The true greatness of a person is measured by the impact that person has on the lives of others. This statement rings true for the Minister of Health Dr Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang who has touched the lives of many in different ways.
In a country marked by a high burden of diseases, inequality and abject poverty, to succeed in improving access to quality health care requires nothing less than absolute devotion and loyalty to serve one’s country. Such is the profound devotion that the Minister of Health has shown.
Born in Emfume south coast of Durban on the 9th of October 1940, the young Manto completed her high school education at Inanda Seminary School in 1959.
In 1962, shortly after the African National Congress was banned, a young and eager Manto after completing her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Fort Hare was ordered with a group of 27 other spirited students to go into exile by the ANC leadership. She was in exile for 28 years. These students including Thabo Mbeki who fled the country under the guise of being members of a football team – had been identified as future leaders of South Africa who would one day return triumphantly to the country of their birth. They were arrested several times and thrown in jail before being flown into Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where the young Manto spent most of her years in exile.
Prior to her departure, her mother had implored her: “to do something for me if I should never see you again – become a medical doctor”, the promise Dr Tshabalala-Msimang fulfilled under difficult conditions. She completed her medical studies, hopeful that one day she would return to her country. She graduated from the First Leningrad Medical Institute in the then U.S.S.R.
She spent time practicing medicine in various African countries – an experience that put her in touch with the real victims of poverty. This experience spurred her to further her education by gaining, amongst other qualifications, a Masters degree in Public Health from the University of Antwerpen in Belgium.