South Africa

OBITUARY

Health activist, the people’s doctor, Sindi van Zyl ‘gave us a light to look up to’ 

Dr Sindi Van Zyl on August 10, 2019 in Sandton, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

Johannesburg-based medical doctor and radio host Dr Sindi van Zyl, 45, succumbed to a Covid-19 related illness on 10 April after a two-month battle with the virus while in hospital. 

The family of Dr Sindi van Zyl confirmed the news of her death in a statement published through her former employer, Kaya FM on the morning of Saturday 10 April. 

Van Zyl was diagnosed with Covid-19 at the beginning of the year and later hospitalised in February due to trouble breathing, and had been on a ventilator ever since. 

She was an HIV-clinician with a private practice at the Arwyp Medical Centre in Kempton Park. 

She was constantly active on social media no matter the hour of the day, responding to people’s medical questions. Twitter was her secondary practice. She was known for her unconventional use of social media to raise awareness and share free life-saving medical advice about HIV, mental health and pregnancy, among other issues. 

She has been remembered by many on Twitter as a generous, selfless and kind person who dedicated her life and practice to helping people regardless of whether they could afford her medical services or not. 

Sindi always offered support and great advice to educate those around her. Not only was she a beacon of love and light on her Kaya FM show Sidebar with Sindi and all her social media platforms, but she genuinely loved and gave endlessly to all she knew with grace and kindness. She modelled the love and grace that she knew in Jesus,” the Van Zyl family said in a statement. 

She had been a long-standing columnist for Bona magazine, writing a column called “Dear Dr Sindi”.

She became a public figure through her activism and Sidebar with Sindi, during which she discussed everything from mental health to sexuality.

Her openness to sharing her life’s highest and lowest moments on Twitter resonated with many who appreciated her honesty about life and all its ebbs and flows. 

On Sunday, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Doctor at DISA clinic and UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, told Daily Maverick:  “Where does one even begin to pay tribute to Dr Sindi van Zyl. It’s still unbelievable that she is no longer with us.

“Sindi touched many lives as a doctor, a colleague and as a friend to so many. We would be in regular contact regarding patient care and though we’d lament the lack of so many things in the public health system, Dr Sindi would do more than just that, she would assist her patients beyond the call of duty.

“A self-proclaimed ‘liker of things’, I might add ‘finer things’, we share a love for New York City and I got to spend time with her galavanting and expediting New York in one of the visits. I am so happy that she got to experience the magic of NYC and those happy memories of her, doing the things she loved, are what many of us will hold on to. Her biggest achievement and first love was being a mother. I hope that Dr Sindi’s children, husband and extended family are held in love and compassion at this difficult time.”

Van Zyl was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe after her mother moved from KwaZulu-Natal in 1974, two years before she would be born. 

Her father, Muchadeyi Masunda, is a well-known businessman and politician who was the mayor of Harare, elected in 2008. 

She studied for a BSc at the University of Pretoria which she completed in 1999 and commenced with her medical degree in 2000, after applying to the school of medicine almost every year during her BSc studies. 

As tributes continued to pour in on media platforms following news of her death, scores of Twitter users shared their “Dr Sindi story”. 

According to the author of the children’s book, Mpumi’s magic beads, Lebohang Masango, van Zyl and her two children supported her book from the beginning. 

“What I loved about her is how uncompromising she was about her happiness. She was so excited to be alive; to love, enjoy, be of service to others and pursue her dreams. She gave us a light to look up to,” she said in a tribute on Twitter. 

Renowned South-African screenwriter and actress Portia Gumede reflected on van Zyl’s love for free-flowing pocket dresses, colourful pots and champagne. 

Dr Sindi Van Zyl on October 17, 2019 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

“Her love for Krone used to get to me. She moved with pockets of love. She found a balance and knew spending too much time cooking was a life not fully lived but a kitchen with colourful pots was part of her joy. Her dresses with pockets were filled with compassion, love and kindness,” she wrote in various tweets. 

In a statement, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) described van Zyl’s death as a huge loss to the organisation, mental health and the country. 

“Dr Sindi was genuine, open and was a champion for mental health in all the work that she did. She helped shine a light on the mental health of healthcare workers by sharing her own personal journey with depression,” the statement read. 

While receiving a Glamour Women of the Year award for her excellence and activism in health and medicine, van Zyl said: “I sleep for a very short time and that’s how I am able to do the work that I do.” 

A week ago, her husband Marinus van Zyl started a fundraiser for van Zyl’s ballooning medical costs in the lead-up to her birthday. 

In a heartfelt letter, he detailed the family was struggling to keep up with the medical bills as it cost between R150 000 to R200 000 a week to keep his wife ventilated in ICU.

She had no medical aid when she was admitted to the hospital in February and according to her husband was reviewing a few before her illness. 

“The cost to the family of the hospital alone has already exceeded one million Rand, and we are running out of funds,” the letter said. “Hospital and other medical costs paid up until now have been approximately R1.5- million.”

The family needed R2-million to keep her in hospital and by Sunday 11 April, the Quicket fund, #GiftSindiLife, had raised more than R1-million. 

A giver herself, many people rallied behind the fundraiser and managed to influence brands that van Zyl loved and admired in her tweets, to make donations too. 

Woolworths and 1Life Insurance each donated R100 000, while DStv, Kaya FM and others also pledged undisclosed amounts.

She leaves behind her husband and children, Nandi and Manie van Zyl. 

The family said details of her memorial and funeral service will be confirmed at a later stage. DM

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]

 

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