Herding sheep in the Eastern Cape Highlands of Engcobo, Dr Lindikhaya Bam (66) never imagined he would one day be a medical doctor. Given the political climate in his childhood days, opportunities were scarce for black South Africans, he recalls.
“We were not aware of oppression at all. For example, we would begin the day with ploughing in the early hours of the morning and return to school, where we’d finish the day by caring for our livestock,” he tells Health For Mzansi.
Today, Bam is a general practitioner in the Cape Town township of Gugulethu.
He describes himself as the product of the Bantu education system. He was six years old when he enrolled at Bashee P.J.S Primary School although, at the time, he was legally only allowed to attend school from eight onwards.
Schooling facilities were dilapidated, and classrooms understaffed, Bam remembers.
The lack of staff was severe. He recalls that his grade one teacher, Yoyo Xuza from Mthata, was responsible for teaching three classes and even acted as school principal. “In one classroom one grade would be in one corner, another [grade] in another [corner].”
Growing up with just one parent
Bam is the firstborn of four siblings and the son of the late Nothozamile-Kuku Bam, a homemaker, and Elias Bam who worked as a general worker at a dairy firm in Atlantis, Cape Town.
At the time, fathers would often travel far in search of work opportunities to support their families in rural villages. He grew up in a household headed by his mother.
In 1976, Bam enrolled at the St. Bartholomew’s Senior Secondary School in Qumbu. He had no family in the town, but it was common practice for learners to be placed with strange families. He was fortunate enough to be assigned to the Zongwana family whom he considers to be his family to this day.
Limited career options
Political leaders like advocate Loyiso Mpumlwana, Steve Biko, and other black consciousness leaders helped secondary school learners, like Bam, to seek financial aid for their studies and future employment.
At the time, a black child could only dream of becoming a teacher, nurse of police officer, he recalls. Bam was among 60 pupils to be chosen in the Transkei education system. “There was a lot we didn’t understand at the time, such as the necessity of having a role model, and our options were restricted.”
After matriculating at St John’s, he studied towards a B.Sc. degree at the University of Fort Hare and from later also Medunsa in Pretoria where he studied medicine in the early 80s.
It takes a village…
Bam started his journey into medical practice at the KwaLanga Day Hospital in 1986, and then a clinic in Khayelitsha site B. In that year, he would also work at other hospitals in Hanover Park and Atlantis. He has also been involved in the care of initiates and worked at clinics for tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections in the Western Cape.
In 1987, he started a private practice after a stint at the Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha. “A chance to work at Livingston Hospital arose the same year, and I seized it. When I returned in 1990, I was already certain that I wanted to work for myself.
“In the collaboration of Dr Sitsubi, Dr August, and Dr Songca I joined a doctor’s partnership, which we titled Dr Songca and Partners. As a result, we had surgeries in Langa, Gugulethu, and Khayelitsha.”
Dr Songca and Partners operated from 1990 to 2000 whereafter Bam started his own practice in Gugulethu.
It is no secret that doctors often take on the role of detective, psychologist, social worker and even life coach. It is their humanity that makes the best doctors, believes Bam.
“Medicine is not for the faint of heart. Just because people are impoverished does not mean it will eat them alone, and there is more to it than that. Medicine requires patience and attention.”
Bam is the father of four children and husband to Matsidiso. “You know what happens when you get married at an old age,” he laughs.