Celenkosi Malinga, CLEF bursary recipient from Mduku community, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa captured our hearts and minds a couple of years ago with his extraordinary spirit of determination and kindness. Then, he was a radiography student at University of Johannesburg, and raising funds in his spare time to support other struggling students in his residence.
Celenkosi has now graduated from university and realised his dream of working as a radiographer.
We caught up with Cele after he finished his shift at Queen Nandi Regional Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, where he is completing his one-year community service. This hospital is dedicated exclusively to the care of obstetrical, gynaecological, and neonatal patients; however, it is classified at as ‘Level 1’ – meaning that it lacks the kind of equipment, infrastructure, and resources that larger hospitals have. As a radiographer, Cele performs x-rays and scans on patients, but as there is no radiologist in the hospital, the scans must then be sent elsewhere for examination.
While completing his degree last year, Cele was given the opportunity to name hospitals and provinces that would be his preference for the community placement in 2021. Cele named the hospitals that were closest to his home, and to his Gogo (grandmother), and he was thrilled to be placed at Queen Nandi Regional Hospital in Empangeni- only an hour and half’s drive from Gogo’s house, where he grew up with his siblings. Cele said he also loves being so close to the beach, and that his residence at the hospital is, ‘just like a hotel’, with his very own T.V and couch, and all the necessary amenities for a young man starting out his professional working life. As someone who has known hardships all of his life, he is not taking any of these comforts for granted.
But this is not to say that things have been easy for Cele’s first year out of university. With a serious skills and resources shortage in South Africa for medical professionals, Cele has been faced with the biggest challenge of his life yet – the job of a front-line worker in the middle of a raging global pandemic. Complications from COVID often arise in the lungs and chest of a patient, and so as a radiographer, Cele is using his skills to x ray the chest of up to 5 patients with COVID per day. For those of us not working in the medical field, it can be shocking to hear about the daily experiences of those who do. Even Cele himself says that he is still not completely used to the seriousness and gravity of the situation in which he finds himself…
‘It actually strikes on you when they report that a certain colleague has passed on (from COVID). You think, I was with her in ICU. You think, maybe I’ll be next…’
The stark reality is that Cele is facing, and will continue to face, the death of colleagues and patients over the next several months due to COVID.
‘If we die, who is going to help these patients?’
With what can only be described as true bravery, Cele is determined to keep on working so that he can be there for those who need it the most. Not only is Cele experiencing those first few months working in the ‘real’ world, and all the scary and exciting steps that come along with that, but he is also trying to navigate his way through what is said by WHO to be the most severe global health emergency in history.
The same spirit that saw Cele bake and sell muffins while studying to help other students living in his university residency, is what gives him the courage to keep on working and fighting in this dangerous and frightening new world.
‘You find strength to wake up every day and go there again.’
Cele achieved impressively high marks during his University studies, he was the first in his family to go to university, and he was the first in his community to study radiography – blazing the path for many more who have now followed in his footsteps. He has been a source of immense inspiration and admiration for young people in his home community, in his university residence, and now in his current community. He says when young people around him see him in his scrubs, they too can start to think of what possibilities might be out there for them. And Cele is not finished yet, the drive and determination that got him this far continues to spur him on. His goal is to return to post-graduate study in the future, to become a Dr in radiology, progressing from generating the x-rays and scans, to analysing them and determining the diagnoses and treatment plans of patients.
‘When you can imagine it, you can own it and you can have it.’
May nothing ever hold this young man back.