NWU’s Dr Sweetness had to face a lot of sour

It took only a few seconds for her to lose weeks of her life. After her Toyota Yaris had crashed head-on into a bakkie, she was trapped in a cocoon of unconsciousness and when she awoke her world had irrevocably changed. Torturous years of rehabilitation were to follow. Initially she was forgetful, frightened, frantically searching and frequently failing to find a coherent memory. Now, Dr Sweetness Beteck, who received her PhD in Human Movement Science from the North-West University (NWU) on 23 June, no longer has to look back on her road of recovery, but to the path of opportunity that lays ahead.

The accident happened during the June holidays of her honours-degree year as she was driving back from her parental home in Mbombela to the NWU. Someone who saw her in the direct aftermath of the crash told her that her head had swollen beyond recognition.

“I was in a coma for three weeks. I cannot really remember anything. After I woke up I had amnesia. I knew who I was, but I was in a different timeframe. By that time in my life my father had already passed away, but I believed he was still alive. I thought Thabo Mbeki was president and not Jacob Zuma. I was confusing things, I was misunderstanding information. I thought I had already obtained my PhD in Biokinetics. I even believed I was a general in the military!” she exclaims without a hint of melancholy.

Although she woke from the longest of slumbers – and found herself in a fantasy world – her dream that started as a young girl seemed to have been derailed.

While growing up she had been part of a group called Children of Peace, and together they would dance the afternoons and weekends away. She remembers this time fondly, as she does the mentoring role she used to play for a girl in her local neighbourhood.

“I think you learn more by teaching others,” explains the soon-to-be 40-year-old. Then there were her twin brothers who are almost a decade her junior. “My passion for exercising and giving instructions comes from them,” she laughs. “We used to exercise in our garage at home. That was fun,” she recalls.

“When I was in matric, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) came to our school to market possible positions in the military. They said they needed professionals, people who were willing to go and study, especially maths and the science fields. They gave out bursary forms, and I applied.” Her journey to the NWU had begun.

She enrolled for her BSc degree at the NWU in 2005 as part of the special Mildent programme to ensure inclusivity in the biokinetics profession. She obtained her BSc degree in Human Movement Sciences, followed by her BSc Honours in Biokinetics. In 2011 she enrolled for the MSc in Biokinetics, and she was appointed as a biokineticist for the SANDF in 2012. In 2015 she was promoted to senior biokineticist and has been the chief biokineticist for the South African Military Health Services in North West since 2021.

But, even before that, her calling beckoned due to her compassion for her loved ones.

Diabetes runs rife in her family. “I grew up seeing how my late godmother (with whom she lived for many years as a child) received insulin injections, a lot of my close relatives have diabetes and now I am seeing how my mom is receiving diabetes injections.”

She pauses, digging through her memory to the roots of where her vocation started.

“I always thought I would grow up to become a nurse and help with the injections.”

That was not to be. She realised that a lack of education on the health benefits of exercise and good nutrition was severely affecting the lives of not only her family, but also of the community that she holds dear.

“I am passionate about helping people and helping people to lead better lives. To live quality lives. That has influenced my studies from the very beginning.”

As she grew into becoming a sought-after biokineticist, it struck her again: “I had so many patients from other ethnicities, but so few black Africans. I know our people need this, but they are not exercising. I was eager to know why. Do they know the benefits of physical activity? Do they know that physical activity can save their lives? Hence my field of research.”

Her research culminated in her PhD thesis, titled Contributions of supervised exercise on the perceptions and knowledge of black Africans on physical activity and risk factors of non-communicable diseases: the B-Healthy-study.

“I knew Sweetness before her accident and she was a very strong student,” explains her PhD promotor and the director of the research focus area for Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation (PhASRec) at the NWU, Prof Hanlie Moss.

“The road that she had to walk following her accident is nothing short of remarkable. She had to redo her honours-degree year, and despite all the setbacks, she never looked back and kept persevering,” says Moss.

There was no better testament to this than when Dr Sweetness Beteck walked across the stage on 23 June to a chorus of applause. It was a moment she will never forget.


Dr Sweetness Beteck


Submitted on Mon, 08/14/2023 - 15:01