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From a village boy to a soldier and now a doctor, the inspiring life of Sibongiseni Dhlomo

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From a village boy to a soldier and now a doctor, the inspiring life of Sibongiseni Dhlomo

It is not often that a child of a bus driver and a domestic worker gets to become a medical doctor and a brigadier general in the army. This is the story of Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo, the tenth child of Anthony Khonjwayo and Pauline MaNdimande.   Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo was born in Mbumbulu, rural KwaZulu Natal on December 10, 1959, He speaks English, Afrikaans, and Zulu.

Dr (Brig Gen) Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo
Dr (Brig Gen) Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo


His academic qualifications span Medicine, Public Health, Tropical Medicine, HIV Management, Project Management, Palliative Care, Business Management and Forensic Pathology. At an early age, he possessed the tunnel of wanting to be a medical doctor even though it was a tough decision and his parents could not afford to pay for medical school.  By taking such a decision Sibongiseni rocked the apple cart because none of his many older siblings had ventured beyond teaching careers. By so doing, Sibongiseni created a dilemma for his parents who brought nineteen children into the world.


Sibongiseni’s story is one of adversity, patience, triumph, hard work and fortitude. His father Anthony Khonjwayo married his first wife long before he married Sibongiseni’s mum Pauline MaNdimande in 1958. Anthony’s first wife was named Pauline Hawukile MaMajozi and she died a few months after the birth of her eight children who were born prematurely.
The death of a wife, and mother of eight children and having to deal with a premature baby left Sibongiseni’s father who was a bus driver with Standard Three education devastated.

Sibongiseni’s father had a special prayer stemming from the incident ( loss of his first wife Pauline Ma Mamajozi)  what he experienced left him with no choice, except to turn to God; the creator of everything. On Sibongiseni’s graduation his father had this to say; When my wife died in 1957, I just never imagined that my son, Thembinkosi  would survive growing up in a bottle”, I thanked the doctors and wished that one of my children would become a doctor, to explain to me how this miracle happened”. Sibongiseni was glad to have been an answer to his father’s prayers. He never understood that during his careers training he was already fulfilling his father’s prayer.


Sibongiseni was his father’s tenth child and the second child of his own mother Pauline Hawukile Ma MaNdimande. His mother had lost her first child, a boy in 1958. Sibongiseni’s father had nineteen children between his two wives. Sibongiseni’s mother completed Standard Six, the highest grade in primary school but had to look for work, at that time there were no girls who continued school beyond primary education. Sibongiseni’s mother was actually a domestic worker at the Dhlomo family house at Umbumbulu until his stepmother died after which she was asked to marry his father and she agreed to the marriage.


The life skills which Sibongiseni is proud of having today were imbued in his person by his mother. In his book ‘My Journey to Robben Island launched in April this year at Emoyeni Conference Centre, Johannesburg Sibongiseni detailed his mother’s daily routine carefully. His mother’s day started at 5AM in the fields and she took all her children to the farm.  The person who was left behind at home had to prepare breakfast and boil water for bathing and coffee. At 7AM the kids were released to go home, bath, have a quick breakfast and rush to school while Ma Pauline MaNdimande remains in the field.


At 12 noon MaNdimande returns home to have her breakfast then prepares the evening meal and then goes back to the field.  Once the kids return from school they join Ma Ndimande in the fields (all of them except two) those who remain at home split chores. One child fetches water from the river and completes the evening meal while the other looks after cattle until just before sunset. As a result of all these activities, Sibongiseni was well-grounded in terms of skills learned at home, such as cattle rearing, cooking, cleaning the house, washing, and ironing of clothes.


The Dhlomo family was not at all well-off and in the first few years of schooling Sibongiseni and his siblings never wore shoes as part of their uniform. The mode of paying school fees was based on selling cattle to cover fees, uniform, and other school needs. At any point in time at least five or six of the Dhlomo children were in different schools. The Dhlomo model apparently, however, could not help Sibongiseni when he chose to study medicine because the fees were simply way too high and at a time when he was at Dlazengwa High the family could not afford his transport costs to return home to Umbumbulu. The challenge of not being able to return home like some children from far way Johannesburg was addressed in a creative manner by Sibongiseni who chose to rely on his life skills by ironing clothes for his peers at 5 cents each.


Sibongiseni’s book is about his history and experience of an ordinary boy from Mbumbulu, South of Durban in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Arrested on Christmas Day 1985 and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island on April 26, 1987. Sibongiseni did not serve the full ten years as he was released on a historic date in South Africa’s history on March 21, 1991, after almost four years on Robben Island. The date of his release coincided with Human Rights Day.  On March 21, 1969 people were killed in Sharpeville after protesting against the carrying of passes and the apartheid regime replied with live ammunition against defenseless peaceful marches.


Before his incarceration on Robben Island Sibongiseni had proven to be an outstanding scholar and also served with the military wing of the ANC known as Umkhonto Wesizwe. He was the first and only doctor in his family and in memory of his parents he has begun to breed cattle about forty plus in number as a lesson to his kids that cattle can be family wealth and can educate a nation. Sibongiseni is also passionate about educating the girl child so that they can be independent economically and to deal with the problem of gender inequality. According to Sibongiseni, uneducated women are more prone to die from pregnancy-related complications than educated women. Sibongiseni enrolled at medical school as early as age 20. In the dedication of his book My Journey to Robben Island he wrote in the first paragraph that ‘the poorest family can indeed produce a doctor”.


His contribution to the emancipation of the people of South Africa saw him join the military of the then banned ANC, Umkhonto Wesizwe. On his return from prison, he served the people of Newcastle both as a Mayor and general practitioner. He worked also at the University of Kwazulu Natal lecturing in Public Health. Sibongiseni completed his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree in record time (six years) notwithstanding that he was preoccupied with his underground operations. He is a member of the executive council of KwaZulu Natal for Health in Kwazulu Natal. He is married with three children.


Source: This article was written by Adetunji Omotola in Johannesburg. Adetunji is the Founder of Global African Connection which seeks to connect Africans to the globe. He is also an Africa Analyst and a Public Speaker. He blogs at winelawandpolitics.wordpress.com seen to be threatened by extinction.

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Ameyaw Kissi Debrah, known professionally as Ameyaw Debrah, is a Ghanaian celebrity blogger, freelance journalist, and reporter.

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