Triumph over fear

Friday, August 28, 2020

A childhood memory wherein a friend was attacked by dogs led Zandile Mbonxa to make a pinkie promise to herself that she would never have anything to do with animals.

While nobody has a one-way ticket to peak into his or her future, Mbonxa would have probably laughed at the thought that she would one day become a Veterinarian.

“I really wanted to become a human medical doctor. I could never see or imagine myself as anything else. I was very terrified of dogs and feared animals because I had no knowledge of them,” she says in an interview with SAnews.

While she had no ambition of becoming a Veterinarian, Dr Mbonxa has made use of every opportunity that life has so far presented to her.

She describes her earlier life as being both difficult and fun at times.

“I say difficult because my parents were never around when I needed them at times, due to work. I carried R2 to school daily for lunch and I knew the situation was not ideal. As young as I was, I constantly thought of how I could get myself out of that situation,” she says.

She quickly realised that education is the ticket to a better life and immersed herself in her schoolwork.

Her aunt who was always around to take care of her and her two sisters ensured that Mbonxa was able to focus on her schoolwork.

 “I was raised by a single and wheelchair bound lady, who inspired me and played a huge role in my social and academic success. Despite her disability, she was able to put food on the table for us and cater to all our basic needs.

“It was through this life experience that I learnt that nothing is impossible in life, and that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to,” says Mbonxa who was born and raised in Orange Farm in the south of Johannesburg.

While attending high school at Leshata Secondary School, Mbonxa discovered her love for science.

She worked hard to ensure that she obtains good grades, if her dream of pursuing medicine was to become a reality.

As fate would have it, she went to a career awareness campaign, hosted by the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) in 2011.

At the time, the DAFF was also looking to fund learners interested in studying for careers linked to the department.

She nevertheless applied for a bursary advertised by the department.

“I wanted to study human medicine, but I needed financial assistance, so I went for it and applied for the bursary. Luckily, I was chosen for funding and I chose Veterinary Science because it was the closest thing to human medicine,” she says.

Clinching the bursary, the ball was set in motion for her to study Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria.

While she was excited to get the bursary, Mbonxa admits that the thought of living away from her family, in an unknown city, was terrifying.

“The biggest challenge was adapting to living alone, the self-discipline [involved in] getting things done by myself, and being taught in English in a large lecture hall was just strange.”

While having graduated in April 2020, Mbonxa says coursework was no walk in the park.

 “It was very hectic and the most challenging thing I have ever had to deal with really. Vet school takes blood, sweat and tears to complete the degree in record time,” says the 25-year-old.

First year of the course entailed basic Science and Math modules. The second year focused on Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Animal Science and animal behaviour.

The course also involved students working on small animals like dogs and cats, small livestock such as goats and sheep, horses, pigs and poultry.

She advises anyone who would like to become a Veterinarian, to have good inter-personal skills owing to the fact that a Vet interacts with a variety of people.

Describing her career as a noble profession, Mbonxa loves being part of a team of people who are contributing to food safety, public health and the prevention of potentially dangerous Zoonotic diseases.

Clinical work entails diagnosis and treatment of conditions, surgery, research, herd health, farm management, disease prevention, animal welfare, public health as well as import and export control among others.

“One needs patience, and the intellect to get to the correct diagnosis. Remember our patients cannot talk and say what is wrong,” she says.

Asked about what is most misunderstood about animals, Mbonxa says people often think that animals don’t have feelings or that they get sick, feel pain or that they can take anything thrown at them.

“That makes me sick. I feared animals because I had no knowledge of them. Through knowledge, I learnt that they are the most adorable creatures, so I know now that there's nothing that knowledge doesn’t solve,” she says.

She points out that there are not a lot of Black Vets in the country - a matter that underlines the importance of having more career awareness outreach drives, particularly in Black communities.

Mbonxa says the field offers many opportunities and that those who qualify as Vets can venture into private clinical practice, welfare, government/state work, pharmaceuticals and research.

Mbonxa is currently doing her compulsory community service (CCS) with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and is a mom to a two-year-old daughter.

 “I just do what needs to be done each time, work during working hours, and spend time with the family after hours,” she says.

She hopes to one day own several veterinary practices in townships as a way to lend a hand in animal health and welfare awareness.

She also wants to inspire “young Black girls like me from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.”

With South Africa currently observing Women’s Month, Dr Mbonxa is challenging women to reach for their dreams.

 “Nothing is impossible; there is nothing that you touch with passion that will not turn into gold.  You are able,” she says, while also encouraging unemployed graduates not to lose hope.

In his Women’s Day message, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 not only stood for themselves alone, but for the rights of the generations of women yet to come.

The President said gains have been made in advancing women's rights, in broadening women's access to education, in the provision of health care and social support to women, and in improving their participation in the economy and decision-making.

While Dr Mbonxa is plying her trade in a different kind of medicine today, the women of 1956 would have been proud of everything she has achieved. -