Dr Phathokuhle Zondi Living Her Purpose

Dr Phathokuhle Zondi is working to leave a legacy that will inspire her two daughters to be purposeful and dynamic.

The multi-faceted doctor wears various caps, as she continues to break down barriers, living out her dream in the medical field.

The 2017 gsport Awards Ministerial Recognition recipient is a respected Sports and Exercise Physician who is passionate about using sport as a tool for social development and transformation.

Dr Zondi is experienced in clinical sports medicine, general management, and leadership. In 2016, she was appointed as CEO of the Sports Science Institute of SA (SSISA), completed her undergraduate medical degree at the University of Cape Town and later an MSc in Sports Medicine and MBA at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

She is the current Chairperson of the Medical Commission for the South African Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), a Director of the South African Institute for Drug Free Sports (SAIDS) and serves as a Trustee for the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players Fund. She is also a member and past President of the South African Sports Medicine Association.

Speaking to Celine Abrahams, Dr Zondi lets us in on what has fuelled her success, provides insights on how she lives her purpose, and tells us what motivates her.

Dr Phatho, your impressive list of achievements continues to grow. How does it feel to know that you have managed to achieve all that you have in your career so far?

I view these as roles I have played rather than achievements. Achievements are what happen while in those roles when you make progress that benefits the organisation or people it serves. That said, I have been privileged to serve in each of these roles and, yes, make progress while in them. I have been challenged and inspired. I have met wonderful people with whom I have laughed and learned. I have experienced considerable personal and professional growth and for this, I am extremely grateful.

Apart from your job you are also a mother. How have you been able to make sure that you are there for your family but also fulfil your dreams?

Let me first admit that it is imperfect, testing and a daily juggle – but, being the best version of myself is the only way I know how to parent my girls. For me, this includes pursuing my purpose, and finding time to do things that make me happy. It is tapping into all the things that excite me – at different times and in different measures – and inviting my family to be part of the experience so they are not left on the outside feeling excluded.

As an example, when I started cycling, I upgraded my four-year-old daughter’s bike, got her off training wheels, and we started going to the bike park together for skills coaching. It is become a big chapter in my life, but she is also part of that chapter and we both love it. I cannot wait until she is old enough to go on outrides in the mountain with me! Importantly, I also have a good support network and I use it. I feel that being multi-faceted is good example to my daughters who I dream will grow up to be purposeful, dynamic and joyful.

Growing up did you always dream about getting into the medical field?

I did. I was always curious about the human body and interested in medicine. I have also always had a deep love for sport since childhood, so discovering Sports Medicine as a speciality was perfectly opportune. I have never looked back.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job over the years?

There have been so many incredible moments in this journey – travelling the world, winning competitions after months/years of work, and being in teams driving purposeful change. But perhaps the most meaningful aspect is knowing that I have contributed to the success of others – the Olympic medallists and the everyday people whose lives are physically/emotionally/financially better because of my interaction with them.

All that you have managed to achieve did not come by chance as you had to put in the hard work. What has that been like?

It involves great commitment, sacrifice and a deep passion for what you do. But I have loved it (mostly). I have become more selective in the things I agree to do – which means that most of my commitments are aligned to my values or life purpose. Because of this, it is easy to immerse myself in the process and work required because I enjoy it or feel connected to the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve.

I am grateful that my family gave me a solid foundation from which to launch into adulthood and remain fully supportive. The tribe of family and friends have given me wings on the journey – they have boosted me when morale was down, provided valuable perspective along the way, and celebrated the big and small wins with me.

What motivates you to keep going even on those bad days?

Remembering why I am doing it in the first place – the reason I said yes and a big dose of perspective. When things seem bad, they can always be worse. It is also always important to remind yourself of the progress you have made despite the setback. And finally, even when things seem bad, you need to remind yourself of the many other reasons you must be thankful. I was taught the song “count your blessings name them one by one.”

Currently we are faced with the global coronavirus pandemic. How are you playing your part?

As an organisation, the Sports Science Institute of South Africa has been proactive in introducing health and safety measures to prevent and contain the spread of COVID19 within our environment. We have also used our platforms to share credible information about the pandemic and we have created significant volumes of content to help individuals stay active, mentally resilient, and physically healthy during this period.

For athletes, this period could have a negative impact on their mental stability. What advice would you give to them to remain in a positive state of mind?

  • Accept the circumstances as they are and let go of what was meant to be (in terms of competition and training)
  • Create a new routine that accommodates the current circumstances. Ask your coach/trainer for a home-based training programme
  • Set new goals to keep yourself motivated. These could be daily or weekly training related targets.
  • Stay connected to the people (friends and family) and practices (prayer, medication, singing) that anchor you.
  • Ask for help if you are struggling! You are never alone.

You are a former gsport Ministerial award recipient and as a woman noted in the history of the gsport Awards, what are your views on the initiative?

For me it is more than an initiative – gsport is a movement and a phenomenal one at that. It is so important to create platforms that not only celebrate progress but, importantly, also build networks that have the potential to amplify impact. It is encouraging to see corporates coming on board to support this movement so that it can be sustained and strengthened.

Why do you think that it is important for women to celebrate one another?

There is no reason to feel threatened by another’s success. To the contrary, we should be inspired by this – if they can do it so can I – that is a reason to celebrate! There is an African proverb that reads, “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”

We will go further if we work towards a common goal that is bigger than any individual. We should lift each other up and celebrate when this results in success.

You have also shown your generosity as you participate in sport for charity. When and why did you start to give back?

For as long as I remember, both my parents have been active in community projects and consciously dedicated time to charitable causes. They often involved us in these projects. There is an unmatched sense of fulfilment one feels when doing something without expecting anything in return or for someone who least expected it. It humbles and inspires you simultaneously. I feel I could be do more of this.

What are you still aiming to achieve in the future?

Many more quality experiences with my family! That is the one of the positives of this lockdown – a reminder that the small things are the big things. In terms of career, I want to do more for more people and specifically have a greater impact at grass root level. I have not figured out timing and even how, but I do know that is where my heart is pulling me.



Photo 1 Caption: Dr Phathokuhle Zondi hopes to leave a legacy that will inspire her two daughters to be purposeful and dynamic as the multi-faceted doctor continues to break down barriers wearing various caps and living out her dream in the medical field as she chats to Celine Abrahams. Photo: Phathokuhle Zondi (Instagram)
Photo 2 Caption: Dr Phathokuhle Zondi on the gsport Awards stage receiving the 2017 Ministerial Recognition Award for her outstanding work for developing and mentoring young women. Photo: gsport


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