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SANBS chief executive Loyiso Mpuntsha's mission is to encourage more healthy people to donate blood, writes Andrew Molefe

By unknown | Jun 11, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

One morning two years ago, the nation woke up to bloody news.

One morning two years ago, the nation woke up to bloody news.

Blood from black people, including that of President Thabo Mbeki, was considered diseased until proven otherwise by the South African National Blood Service (SANBS).

The news, leaked by an insider, shocked South Africa and stunned the world.

The sceptical Western media had a field day. Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu's Rainbow Nation wasn't working.

The black majority, who are the smallest demographic segment of blood donors, felt vindicated. Their blood wasn't needed.

With such bad press, a mop-up operation was needed to restore the credibility of blood donation in South Africa, and rid the SANBS of its racial stigma.

Along came Loyiso Mpuntsha, a doctor and an amiable middle-aged mother of three, on whose puny shoulders the responsibility rested.

Her appointment as the chief executive of SANBS was in itself ironic.

A few years ago she was shopping in a city mall when she saw a mobile blood donation station. She decided there and then to do her civic duty.

"I stood there waiting to be attended to, but the white personnel manning the station just ignored me. At the same time, they were aggressively trying to get white shoppers to donate."

She left disgusted.

But when we met last week at Park Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank, there was no sense of rancour about her. In fact, after an hour's meeting, I left with the feeling that she is generous to a fault.

In her first statement after being appointed to head SANBS in March last year, she paid tribute to the leadership of the very organisation that didn't care a hoot about her blood.

"My team and I will do our best to honour the legacy of our predecessors while improving the systems and strategies to achieve the SANBS' vision and mission," she said.

The earlier incident of blood classification along racial lines amuses rather than upsets her.

SANBS was considered a racist organisation and a lot of black people felt their blood was not needed. She had to work hard to give it a complete make-over and that meant a lot of PR work.

The racist past of her organisation aside, one of the anomalies of South Africa that perturbs her is that black people, who make up more than 80percent of the population, only account for a mere 20percent of blood donors.

Ideally, she believes, all healthy South Africans should donate blood three to four times a year to keep the blood bank stocked up with enough deposits.

"There are individuals, especially Afrikaners, who donate blood up to 200 times in a lifetime," she said.

These selfless people are awarded Lifetime Achievement certificates.

As we sat down in the pristine gardens of the plush hotel, she told me that the country was experiencing a serious crisis because we had blood stocks that would last only two days.

She has set herself and her team a three-year plan to achieve her goal of making South Africa one of the leading blood donor countries in the world.

One of the strategies includes massive investments in infrastructure, building more blood clinics, mostly in black townships, and recruiting more personnel.

One of the first specialist blood centres will be built at the Maponya shopping centre in Soweto, and there are plans for others in Umlazi, GaRankuwa, Mamelodi and Mafikeng.

For an organisation that doesn't rely on government funding, the investment is going to be huge. SANBS is a self-funding organisation, selling blood to hospitals, clinics and medical centres.

It is responsible for blood transfusions in eight provinces, bar the Western Cape.

A country girl at heart, Mpuntsha, her husband and their three girls are planning to spend their next holiday in Mpumalanga.

She regularly returns to her ancestral home in rural Debenek in the Eastern Cape, where she loves immersing herself in duties like brewing umqombothi and partaking in cultural rituals.

Got a pint to spare for her?

l To view the interview, go to our podcast at Anyone you would want featured as Andrew Molefe's People, email


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