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Doctor, poet and FMHS alumnus Dr Wandile Ganya publishes debut novel
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications – Tyrone August
Published: 18/04/2024

Dr Wandile Ganya's long list of achievements bears testimony to his creative and intellectual energy. He was still in the final year of his MBChB at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) in 2015 when he published a poetry collection.

This was followed, two years later, by a second poetry collection while doing his internship at Ngwelezana Hospital in Empangeni. And now, while he is completing a four-year course in internal medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT), his first novel will be coming out. 

Ganya's debut novel, The Shame of Imperfection, reflects his constant desire to engage with complex ideas and issues. “The novel is a story about disillusionment and what happens when that sets forth," he explains. 

This takes place on two fronts: on one level, the novel is about romantic love; on another level, it is about religious belief. “It is about what happens when one takes away the certitude of belief in a deity or romantic love," he says. 

To make such an already complex enquiry even more challenging, the novel is set during the decades-long Cape Frontier Wars between the British Empire and the Xhosa kingdom which started in the late eighteenth century. 

“I was interested in looking into the initial ingress of the European colonialists in South Africa and reading around people like Tiyo Soga and their lives, so the theme of the book and its historical period came naturally," he recounts. 

“It was interesting to try to imagine the experiences of black Africans at that initial point of encounter – what sort of questions they were grappling with. It is not at all a historically factual novel, but it's really my re-imagination and interpretation of the ingress of Christianity and European colonialism. And, within that admixture, I've always wanted to write a romantic novel." 

Ganya employed a combination of notes, letters and meditations to tell his story: “Letter writing better captures the spirit of that age and allows for a more meditative form of writing." This format also enabled him to closely follow and explore the story of one character. 

Yet, despite the more expansive format of the novel, poetry remains close to his heart. He was introduced to isiXhosa poetry by his mother during his childhood in Khayelitsha and later to English poetry by a local high school teacher. 

“And so the journey continues," he says. “Poetry gives you the ability to explore human expression and reach the very depths of the human condition." His reflections were published as Divine Interspace (2015) and A Dark Wood: Poetical Sketches on Life & Being in the World (2017). 

Despite Ganya's love for creative writing, he remains highly committed to his medical career and started his training in internal medicine at UCT's Department of Medicine in September 2020. “What really appeals to me is the complexity of the field," he says. “I enjoy working through complicated ideas or, in this case, difficult clinical scenarios and finding solutions." 

He plans to eventually do cardiology: “Cardiology is the heart of medicine. Its seeming complexity betrays a divine elegance." 

Ganya looks back at his time as a medical student at Stellenbosch University with fond memories. He found the FMHS very supportive – from the financial aid department to the course convenors. “Coming from Khayelitsha, that was of great help," he recalls. 

It also helped that his twin brother, Wanele, was with him every step of the way and they graduated at the same time. “It was fun," he says, and adds mischievously. “It's always been great to have him as a permanent support system – whether he likes it or not." 

They jointly received the Rector's Award for Succeeding Against the Odds. Ganya still treasures the advice of Prof Russell Botman, who was then the Rector. “In his words of encouragement to us, he emphasised the necessity of working hard and being excellent in all we do," he says. “That still remains with me to this day." 

He affectionately recalls a conversation with then FMHS Dean Prof Jimmy Volmink as well: “He echoed this idea that, whatever the circumstances, always maintain the idea of being excellent." 

Ganya retains an association with the Faculty as a part-time lecturer in bioethics at the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law. “There's great value in practical philosophy," says Ganya, who completed a certificate of philosophy under Prof Anton van Niekerk, then the director of Stellenbosch University's Centre for Applied Ethics, in 2014. “If one does not have the right orientation to questions of right or wrong, or the right techniques to interrogate questions of such magnitude, then one is lost." 

Despite the many demands of a life of intellectual engagement, he somehow still finds time to paint. While doing his community service at Knysna Provincial Hospital in 2018, he enrolled in a course with the artist Leon Vermeulen, who introduced him to charcoal. 

Ganya mainly sketches portraits these days. “I have this great affinity for human expression or facial expression," he confides. He is clearly fascinated by human beings – both in their minds and in their bodies. 

Yet, even more than an insatiable quest for knowledge and an irrepressible desire to express his creativity, Ganya derives his appetite for life from his parents, Sylvia and Michael. “My motivation comes from observing their hard work and their enduring sense of purpose," he says. 

These attributes are reflected clearly and abundantly in his own life and work.


The book launch for The Shame of Imperfection will be held on Thursday 2 May from 18:30-19:00 at Exclusive Books, V&A Waterfront.