“Don’t allow your past to define your future.” That’s what sixth year medical student Minenhle Sithole tells the students he mentors. It’s also a philosophy he lives by.
For Minenhle Sithole, the desire to become a doctor had a lot to do with passion and curiosity. But it was ultimately by supporting his mother through the illness that eventually took her life that he found his calling. “When I was young, my mother got sick and I had to go with her to hospitals and doctors,” he says. “Being exposed to that led to my desire to pursue this career. I wanted to be a doctor to bring about change in the system and work in healthcare. I saw so many deaths when my mother was sick.” The care patients expected, and the care that doctors delivered didn’t always line up, he says.
Coming from an underprivileged background also made Minenhle determined to succeed. “I wanted a stable, fixed, concrete career because my mother was a maid. I wanted to find a career in which I’d be certain to get a job in one day. I also wanted to uplift my own life and help others, to bring about change and contribute widely to society.”
Finding his way back
Born in Estcourt in KZN, Minenhle moved to Ladysmith to live with his aunt. “My aunt had one boy and I was also the one boy from my mother’s side so they agreed that my aunt would take me so us boys would grow up together.” Minenhle was living in Ladysmith when his mother got sick. “I was in Grade 6 when she passed away. My aunt was so good and kind, especially after I lost my mother,” he says. “She took me under her wing and provided everything for me, food, clothes and shelter. Most importantly she gave me a proper education. She was very supportive and encouraging.”
While Minenhle had always been academic, his mom’s passing had a negative impact on his schoolwork. “Those years were difficult for me,” he remembers. “I’d been the top student, but now I was getting lower marks. But my aunt, cousin and teachers – who were aware of the situation – were very encouraging and I got back to position number one. I realised that I couldn’t allow the situation to make decisions for me or to define my life. I strongly believe that your parents are the vessels that bring you into the world, but you need to make your own life.” Armed with this support and his beliefs, Minenhle “woke up” and fought to succeed.
In recognition of his academic abilities, determination and talent, Minenhle was awarded the Moshal Scholarship in his first year of medical studies at UKZN. “It was such a miracle,” he says. “I was so desperate for funding because of my background and I didn’t have enough money to continue my studies. I was so blessed because now I could really pursue a career in medicine.” He may have had the marks he needed, but without the funding – which covered studies, books, accommodation and more – Minenhle would never have been able to become a doctor, he says.
Becoming a role model
Minenhle works to uplift others. He uses social media to interact with and inspire high school students from disadvantaged areas and works at UKZN as an academic mentor. He believes that living by the Moshal values makes him a worthy role model. “The most important thing is to become an agent of change in society,” he says. “I handle myself with integrity and respect. These are the things that come at no cost, it’s just about being yourself. You’re paying it forward because you’re bringing a change to someone’s life by being a role model. They want to pursue something that is in you.”
Using his personal experiences, Minenhle imparts important lessons to the students he mentors. Aside from encouraging them to define their own futures, he also helps students to overcome challenges, rather than allowing them to shape their lives. “I tell them to follow their desires and passions and most importantly to follow what they’re called to do here on earth,” he says. “Don’t forget where you come from especially if it’s from a rural area, I tell them. You must give back to your community because you’ve been there. Identify where the deficiencies in the community lie and try to bring about change in those areas. Love people and always remain humble.”
Finding the right balance
While Minenhle would like to specialise in internal medicine and become a physician he’s aware that life may have other plans. “It depends on many factors like where I am in terms of family, the availability of posts and job opportunities.” He admires people who can achieve a balance in all areas of life especially certain doctors and pastors from his church. “I’m impressed by how they balance things like being a husband and a doctor, having a family, a career, a ministry and also a social life.”
Minenhle particularly looks up to Moshal programme programme founder Martin Moshal. “He inspires me so much. He shows selflessness, he pays it forward, he’s humble and kind and loves people. He never forgets where he comes from.”