From an early age, University of Cape Town (UCT) alumnus Dr Samkelisiwe Nyamathe knew that her life’s mission would be to help empower people. It came wrapped as a calling to assist in the field of medicine and has led her to confidently call herself an advocate for women and children.
“I believe myself to be a holistic person, driven by a big God who says there must be an impact that you make. I knew that I had a heart for children and people in general. Even at a young age, I truly believed that God would sort out my path,” said Dr Nyamathe.
She said she had three choices: medicine, law or psychology.
“All these choices were based on me doing something with people or empowering people in the community. When I enrolled for medicine, I thought I was going to specialise as a paediatrician and that would be where my journey takes me. However, once I started studying, I realised a big part of my heart was for greater change, transforming things at a higher level in the health system and creating solutions to the problems that exist.”
As a research clinician, Nyamathe was among the M&G 200 Young South Africans for 2023. She is currently back at UCT in the field of public health, assisting in communities. She uses her medical degree to contribute to combatting tuberculosis (TB) and its effects on young children.
“My interest with children is in how we can create better health for them. I landed in a space dealing with TB and I gravitated towards that research,” she said.
“I care about what happens to children who are affected by all medical conditions, and TB is but one of them. We have enough innovation to see children through their lifespan; but what kind of life will they live when they get to 30 or 40 … those are the things that interest me,” said Nyamathe.
As much as Nyamathe’s preferred path was clear to her, there were moments when she felt her work weighed her down to the point that when she completed her compulsory training (Comserve), she decided to do something “unheard of”.
“Comserve comes with a lot of rawness, so I decided to take a break. It was good for me and my mental health and it helped me gain perspective.”
It was during this stressful time that a non-governmental organisation (NGO) door opened for her. This, Nyamathe said, allowed her to apply her knowledge.
She’s worked with HOPE Cape Town, an organisation that strives to improve the quality of life of children, youth and families affected by HIV; Womandla, a foundation with a vision to inform, empower and equip women and girls in the African diaspora by building sustainable communities; and Alakhe, her foundation that deals with mentoring young people through their education journey.
“Mentorship is dear to my heart. I’m a firm believer that representation matters. The minute you see someone who looks like you in a space, that space becomes accessible to you,” said Nyamathe.
With Womandla, Nyamathe works on their mentorship platform, including relationship building with the aim to get science, technology, the arts, education, and mathematics to young women.
Within her organisation Alakhe, she recognises that journeys start very early and continue past the stage of schooling; therefore, Nyamathe’s focus is on both the health and well-being of people.
“Women understand that often it’s not just about one person, it’s about us all taking up our rightful places”.
“Mentorship to me is to move you from where you are into your envisioned space; to open someone’s life completely. It stems from seeing women like me from different backgrounds and realising that were it not for someone else opening the door, they would not have been where they are [today].”
As an ode to Women’s Month, Nyamathe, who was raised primarily by her grandmother, spoke passionately about the role of women in a flourishing society.
“Women are diverse and different. Yes, we tend to have the more personal touch, are a bit more attentive to little cues and our hearts tend to bleed a bit more for the injustices in the world … what that does is help us channel those innate qualities into our passions,” she said.
“At the same time, we are capable; the fact that you have women who are moms, wives, are trailblazing spaces, and leading communities, shows that women are genuinely able to navigate through different spaces comfortably and do well in those spaces.
“Women want to open rooms for other women, and not only for themselves. Women understand that often it’s not just about one person, it’s about us all taking up our rightful places.”
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