She touched many hearts

THE true greatness of a person is measured by the impact that the person has on the lives of others.

This statement rings true for the former minister of health Dr Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang who has touched the lives of many in different ways.

To succeed in improving access to quality health care in a country marked by a high burden of disease, inequality and abject poverty, requires nothing less than absolute devotion and loyalty to serve one's country. Such is the profound devotion that Tshabalala-Msimang has shown.

Born in Emfume on the South Coast of Durban on October 9 1940, she completed her high school education at Inanda Seminary School in 1959.

In 1962, shortly after the ANC 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, fled the country under the guise of being members of a football team to Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where the young Manto spent most of her years in exile.

Before 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 Tshabalala-Msimang fulfilled. 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 USSR.

She spent time practising 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, among other qualifications, a Masters degree in Public Health from the University of Antwerpen in Belgium.

She was also a Registrar in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Section of the Muhimbili Hospital in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, and as Medical Superintendent of the Lobatse Hospital in Botswana.

Tshabalala-Msimang has been blessed with a stable and supportive family life. She was married to Mendi Msimang, former ANC treasurer-general, and they had two daughters, Zuki and Pulane, and four grandchildren.

On her return to SA in 1990, she contributed towards the National Progressive Primary Health Care Network by assisting in developing policies on health and also serving on various committees promoting health and gender issues.

After the historic elections of 1994, Tshabalala-Msimang became an MP and chaired the portfolio committee on health in the National Assembly. Her appointment as deputy minister of justice followed in 1996.

On June 17 1999, she was appointed minister of health - the culmination of an interesting life spent in service of healing.

In 2009, Tshabalala-Msimang became an MP, serving under the portfolio committees of tourism, women and children, and human settlement.

And such is the essence of true greatness.

The greatness that comes from understanding the complexities of the human condition; a greatness that rests in the humility of touching a human being from the moment of birth to the final departing breath and a greatness that consistently strives to make quality of life possible for every one of her people.

Bhengu is Tshabalala-Msimang's former media liaison officer.

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