebo was the oldest of five children. His parents split up when he was young and he was raised by his single mother. He walked long distances to school and would often go without pocket money or a lunch pack, “but it taught me to be grateful because the little I had, someone else didn’t have”.
Cebo recalls that he didn’t pass Grade 4, although he was promoted to Grade 5 anyway. “For years I blamed myself for my parents separating and I think that’s the reason I didn’t do well. When I was in matric my parents spoke to me about their separation, I cried for the first time, and felt huge relief afterwards that it wasn’t my fault,” he says.
In 2013, Cebo matriculated from Ntombesizwe high school, and did well enough in maths and science to get a university exemption. “I did all right, but I could’ve done better,” he says. He was accepted to study medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and packed to leave home for the first time.
He stays in a residence off campus and either walks or catches a bus to and from lectures.
Cebo's mother is bursting with pride in her son and he is treated like a celebrity when he goes home to his community. “They ask, ‘Where is the doctor?’, and they talk about me because I am the first one from my rural community to go to university,” he chuckles. His younger brothers who are still at school look up to him as a role model.
“I think what has enabled me to push forward is the fact that I am humble and respectful, and these qualities have helped open opportunities for me,” he says.
Cebo has another two years of his six-year degree before he can enter his chosen profession, and he feels confident about staying the course. “I’m enjoying medicine and because of the Moshal scholarship the only thing I need to do is study. My dream is to specialise in cardiology,” Cebo says.
Raised in the Christian faith, he’ll go to church on a Sunday when he is with his family. Otherwise he likes to “chill out” with his girlfriend at weekends and during off-time. “My girlfriend is also studying. We go out to eat sometimes, but I’m not a party animal. I don’t drink or smoke at all. Some people say that I cook well,” he smiles shyly.
Cebo has never had occasion to ask for assistance other than funding from the Moshal Scholarship Program, but says he hopes to stay in touch with the Moshal community when he has completed his degree, “because we are a family at Moshal”.
“My future plan is to specialise, and maybe to work in rural areas helping our poorer communities. And one day, if possible, I’d like to have my own scholarship because Mr Martin Moshal has inspired me a lot,” he says.