When Asiphe Mbotho found out that she had attained a 75% average at the end of her second year of medicine (2016), she was ecstatic, not least of all because she had battled at the beginning of her first year. Her immediate response to hearing her marks was to thank others for their support. That is Asiphe!
She cares deeply about people, which makes her a perfect candidate to become a paediatrician or medical lawyer. “It is difficult for me to watch someone suffer. I want to help others and save lives,” she says.
Truth is there wasn’t a whole lot of caring and compassion when was growing up in Bizana in rural Eastern Cape. Because of abusive circumstances in her parents’ home, she ran away at the age of 12 to live with her grandmother in a “very rural and disadvantaged area”. There, she shared a bedroom with her granny and the house with male cousins “who would bring their friends, get drunk and make a lot of noise”. “Sometimes we would run out of food and my grandmother would have to ask neighbours for help,” she says. “I had to grow up quickly and take care of my grandmother when she was very sick.”
Initially Asiphe didn’t put much into learning because her father – who had only a standard eight (Grade 10) – said “school was useless” and that Asiphe needed to “grow up and get married”. Her grandmother, however, told her that education would enable her to succeed in life. Both her mother and grandmother encouraged her to do better than they had.
“I became the kind of scholar who was clever, hard-working, respectful and loved school work. I never wanted to be late or absent for class,” she explains. “I loved maths, physics and science. I had a great maths teacher from Grade 1 and that made me love numbers even more.”
In high school, her English teacher, a Mrs Thwabuse, became her friend and mentor after learning that she was missing school because she couldn’t afford sanitary towels. “She made me promise I would ask her if I needed anything.” Thereafter, she treated Asiphe like she was her own child. “She made sure I had enough food and would encourage me by saying, ‘In the middle of every difficulty is an opportunity’,”
And the opportunity Asiphe wanted was to become a doctor.
Mrs Thwabuse and another teacher helped her apply for medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but Asiphe had no idea how she would pay for it. Unbeknown to her, her mother – with whom she didn’t have a close bond – worked hard to save for Asiphe’s education. “My mother also borrowed money from loan sharks and sold a cow for my registration fee and deposit,” she explains. “She made it possible for me to register when I thought it best to forget about studying. I realised then how much she loves me.”
With R15000 awarded by the university for her matric results, R13000 from Mrs Thwabuse, and her mother’s secret contribution, she paid her university fees. “My first term was awkward – I never thought I would survive. I could study, but I had no sanitary pads, didn’t know what I could afford to eat and who I could ask for help. My mom could afford to send me only R500 a month.
“I was stressed about how I would pay for second year and I battled with the work load and a different environment,” she says. “I failed first term not because I wasn’t studying but because I wasn’t coping and kept denying it.”
Asiphe found a mentor who helped her adapt to medical school. She also formed a study group, which made a huge difference. Her biggest concern disappeared at the end of the first term of second year when she found out she was to be awarded a Moshal Scholarship. “It felt like a burden has been removed from my shoulders,” she says.
“I am so happy now. I study with no worries and I have all the help that I need. I am supported in every sphere of life.” Her results have improved significantly.
She joined a mentorship programme to help younger students in the way she was helped to adapt and excel in their studies. “I am planning an organisation that guides the youth on health and safe sexual behaviour. I also want to build an orphanage.”
In the long term, Asiphe wants to study medical law, get married and buy her mother a mansion. And she wants to make her Moshal Scholarship family proud. “Martin Moshal is like a father to me, someone I look up to. I want to be like him and believe in people and make something out of nothing – just like he did for me.”