WATCH: Women take the lead at UKZN’s Autumn Graduation

Published Jun 14, 2023


The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) conferred degrees on thousands of students who received their hard-earned qualifications during the 2023 Autumn Graduation ceremonies that took place in May.

The university awarded 9 363 graduands with their respective qualifications. Of this total, 65% were women; consisting of 6 564 graduates, 2 799 postgraduates, as well as 626 Master’s and 276 Doctoral graduands. The university also celebrated the achievements of 101 graduands with disabilities.

Top academic achievements included 158 summa cum laude and 444 cum laude graduands who completed their studies with distinction.

Honours graduate overcomes tragedy and earns cum laude

Thembelihle Cele (22) was in the final year of her Bachelor of Medical Science in Clinical Anatomy when she lost her father. Her world nearly crumbled, as he was the breadwinner back home in the rural community of Oshabani in the Ugu District where she grew up. As devastating as it was, Cele used this tragedy as motivation to study even harder. Today, she is overjoyed to have graduated with her Medical Sciences Honours in Human Anatomy cum laude from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

“Graduating cum laude has been my dream since my undergraduate degree,” said Cele. “It is a dream come true - and a drive to do more in my Master’s that I am currently enrolled for. I am very excited and proud. I dream of becoming one of the best anatomy lecturers and researchers in the world, and this is what pushed me to study hard.”

Cele received funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and a basic income from working as a demonstrator in the Department of Clinical Anatomy at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.

Thembelihle Cele is overjoyed to have graduated with her Medical Sciences Honours in Human Anatomy cum laude from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

Her honours project, “Craniofacial Form and Masseter Muscle Anatomy in Relation to Sex: a Radiographical and Cadaveric Study”, focused on the growth of masseter muscle (which is found in the cheek region of the face) in relation to the growth of related bones. The study is significant for surgical procedures on the face, such as the masseter Botox procedure. It is also forensically significant in forensic facial reconstruction, a procedure to recreate the face of a deceased individual from their skeletal remains for easy identification by family members.

The abstract of Cele’s study has been accepted by the Anatomical Society of Southern Africa for an oral presentation at its international symposium in August this year.

Fully funded by the NRF, her Master’s research focuses on the cavernous sinus (a network of veins known as the dural venous sinuses located on the sphenoid bone of the head) tributaries, their morphological variations and drainage patterns. The study will also investigate the neurovascular structures related to the cavernous sinus. “The study is surgically important in the treatment of the trigeminal neuroglia and in the endovascular embolisation procedure, which is performed in the cavernous sinus in an attempt to remove any blood clots or tumours that may be found in the cavernous sinus caused by an infection in the face or orbit (called cellulitis),” she explained.

“My family is very proud of what I have achieved since I enrolled at UKZN, as well as of my continued dedication to succeed in the field of academia and research. I am grateful for their consistent support of my studies and their respect for my decision to not go into the field to look for work, but to stay in school and pursue my studies. They know that for me, a PhD is the end goal.

“In future, I see myself as one of the top young neuroscientists in South Africa and abroad, leading a research team in neuroanatomy and neurosurgery. After my Master’s degree, I hope to obtain a position as an anatomy lecturer at a South African university.”

When not hard at work, Cele loves reading and writing. She is a musician, singer and songwriter, who describes herself as an emerging gospel singer.