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A Tribute to Dr Sindi: South Africa's Duchess of Healing, Love and Kindness

A Tribute to Dr Sindi: South Africa's Duchess of Healing, Love and Kindness

The most sincere way to honour Dr Sindi van Zyl's legacy is to pay her kindness forward in exactly the way she did.

South Africans were recently reminded, yet again, of just how much the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to rob us of our loved ones. Dr Sindi van Zyl, beloved medical doctor, social media darling and Kaya FM radio host, succumbed to COVID-19 complications on April 10 after battling the disease for two months in hospital. And while South Africans, and some of her favourite brands, had collectively rallied to raise funds for Dr Sindi's medical costs, the outcome was everything we hoped it would not be.


Dr Sindi's life was commemorated at a private funeral service held on Thursday, 15 April. What really stands out about her life and the legacy she now leaves behind is her boundless kindness. Her actions constantly reminded us how we can all use social media and online platforms to extend kindness, love and compassion at a time when cyberbullying is often the order of the day. Coupled with the glum reality that mental illness continues to be on the increase globally, practising kindness online becomes incredibly significant at a time when most of us are spending a good portion of our time online — while simultaneously battling either acute or chronic assaults on our mental wellbeing.

But while the online space certainly has its pitfalls, Dr Sindi brought about an experience that was quite the opposite. She was exemplary in her interactions with others, her constant desire to help, support, inform and equally learn. She was, and will remain, an embodiment of American novelist James Baldwin's words, "The world is kept together, really it is held together, by the love and passion of a very few people."

"You could hear the pain in Sindi's voice when she spoke about injustice and suffering," says longtime friend Lerato Mogoatlhe. She adds, "As a result of her work, these subjects were very close to her heart. Yet, her eyes didn't lose their light. She would always want to inspire hope. Some of the stories writer Es'kia Mphahlele tells in Afrika My Music: An Autobiography include explaining that the title of Senegalese author Ousmane Sembène's 1960 novel, God's Bits of Wood, hinted at something bigger than the individual — an accountability of sorts or a moral significance. That explanation instantly reminded me of Sindi. For me, the phrase 'Moral Significance' is an apt summary of Sindi's life and legacy."

Tsholo Maluleke, executive producer at Kaya FM and a close colleague, echoes Mogoatlhe's sentiments. "Dr Sindi's passion for life is what I imagine kept her going. She was very intentional about the spaces she was in and the experiences she had because she genuinely wanted to participate fully in life."

Beyond the online space, Dr Sindi's love for people is what underpinned her love for medicine. She shared endless medical advice online, crafting thread after thread of informational tidbits that may otherwise never have reached ordinary people. Dr Sindi was a fierce advocate for increased awareness about mental illness, mental health and often shared her own experiences about battling depression after her mother passed away. It is her own humanness and ability to be vulnerable that endeared her, especially, with her patients.

"Dr Sindi became my GP over three years ago, but little did I know that she would touch and change my life forever," says Lelo Mayisela, both a friend and patient of the late doctor. "We had so many WhatsApp conversations in which we would curse and tell COVID-19 to go away [chuckles]. After all that, I still can't believe that COVID-19 claimed her life. Dr. Sindi van Zyl wasn't only a medical doctor, but a mother and heroine to so many of us."

In continuing the legacy she now leaves behind, paying kindness forward in exactly the way she did is perhaps the most genuine way to honour Dr Sindi. "Dr Sindi impacted so many of us in different ways, with a common thread of being a helping hand and extending herself. The best honour to her would be to take her practice of making time for people, sharing experiences, being kind on and offline," shares Maluleke.

Rest in perfect peace to the girl who loved God, Google, Woolies and LV.

In honour of Dr Sindi's memory, and with the help of her friends, we have put together a list of some of her favourite songs. May she continue to live on in our hearts and on our playlists.

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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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