After ten years as MEC of Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo is now an African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament, and chairperson of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Health. Presently, the committee is considering the new National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, with written public submissions closing at the end of November.
“People are saying that it is fine for our domestic workers to have second rate medical care,”says Dhlomo, speaking from his office at the Old Assembly building in the Parliamentary precinct in Cape Town. “But this is not right. The Bill makes provision for everyone to have equal access to health care. It can’t be that I have better health care because I have a deeper pocket than you.”
The 59-year-old struggle veteran’s bearing is regal, his voice soft. On the collar of his tweed jacket an HIV-ribbon brooch catches the light.
When we arrive for the interview, Dhlomo has two copies of his memoir My Journey To Robben Island – Ward Rounds waiting on his desk. He signs them with a smile. Amongst others, the book is dedicated to his wife, Nono MaDlamini, his three children Sinethemba, Sikhumbuzo, and Siphephelo, and the ANC.
In the memoir, Dhlomo describes health service as a Godly calling. “If we love God, we should love His people and treat them as if we are treating God himself,” he writes. “It is my wish that all health professionals must offer services to mankind in a way that is Godly.”
However, despite Dhlomo’s professed intentions, critics have alleged that KwaZulu-Natal’s health services all but ‘collapsed’ under his leadership. Health sector union bosses and opposition political parties, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), welcomed his departure from the province’s top health job.
In May last year, Dhlomo, then MEC for Health, appeared before the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in relation to the province’s oncology crisis which saw cancer patients wait up to a year for treatment at public hospitals. In addition, irregularities around tenders for maintaining radiation equipment worth millions of rands had surfaced. In a SAHRC recording published online, Dhlomo said: “The cancer machine procurement irregularities started in 2008. This predates my time as MEC of health. Not for long, but I did not come to understand what was happening. When I came in as MEC – in May 2009 – this was not really obvious.”
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