Q&A Sessions: Meet Thembisile Xulu, a doctor, hip-hop fan and mother

Dr Thembisile Xulu, the newly appointed chief executive of the Sanac Trust, tells Nicolene de Wee about a new plan to fight HIV, TB and STIs — and her hip-hop dance moves

You describe yourself as ambitious and a fighter. In light of previous instability at the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) Trust, what is your strategy to make a success of this job? 

I’ve been ambitious since a young age and finished medical school in record time. The “fighter” I refer to is me wanting to ensure that I am allowed to be my authentic self. What might be deemed as disruptions or instability at the trust is largely multiple stakeholders sitting in a room trying to get to an outcome that will yield the best results. So, as the chief executive of the trust, I have to ensure that all the stakeholders not only have a seat at the table, but also a voice at the table. 

Your motto is: ‘To be respected, you need to show respect first.’ Has it paid off for you in your career and private life?

I was a human being before I was a chief executive. When someone treats me with respect, the only thing I do is to return that respect. What that does in terms of creating a personal connection is amazing. I can afford someone respect, whether it’s my helper of 19 years or the deputy president. It has worked for me in all spheres of my life. It all boils down to treating others the way you want to be treated. 

How would you describe yourself to strangers? Who is Thembisile Xulu?

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