“I think I would feel like I have arrived when I know more about how African traditional diets can be used in disease prevention and treatment, are incorporated into modern nutrition messages and food systems and markets we live in…” Hlombekazi Mfono

We at Sci4Ubuntu had the opportunity to interview Hlombekazi Mfono (HM) – who has a Masters in Dietetics amongst other post-graduate qualifications from various universities across the country. Hlombekazi is a member of the Association of Dietitians of South Africa. She is also a researcher and lecturer at Nelson Mandela University. Below is her interview with Cleopatra Dube (CD)


Greetings sis’ Hlombe. Thank you for granting me the opportunity of interviewing you and getting your life’s story. Without wasting anytime, let us get to the interview.

(CD): Who is Hlombe and what makes her the person she is? Give your life’s background. Where and when you were born, where did you go to school, etc.

(HM) I am Zitandile Hlombekazi Mfono, born in Engcobo, All saints’ hospital in 1981. In 1983 my family moved to eGcuwa, Butterworth, where I grew up and went to school.  I started my primary schooling at Langalethu J.S.S. and completed my matric at Butterworth High School. What makes me? Is me! I am unique in my personhood, identity, by purpose and by design.


(CD): How has your educational journey been? Giving details of the challenges you’ve gone through, endured and overcame.

(HM): I have had some difficulties and success in my education. I had a primary school English teacher who saw my love for books and reading and encouraged me to read. At the age of 11, I asked my mom to open a library membership for me and the love for reading flourished.  I changed schools in high school, had to learn a new language (Afrikaans) and I was failing maths. My mom could not find a suitable tutor for me for maths, and I was almost in despair about passing my matric. For the first time I wondered about my future, until I was encouraged by my church youth group to pray work hard and trust God. At the time, we had a great maths teacher, he gave us maths study-guides and I worked with them diligently with a friend who was in my class, who was also my neighbour. Moreover, in Grade 11 things started to turn around. In matric I passed well, and obtained two A’s and my matric exemption I was ecstatic and despite the lack of a bursary for my university degree, I knew with God I would make it.  


(CD): What did you study?

(HM): I studied BSc in Dietetics with a further Post-Graduate Diploma in the same field (UNP), Post-graduate diploma in Marketing management (UNISA), and I have recently obtained a Master of Public Health degree from UKZN.


(CD): What is Dietetics?

(HM): Dietetics is the application of the science of human nutrition in health, disease prevention and treatment of certain nutrition related conditions in the human body.


(CD): When did your love for it develop?

(HM): I loved biology, it was my favourite subject, my mom was a nurse and I used to read her medical journals when I was in high school. That is where I read about what dietitians do, and the day I read that, I knew I wanted to be a dietitian. I was in standard six.


(CD): Why did you choose to study it?

(HM): I wanted to learn about how the food we eat interacts with our body, and how we can use that to stay healthy and help those who are sick to get better.


(CD): Here at Nelson Mandela University it was introduced 4years ago. Did you do it in your undergraduate and honours studies if not, what did you do?

(HM): I studied at the University of Natal and graduated in 2003, many years before it was offered here.


(CD): A lot of people speak of post M/PhD depression. Did you also go through it?

(HM) Not really, it was more common to experience these feelings of despair when I was trying to complete my Master’s research and I was having difficulties.


(CD): What are you doing now and why that specific work and/or research?

(HM): I am currently working on developing my research topic for my PhD; I also lecture first and second year Dietetics students for their nutrition modules.


(CD): Now that we know the kind of work you do, please tell us how your day starts and how does it conclude?

(HM): My day starts and ends with a quiet time of prayer, and in between I am doing lecture preparation, managing my students practical work, coordinating learning activities and doing administration associated with my work.


(CD): What are the challenges you are facing as a young black female in your sphere/industry?

(HM):  There are many opportunities available for developing young black researchers but often because you are committed to a job that you need for income, you cannot explore outside of your 9-5 job and even though you want to grow as a young black female researcher, you may find you do not have much time for this.


(CD): How do you deal with the demotivating institutional barriers set up by hundreds of years of the exclusion of black people and females in the field of Sciences?

(HM): One cannot recover the past and as black professionals we often have to do more to prove ourselves and push ourselves harder to achieve and often in environments that may be difficult. I do not feel sorry for myself, I know my value and I have overcome the need to prove myself to someone. I push myself for my own progress, for growth and to improve the situation for all who may come after me in this field.


(CD): Do you have any mantra? If so, what it is? What keeps you pushing even through the hardest of hardships and obstacles?

(HM): Not really, I pray, as I breathe in and breathe out. In Psalm 23:3a, David said of God, “He restores my soul”.


(CD): What are your aims, goals and aspirations for and with this specific work you are doing? As the young generation says, when will you say “I have made it in life, I have arrived”?

(HM): I think I would feel like I have arrived when I know more about how African traditional diets can be used in disease prevention and treatment, are incorporated into modern nutrition messages and food systems and markets we live in. I am an aspiring researcher and academic scholar, one who asks questions and is committed to learning that translates to transformation and development of our society.


(CD): Are you involved in any community projects and if so, what are they?

(HM): In my capacity as a lecturer and academic, we incorporate community work into our modules where with each group of students we have a project we work with in the community, currently we’ve done work with day-care centres in [the] Walmer Township, Zwide and kwaZakhele. We train staff on child nutrition, food sanitation and safety and many other nutrition related activities. We also work with old-age homes and the university outreach program, Zanempilo, where we do nutrition screening, nutrition awareness and cooking demonstrations; we run promotions of healthy lifestyles for student through campus health campaigns (student driven) and as member of the Association of Dietitians of South Africa I also speak on radio programs or community events on invitation about nutrition related topics they may request. 


(CD): What do you have to say to the young black female learners still in primary and high school, and those who are facing hardships in higher institutions of learning pursuing different career paths and are met with challenges and obstacles (some similar to yours)?

(HM): Your education is one thing no one can take away from you, invest in it, find help where you are struggling and never give up on your dreams, even if the situation is not conducive. Do what you can, until you can do what you want.


(CD): A lot of people, including high scholars who need to apply for varsity, do not know about dietetics. In closing; What do you think can be done to increase awareness about it, especially to disadvantaged communities?

(HM): Seeing more dietitians working in the community and making a difference in people’s lives; doing more to encourage and support learners in maths and science and having career days where the University can assist in promoting the different programs which are not well known, such as dietetics.