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Change the world


Prof Zukiswa Zingela is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

A senior Eastern Cape psychiatrist is spearheading efforts to help young men traumatised by botched circumcisions.

New dean of health at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) Prof Zukiswa Zingela is also known for her work to bolster the mental health of Covid-19 frontline workers and expanding the Eastern Cape’s team of home-grown public sector psychiatrists.

She is a finalist in the health category of The Herald Citizens of the Year awards in partnership with NMU.

Zingela said this week her interest in psychiatry and its importance as a tool to help the community was captured by the World Health Organisation’s motto that “there’s no health without mental health”.

“Without sound mental health you can’t fulfil your highest potential.

“It can negatively affect your relationships and prevent you from standing up for your rights.

“By improving mental health, I think we can help the Eastern Cape climb the ladder,” she said.

“We have a lot of human potential in this province and when we invest in this potential we give young people a reason to stay home instead of leaving to work in Gauteng.

“Thereby we boost the economic potential of the province.

“I hope this nomination and what I am doing can be an inspiration to others like me who grew up in a township.”

Zingela, 51, was raised in Walmer Township and later in Zwide, Gqeberha.

She matriculated from Ithembelihle Comprehensive School in North End before going on to study medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She returned to work in Gqeberha’s Livingstone and Elizabeth Donkin hospitals and then left the city again, this time to specialise in psychiatry at the University of Pretoria.

After that she moved overseas, where she worked for 5½ years for the National Health Service in the UK.

She returned to SA in 2008 to take up a position at Dora Nginza Hospital as head of its psychiatry and mental health facility.

“It was during that time that I first started training up doctors to specialise in these fields and I was very proud when we produced the first six locally trained psychiatrists and mental health practitioners.”

In 2015, she took up a post as academic head of psychiatry at Walter Sisulu University and from there she and her team produced more young psychiatrists, raising the figure to 15.

“During this period I was approached to intervene in a traumatic botched circumcision incident and I realised the need on that front.

“I subsequently designed a programme that trained a team that was both skilled and culturally sensitive to intervene in not only incidents with initiates, but all men’s health issues, especially those affecting young men.

“Furthermore, instead of waiting for incidents to happen, we piloted an initiative where we would reach out to boys at schools.”

Zingela said the onset of Covid-19 had prompted her to develop a similar support and intervention programme for healthcare workers who were suffering from acute stress and anxiety.

“We took that programme from [Gqeberha] hospitals to remote clinics in places like Ngcobo and Matatiele and supported over 1,000 healthcare workers.

“It has been very successful, which makes me happy, especially as it is not being done anywhere else in the country.”

She said she was delighted to have been nominated for the award.

“I wish it was possible to share the recognition for all the work done over the years with everybody else who has stood side by side with me in serving our communities in the province.

“It has been an incredibly fulfilling, though difficult, few years due to resource limitations, which makes this kind of recognition special,” she said.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 20 August 2021 written by Guy Rogers Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

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