Due to peer pressure, Dr Manduleli Bikitsha (60) worked in a mine before becoming a general practitioner in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Through sheer determination, this doctor found his happy place in his consulting rooms well into his thirties.
Bikitsha was born in the kuGatyane district in the Eastern Cape and relocated to the Fort Malan to be closer to schools when he was seven. “Farming was fundamental to my family, both for rearing livestock and for cultivating food in the fields,” he says.
Mines before medicine
“Because I grew up in a chieftainship, I did not have any special rights or privileges in my society, nor were we modernised. Instead, we followed all of our community’s practices.”
He attended the Fort Malan Junior Secondary School and then transferred to Fort Malan Senior Secondary School, until he dropped out of school in grade 11 and moved to Johannesburg to work in the mines. “Peer pressure influenced me, which is why I dropped out to work in the East Rand Property Mines in Gauteng,” he says.
Bikitsha adds that his grade 11 qualification helped him secure work as a clerk in a mine in 1983. While working there, he gathered his thoughts and applied for a night school to finish his grade 12.
“I enrolled at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic School, starting with three subjects. Studying at night, I completed them and enrolled for the remaining three subjects before passing matric with an exemption in 1985.”
The pursuit of a dream is where devotion begins
Bikitsha worked at a mine for three years until he finished his matric. In 1986, he enrolled at the University of Transkei (Unitra) for a bachelor of science degree and in 1989, Bikitsha completed a higher education diploma in education during his fourth year of study.
“I began teaching in 1990 and 1991 as a biology and science teacher at Clark Barry High School. In 1992, I was a teacher at Butterworth College, where I trained students pursuing a teacher’s diploma.”
His interest in medicine took shape in 1992. The next year, he resigned from Butterworth College and enrolled in medical school at Medunsa.
He says because of his B.Sc. from Unitra, he was exempt from course 1 in Medunsa and as a result, immediately kicked off with course 2.
Living his medicine dream
Bikitsha began his internship at the Cecilia Makhiwane hospital in East London in 1998. A year later he did his community service at the Cecelia Makhiwane and Frere Hospital in East London.
“The concept of opening a private practice hit me when I was performing community service. I was convinced that being a private practice doctor is lucrative and subsequently resigned on May 20, 2000.”
While performing community service, he would drive from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town in order to work as a locum for the physicians. It was during this stint when he realised that working in the Mother City was a real possibility.
“On July 27, 2000, I began my practise in Khayelitsha. This property was formerly a two-room phone shop, but I transformed it into the building I desired and ultimately purchased the property. This implies that I worked hard and waited my turn for nearly all I have accomplished as a doctor.”
Bikitsha says he began studying medicine when he was 32 years old and completed it when he was 36 years old. However, he was unable to choose a specialty due to his age and the death of his father during his second year of B.Sc. studies at Unitra in 1988.
Juggling chieftaincy and medicine
As the oldest child, he was instructed to take on the role of chief following his father’s death. He explains that as much as he believes in and enjoys being a chief, he had to allow a family to select an acting chief, someone who would lead in his absence.
“I’m an educated chief who is far from home. My representative is the wife of my brother right now. I do schedule time for crucial meetings, some of which I do virtually. I believe that traditional leading can take place in a modern world.”
Bikitsha is not only a doctor and chief, but also the author of a historical book titled AmaMfengu, which came out in May 2019.
He also holds an MBA from Regent Business School, and an H.D.E from the University of Transkei.
Bikitsha stresses the importance of African identity and history, saying that if our history is set in stone, our children will be able to keep it and pass it on to future generations.
According to Bikitsha, who wrote the book to clear up the situation, the conflict and understanding of AbaMbo and AmaMfengu history have been talked about on a national level.
“Some people feel insulted when they are called AmaMfengu, but it is important that we know where we came from, and who we are. Our children should read books written by us about our identities and history.”