Tribute to the first black woman medical doctor in KZN

2007-12-14 00:00

Dr Phumzile Helen Ngobese (80), the first black woman medical doctor in KwaZulu-Natal, died recently after suffering a bout of ill-health.

Ngobese, the aunt of Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, is well known in the city having worked at Edendale Hospital for a number of years. On her retirement she moved to Ulundi.

She was one of six children born to Philip and Ntombinkulu Ngobese in the Jonono area near Wasbank on October 4, 1927. Her life reflects the struggle that many black parents waged to ensure that their children received a good education. Ngobese went to primary school in Wasbank and later moved with her father to Salisbury (Harare) in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where she studied further. After being awarded a bursary by German missionaries, Ngobese attended the presitigious Inkamana High School near Vryheid. She was one of the few women from Zululand at the time who went on to study at the University of Fort Hare and then at the University of Witwatersrand, where she completed her medical degree specialising in paediatrics.

Ngobese worked at hospitals and clinics in Johannesburg, the Eastern Cape, King Edward Hospital in Durban and Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

While in the city she became involved with the Liberal party and attended meetings with Alan Paton, Peter Brown, Beyers Naude and Professor Colin Gardner. Ngobese firmly believed in using her knowledge and skills to uplift poor communities. She started crèches, breast-feeding projects and was part of the Edendale Benevolent Society. As a member of the Natal Environment Society she lobbied for black people to have access to Midmar Dam.

Ngobese also belonged to Bhoko, an intiative started by IFP leader Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, which helped improve working relations in the then KwaZulu government. She was part of the Luthuli Educational Foundation and a member of the Nqolobane Yamagug Esizwe, which encouraged the wearing of traditional attire and preserving African culture. After her retirement, she got involved in projects to get running water to rural areas.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Ngobese’s only surviving sibling, Nolizwe, said she will always remember her beloved sister who took care of her since she was two years old, after the death of their mother. Ngobese was 19 at the time.

“She taught and gave guidance to everyone in the family, passing on valuable life skills.”

She never married and assumed the role of being mother to all her brothers and sisters.

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