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Nursing hero dreams big

Written by Allison Cooper

Despite having her dreams put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), registered nurse Zandile Mawela (27) remains determined to obtain her master’s degree and work overseas. Zandile Mawela did not let her circumstances determine her future.

Mawela, one of the many heroic healthcare workers who have played a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19, has been working as a locum and saving lives at various hospitals across the Western Cape. A locum is a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another.

“After working as a nurse for three years in the Eastern Cape, I was excited as I secured a position in Saudi Arabia and was planning to relocate. Then lockdown happened and I was unable to travel,” she says. 

Despite this, she remains positive, hardened by her tough journey to qualify as a nurse and the extreme hardship and poverty she faced growing up in Mbenge, a small village near Cala in the Eastern Cape. 

As the primary care giver to her younger brother and a foster parent to her sister’s children, she has faced tough times emotionally too. 

Growing up in a poor family was not easy, neither was losing her father when she was only four-years-old and her mother when she was 17. Her grandmother, who raised and lived with her, was also tragically raped and murdered.

“We lived in two rondavels, which always leaked when it rained. Almost every day my grandmother would send me next door to ask for basics. 

Her life changed when she was accepted into the Engen Maths and Science School in Cala.  

“I attended Batandwa Ndondo Senior Secondary and was one of a handful of learners accepted into the Engen programme from my school. I started to believe in myself. My confidence grew and the idea that I could be the first person in my family to pass matric and go to university seemed possible,” she says.   

Every Saturday morning Mawela attended the free supplementary maths, science and English classes. 

Mawela lost her uncle on the day of her first matric exam, but she persisted and not only passed, but also secured a scholarship to the University of the Western Cape to study nursing.   

There are nine Engen Maths and Science Saturday Schools across the country. Learners are nominated by their teachers in Grade 9, to write a test. If successful, they can attend the programme. 

Mawela is determined to contribute to the health of her community while she waits to realise her dream of working overseas.