Winning the 2020 Bongani Mayosi Medical Students Academic Prize, would surely stand out as one of the major achievements on Dr Peace Francis’s resume. That the award was won by a woman represents a major milestone as there is a global move to increase women in STEM and other related fields.
Naming the award after Mayosi is a fitting tribute given his immense contribution to the academic and the medical fields. Mayosi was an expert in various highly specialised areas such as cardiovascular traits, treatment of tuberculous pericarditis and the prevention of rheumatic fever.
In 1998 to 2001 he was the Nuffield Oxford Medical Fellow in Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford. He was also a recipient of a string of accolades, the highest of which included the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) in 2009 for his services to medical science.
The academic award is opened for all eligible South African final-year medical students who are nominated by their peers. Francis (25), who is also a Klaus-Jürgen Bathe Leadership scholar, is currently a medical intern at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.
Her parents are Nigerian who relocated to Namibia where she was born and spent the first four years of her life. They eventually moved to Johannesburg, where she is a resident. “So my blood is Nigerian, I was born in Namibia, but I was shaped in and by South Africa, and I am a South African citizen. In short, I am African,” said Frances.
She is grateful for the role her parents played in her upbringing, saying they have always been there to provide support and guidance particularly when she had to decide on which career to choose.
“My interests and career choices changed multiple times as I grew up, until I finally settled on medicine,” said Francis. She said it was after listening to the interview of the former UCT vice-chancellor, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, that she felt assured her choice was the correct one because “training in medicine is [also] training in leadership”.
Like Mayosi who has shown unmatched leadership skills and qualities, Frances developed her leadership skills by taking part in various structures at the university. Some of the leadership positions she held included: sub-warden at my residence, chairperson of the Health Sciences Students’ Council (HSSC), vice-president of Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), and chairing the UCT Student Governance Court.
Asked how she felt about the late Mayosi’s philosophy of “Lift as you rise”, Frances said, this encapsulates what kind of the man Mayosi was; a humble and selfless man who believed in servant leadership. “I see this mantra as a constant reminder that my life is not to be lived for myself, but for others’ enjoyment and advancement,” she said.
Frances had the privilege of having met with the man himself while she was serving in the HSS. She said he was the most inspiring and approachable leader she has ever met. He was “the most inspiring and approachable leader I have ever met”, added Frances. She recalled her interaction with Mayosi during one of the events close to his heart called Masithethe Sakhane, aimed at inspiring young black health sciences students to pursue careers in academia.
Frances said after the event Mayosi “asked me what my plans were and where I wanted my life to go. I shared some ideas and thoughts”. She said Mayosi gave her ideas and suggestions that were much bigger than her dreams then.
“He saw more potential in me than I saw in myself. That day I realised that this was his worldview, and how he interacted with those around him: a deep belief in a person’s brilliance and potential that even they could not see,” recalled Frances, who intends to register for an MSc in global surgery at UCT.
In conclusion, Frances said it is a dream come true to be the recipient of an award that bears Professor Bongani Mayosi’s name. But, she added, “this is also a reminder of a great loss; a reminder that he is no longer with us” and that more importantly, “it is a reminder to continue his legacy”.