Submitted by: Chris van Blerk 

Dr Zandile Mbonxa recently graduated from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science. She is thought to be the only Vet from Orange Farm. I chatted to her recently about her journey and future plans. She is such a bubbly person, constantly prefacing her replies with a resounding “Yoh!” I found our interaction completely delightful.

What was your life like growing up in Orange Farm?

“Challenging. There were no good permanent jobs for my parents. The only jobs my mother could find were as a live-in domestic worker. My father worked as a long-distance driver. His job took him away from home most of the time, even out of the country. My mom took us three children to live with her sister in Orange Farm. 

My aunt is in a wheelchair. Despite this, she is the true definition of a hustler. She managed to provide for all of us, even though there was not much money from my parents. She sent us to school. I was an outgoing kind of child, and very curious. I think my curiosity was a coping mechanism. Sometimes I was at school on an empty stomach, but still smiling.”

What was school like? 

“School was challenging in terms of poverty. But I was bubbly. My teacher once told me that I was always smiling like someone who had brought R50 to school. But I had only R2 in my pocket.” 

(The Faculty of Veterinary Science website reported that she achieved seven A grades in Matric. To my mind, a remarkable achievement in the circumstances.)

What got you interested in veterinary science?

“The National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries visited our school, offering bursaries for study in relevant disciplines. I always wanted to study human medicine. The closest on offer was veterinary science. There were a number of applicants for the bursary and they chose me.”

I’ve read that you were afraid of animals before going into veterinary science. How did this happen? 

“When I was nine years old, my friend was attacked by dogs. I saw it happen. Ever since then, I was terrified of dogs.”

How did you overcome your fear of dogs?

“Through literature and facts. In my first year, we did a course on animal behaviour. I learnt why a dog does certain things, such as barking. I realised this was my way out of poverty. I had to overcome the fear to succeed. Still, it was very challenging. Then, when we worked with puppies, I asked how it was that I was terrified of these cute things.”

Please tell me about any challenges you experienced during your time at university. How did you overcome them? 

“I didn’t choose it (this profession), it chose me. I felt it was meant to be. Everything “just happened”. From being given the bursary out of all the applicants. Also, I am very bubbly. I made good friends from all backgrounds. Some of their stories were worse than mine. I appreciated life more. Independence from my family was a bonus. For the first time I made my own decisions. Also, I always liked to help out people, sharing the little I had. It made me feel that I was growing. It was the best thing that happened to me, after my daughter, of course. Second-best!”

(From the faculty website: “In her fifth year, in 2018, she gave birth to a little girl and wrote her first two exams when she was 39 weeks pregnant. Fifteen days after the caesarean section birth, Dr Mbonxa wrote three more exams. ‘I was numb throughout the whole process, but all I wanted was to get to the finish line – and I did.’”

What are you doing now? 

“I am doing my compulsory community service. I specially chose a non-clinical post in an office. I missed out on a lot with my daughter. When she was born, I was very busy doing clinics and there was little time to spend with my baby. I am now doing technical veterinary science at the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Pretoria. My focus is epidemiology, specifically disease control. I am doing avian influenza surveillance. The job makes me feel like I’m the brains behind things!”

Do you have plans for the future?

“Lots of plans for the future. I want to have many practices in townships. Not only to educate people, but also to inspire as many young people as possible.”


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