From humble beginnings to a doctor. This is the outstanding achievement and heartwarming story of Dr Nhlanhla Mngadi.

Showing that one should not forget one’s roots, his excited family gathered around their humble homestead made up of rondavels, in Mid-Illovo, on the South Coast to celebrate the milestone. Mngadi (26), has treated a number of patients at RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth as an intern, within the family medicine (psychiatry) unit.

It was the culmination of a journey that started in 2011, when he and hundreds of other disadvantaged medical students jetted to Cuba to study medicine.

Since 1997, 940 KwaZulu-Natal medical students have been enrolled in Cuba, through an agreement signed by the late President Nelson Mandela and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro. The programme was pioneered by the then Minister for Health, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It has since produced 127 doctors; while 438 are still studying in Cuba; and 291 are now completing their studies in South Africa.

Now, Mngadi’s biggest mission is to build his 64-year-old mother a home that she can be proud of. Commenting on his move to RK Khan Hospital and his first day at work, Mngadi said: “I am extremely excited. I’m over the moon, short of words. I’m also a bit nervous because I’m not sure what to expect. The responsibility on my shoulders is huge,”.

According to Mngadi, working as a doctor is way different to being a student. “There’s nervousness, which I guess is normal. But we are grateful for this programme. I left in 2011, not knowing what challenges I would face. We’ve come a long way, now we must go back to our communities and serve them,” he said.

Mngadi’s father passed away when he was just eight-years-old, leaving his mother – a lowly-paid road maintenance worker who is now a pensioner- to raise him and his six siblings. Mngadi acknowledged that had it not been for the RSA-Cuba medical training programme, becoming a doctor for a child from an impoverished home like him would have remained a pipe dream.

He says his journey has been difficult, and singled out humility, hard work and perseverance as factors that have contributed to his success so far.

“There are lots of challenges along the way, but if you remain headstrong and work hard, you can achieve. We didn’t know we would come this far, but here we are now. I am very grateful for the support from our government, especially in KZN. They supported us a great deal when we were in Cuba. We knew that whenever they came to visit us, it was like being visited by a parent. My message to those who are still in Cuba is that they must not be afraid,” said Mngadi.

He said he is pleased that that his and his family’s life is set to change.

“I am no longer perturbed by it, because I know that things will only get better from here. My biggest wish is to build my mother a house that she can be proud of. A home that has warmth, which will give her dignity. That is the first thing on my mind,” said Mngadi.
KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who accompanied Mngadi to RK Khan Hospital where he is now based, described his story as a heartwarming example of how government continues to change the lives of young people, their families and communities at large through this programme.

“What we see in the life of Dr Mngadi are the fruits of perseverance from his side. It’s a good story to tell about our country. He comes from a poverty-stricken community that nobody knew could produce a doctor. He carries the burden to become a good doctor, but also to eradicate poverty at his home. His mother and sisters must look up to him for a better life,” said Dhlomo.

“So we are very thankful for this programme because not only has it produced doctors, it has also produced champions who are going to eradicate poverty in their communities. He’s one of those doctors that I’ve taken under my wing and supported, knowing his background. He’s like many others who are out there, also coming from poor families who would not have had a chance to become doctors because he would have needed money to do that. He would have needed government support to realise his great potential. He is a doctor today because of that government support. We wish him and many others like him everything of the best,” said Dhlomo.