Zazi Zulu is one of the 260 fifth-year medical students who are pleased to be back home after having left South Africa to study medicine in Cuba six years ago.
He left his home in Umgungundlovu District of KwaZulu-Natal in 2012 as a starry-eyed 17 year-old matriculant to pursue his dream of studying medicine.
Zulu was one of the bursary recipients who were awarded an opportunity to study abroad as part of the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro (NMFC) medical collaboration programme of the Department of Health.
Through the programme, the department awards qualifying and deserving students an opportunity to study medicine in Cuba free of charge.
The NMFC programme was established by presidents Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro in 1996 as part of the various bilateral agreements between South Africa and Cuba.
The programme was established to address the over-concentration of health personnel in urban areas and in the exclusionary private sector; insufficient personnel who were also not in possession of the necessary training and the under-provision of health care in rural and peri-urban areas, as well as informal settlements.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi welcomed the students back into the country on Saturday.
The returning students were part of the 2 885 South African medical students in Cuba at various levels of study.
No fewer than 590 doctors have already qualified from the training programme since it started in 1996, while 98 students are doing their final year at South African medical schools.
Minister Motsoaledi was accompanied by his Deputy Joe Phaahla together with families and loved ones to welcome the fifth-year medical students at a ceremony held at OR Tambo International Airport.
The students will complete their sixth-year studies and integration into the South African health system. They will spend the next 18 months of studies at various South African universities, and then be dispatched to their districts of origin to start working as Doctors.
Upon arrival, Zulu said he was happy to be reunited with his family of ten members. Each one of them wore a specially-designed black T-shirt written ‘Dr Zazi Zulu’ and they carried a big banner with the message: “Welcome Back, Mageba.”
“I am very pleased with the warm reception that we have received upon our return. I am looking forward to applying all the knowledge that I have gained in Cuba. I want to use my skills and expertise and work with diligence for the benefit of my fellow compatriots,” he said.
“My success up to this point has not been due to my wisdom, but rather the Grace of God,” he said.
He also expressed gratitude to the government of South Africa.
“If it was not for the NMFC programme, we would never have been able to study medicine… many of us are from poor backgrounds. We are grateful, and hope that government will be able to help uplift others as well.”