Teaching by example

2010-07-12 00:00

I WAS sitting at the Commission of Inquiry into fraud and corruption at uMngeni Municipality on Tuesday when I got a message from my daughter around midday to call her. She was supposed to be asleep as she was on night duty at the Charlotte Maxeke (Johannesburg General) Hospital. I went into the parking lot and called. All I heard was “mum”, deep wracking sobs and “Mrs Ntswane has died”.

Standing there in the parking lot I too cried for Mamiki Annette Ntswane, a woman I only met once and whom I did not know on many levels, yet on others I felt I knew her well.

She was my daughter’s lecturer in the nursing faculty at Wits University and she was murdered sometime last Sunday night in Gauteng. Ntswane lived on her own and was attacked during a robbery in which her cellphone and computer were stolen. I cried not just over her senseless death, but over the loss of a great teacher and nurse who truly was an outstanding example of her noble profession. My daughter is now qualified and I know that it is because of Ntswane that she loves what she is doing and cares deeply for her patients.

Here was a woman who was making a difference to the public service of the country by helping develop young people into true professionals. Nursing has a bad reputation. Many are the stories of indifferent nurses with a poor work ethic. Ntswane was the antithesis of this stereotype.

How do I know all of this? It is because of Ntswane’s own interaction with my daughter. As is the wont with young people, my daughter went through one of life’s wobbles and was losing interest in her studies. Ntswane sensed this and took an interest in her. This was unusual at tertiary level where students are often treated as just a number.

I remember sitting at the graduation ceremony looking at the academic staff and trying to work out who this caring lecturer was. I passed over Ntswane, who had on a black and silver outfit under her academic gown with accessories to match, and settled on a more matronly looking lecturer. It turned out that the vivacious looking woman was Ntswane and after the graduation she came around making an effort to meet the parents of her students and telling each of us something special about our sons and daughters.

Talking to the students you sensed their commitment and I left that graduation ceremony feeling what a great country we live in. Here were young people who in the new South Africa could choose any career they wanted, but who chose the caring profession of nursing. How fortunate they were to have lecturers like Ntswane who lead by example.

My daughter and her friends are devastated over the loss of their beloved teacher. Her death in the middle of the World Cup will go largely unnoticed. She is just another statistic. As crime expert Anthony Altbeker wrote in his book, A country at war with itself, 50 people (a busload) lose their lives every day as a result of violent crime. The irony is that Ntswane taught a course in psycho-social nursing. She made her students aware that their profession was not just about patient care, but about looking at the bigger picture of how socio-economic conditions contribute to societal ills. She urged them to continue with research in this area. I know this because Ntswane was often quoted in our household.

South Africa is being hailed for the success of the World Cup. Can a country poised on the brink of greatness afford to lose more useful citizens through senseless murders? How meaningful is this achievement if we fail so dismally at keeping our citizens safe?

I was feeling pretty shattered until Saturday night when I called my daughter during her tea break. She was not in the canteen, but sitting in the ward, cradling a baby from an incubator in a kangaroo bag. “The mother hasn’t been able to come and see the baby,” she said, “so I just wanted to give him some warmth and let him feel my heartbeat.” On another floor in the hospital her friend Megan was being swept off her feet in the trauma unit. Saajidah was hard at work at Tara and Tshepiso was working in a rural hospital giving back to the community in which she grew up. Mamiki, this is your legacy and a grateful parent from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal says thank you.

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