UKZN Celebrates Medical Alumni Legends

The School of Clinical Medicine (SCM) honoured two pre-eminent medical alumni at its recently held “On-the-couch” event titled, Celebrating Alumni Legends in Medicine.

Facilitated by Ukhozi FM presenter, Ms Nongcebo McKenzie, the event honoured Professor Mochichi Samuel Mokgokong, Emeritus Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pretoria and Professor Lizo Mazwai, Emeritus Professor of Surgery and a Former Dean of Medicine at Walter Sisulu University.

Conceptualised by Professor Ncoza Dlova, Dean and Head of SCM, this event was the second edition with the inaugural event having taken place in November last year where the founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, Dr Imtiaz Ismail Sooliman was honoured. Dlova said, ‘These are individuals that we look at with pride as they have inspired us for many years. They have made an invaluable contribution to the medical field through their clinical skills but also through their leadership, scholarly work and community outreach programmes.’

In her welcome address, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Busisiwe Ncama thanked Dlova for recognising the importance of honouring UKZN alumni in the medical fraternity. She said, ‘We are celebrating giants in the medical field and alumni who have dedicated their lives to their communities. This “on the couch” event provides an invaluable platform for these legends to share their life experiences with our current students to inspire and motivate them through their own journey.’

‘We can learn a lot from Professors Mokgokong and Mazwai because as the Zulu saying goes, indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili,’ said Ncama.

Mokgokong was the first Black neurosurgeon in South Africa and hails from a family of medical giants including the renowned Professor Ephraim Thibedi Mokgokong, one of the first Black gynaecologists in South Africa, who was one of his greatest influences and pillars of strength.

Mokgokong is well known for being part of the surgical team that separated conjoined twins, Mpho and Mphonyana Mathibela, at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on 7 December 1986. He further headed the surgical teams for three separations of craniopagus Siamese twins and has trained and produced more than 15 neurosurgeons so far as well as produced the youngest neurosurgeon in Africa in 2017.

When asked if he had ever met a student with the acumen but not the heart for medicine, Mokgokong said, ‘That is rare but some hands are always better than others. It is for this reason that I focus on imparting basic skills and the confidence students need to progress in their careers.’

Mazwai acknowledged his parents for instilling the importance of education in him. Reflecting on his studies in the United Kingdom, he remarked that his aim was always to return home and help the people in his own community. As the only surgeon in Lusikisiki for 300 000 people, Mazwai said he learnt faith, perseverance and purpose. He recalled spiritual verses which have always guided him through his journey. “I shall pass through this world but once; any good that I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now for I shall not pass this way again” and; “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Mazwai is the past president of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA), Honorary Fellow of the CMSA, Former Chairman of the South African Medical Research Council and past president of the South African Medical Association. He is also a founding Chairperson of the Board of the Office of Health Standards Compliance in the National Department of Health and has received seven Honorary Academic Fellowships throughout his career.

Touching on the issue of consent when performing surgical procedures, Mazwai mentioned the importance of building a strong rapport with the patient in order to build trust and acceptance of the outcome whether it is good or bad. He said, ‘Good communication with your patient is key and so is understanding African customs and traditions.’

Ms Nomakhwezi Khanyile, a principal programme officer at the SCM asked the legends how they were able to attain a proper work-life balance. Both men acknowledged their life partners for playing a significant role in raising their children whilst they attended to their daunting work demands and admitted that achieving a balance was never easy.

Mr Mohamed Suleman, a fourth-year Medical student who was recently voted as one of South Africa’s Top 200 young people sought advice from the legends on the importance of mentorship. Mazwai responded that mentorship, including tutors and group learning are important aspects of the medical journey and hence events like these are crucial for the older generation of medical experts to share their experiences with junior doctors.

Mokgokong encouraged the audience of Medical students to step away from private practice and instead give back to their communities as lecturers and academics so as to inspire Black students to enter the profession. He advised students to, ‘Stay in school and specialise instead of going into private practice to make money because once you’re a specialist you can impart your knowledge and expertise and become an even bigger success.’

Mokgokong and Mazwai were presented with plaques of honour in celebration of their outstanding contribution to Medicine and were officially named UKZN alumni legends.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Andile Ndlovu