DURBAN Doctor Wakithi Mabaso has the knack of making a great success of everything he sets his hands and heart to.
Mabaso, 25, is an aspiring clinician-scientist who is passionate about psychiatry and hopes to contribute to improving mental health care availability to the country’s most vulnerable communities.
Those ambitions received an injection of positivity this week when Mabaso was confirmed as a recipient of a highly regarded postgraduate scholarship to the University of Oxford, in the UK.
Having become a Rhodes scholar-elect for Oxford’s intake in October, Mabaso intends to pursue master in science degrees in global health science and epidemiology, and clinical and therapeutic neuroscience thereafter.
The former Kearsney College pupil received what is reputed to be the oldest scholarship in the world, courtesy of the Rhodes Trust.
Cecil John Rhodes, a former British businessman and politician, established the scholarship in 1902 with the purpose of providing outstanding youth from around the world with postgraduate study opportunities at Oxford.
“Oxford's position as a global melting pot of student backgrounds is what excites me most; meeting and learning from people I'd never have had the opportunity to otherwise,” was how Mabaso viewed the scholarship he landed.
He appreciated the significant strides made in combating the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“Mental health issues are increasingly common and manifest broadly. Although appreciably difficult, I believe great strength can be drawn from society opening up about mental health issues.”
It’s not surprising that Mabaso received the thumbs up from the Trust’s adjudicators who decided to award him the scholarship.
From his days at Kearsney, Mabaso has always been outstanding in the academic sphere.
In 2019, Mabaso and a colleague, Dr Stefan van der Walt, published the largest study conducted on depression and anxiety in South African medical students.
He also achieved his primary medical degree (MBChB) cum laude (with distinction) from UCT.
Mabaso speaks four languages (English, isiZulu, iXhosa and Afrikaans) and is presently sharpening his German, draws beautifully – some of his creations were at an exhibition jointly hosted by UCT and the Cape Heart Institute in 2017 – and his photographic work was exhibited recently.
Apart from his stellar exploits in Kearsney classrooms and sports fields, Mabaso also has a singing voice.
He was one of the leaders of his school’s ensemble of singers at the 2012 World Choir Games, held in the US, that were crowned champions.
“Funnily, I never figured I had an amazing voice myself but I've found that creative artistic expression in any medium is a great outlet for me.”
Mabaso singled out “focus and balance” to be key contributors to his successes thus far.
“Finding a passion is transformative and I would encourage any young person not to ignore what makes them tick.”
He was grateful for his parents’ role in his life’s accomplishments, especially his career choice.
“Growing up in a home with two medical parents – father Dr Themba Mabaso and mother Professor Ncoza Dlova – provided additional insight in this chosen field.”
“Their influence triggered my curiosity to understand the inner workings of the human body and its processes,” he said.
“My mother is a leader and trailblazer in her field of dermatology and was the first black African female dean and full professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school, so it has been a privilege to learn from her.
“My father’s guidance that there will always be someone better than oneself, fostered in me a healthy self-concept and reinforced the values of internal motivation.”
Mabaso also acknowledged how Kearsney helped forge his own identity.
“It was an experience that gifted me the resilience I’ll need to rise to life’s challenges.”
Elwyn van den Aardweg, Kearsney’s headmaster indicated that Mabaso, who matriculated in 2013, was their fourth “Rhodes” scholar.
Gavin Williams who matriculated in 1960, David Polkinghorne (1980) and Alex von Klemperer (2006) were the others.
“The College is exceptionally proud to have had two boys in recent years receiving this prestigious honour,” said van den Aardweg.
Mabaso is presently completing his second year of medical internship at a Pietermaritzburg hospital and will begin his community service in January, before the Oxford move.