“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”

That powerful quote by Martin Luther King Jr has been a guiding light for Integrity Icon 2019 winner Sakhile Nkosi. 

The award-winning audiologist was in conversation with his friend and fellow audiologist, Vera-Genevey Hlayisi, for the second installment of Accountability Lab South Africa’s “Meet the Icon” sessions. The virtual meet-up took place on 17 September 2020 – right in the middle of Hearing Awareness month. 

Hlayisi noted that “sign language is being officiated into the 13th official language in South Africa,” which she said was a huge recognition for the community from the highest office in the land.

The conversation was littered with inspiring moments, as Nkosi and Hlayisi exchanged anecdotes and life lessons. It offered attendees an opportunity to ask questions and consider a career in ethical civil service. 

Nkosi is a senior audiologist in clinical practice at a district rural hospital in Mpumalanga, which provides audiology services to a large catchment area. Hlayisi, at 28, is the youngest black female doctoral researcher and lecturer in Audiology at the University of Cape Town. She has  received multiple awards for her excellence in her contribution to audiology specifically and healthcare in South Africa.

But for both these impressive and decorated individuals, humility is key. 

But Nkosi didn’t even know what an audiologist was when he was younger. However, he remembered growing up alongside a child who was deaf. He found it fascinating how the child used sign language, and lived a perfectly full life. Later, in matric, he went on a vocational tour at a hospital and audiology grabbed him.

Responding to audience questions, Nkosi tackled the issue on every medical student’s mind as they near graduation: community service. Despite the tough challenges of this period in a student’s life, he said it taught him that patience was key when it comes to effecting change. With his trademark grin, Nkosi noted that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

He would know. When Nkosi first came to work in rural Mpumalanga and was not assigned a supervisor when he first arrived, it forced him to figure out for himself how to remain professional and ethical, despite a lack of experience and supervision.

Before Nkosi arrived, there were absolutely no audiologist services in the state hospital facilities, and only one audiologist in the private sector. 

In government, budgets are limited, but Nkosi went above and beyond the call of duty, to the extent of collaborating with universities, and hearing aid companies that helped the community by donating hearing devices to patients treated at the hospital.

It all comes out of his passion for what he does – and the sheer joy of helping someone to hear well. 

Now that is true greatness.