Nomafrench Mbombo, 56, has led the Western Cape health department to an impressive four consecutive clean audits, but her career had humble roots.
She grew up in Mdantsane township in the Eastern Cape during the apartheid era and was a domestic worker after completing her matric, a very tough period in her life. She then worked on the front lines as a professional nurse-midwife, then in academia, where she obtained a PhD in gender and human rights.
In 2014, Nomafrench entered the world of politics and began to have an effect on policy frameworks and strategy in South Africa and globally. In 2015 she became the first black woman to be appointed as the Western Cape MEC for health.
Her leadership ensured that the Western Cape’s Covid-19 pandemic response was regarded as the best in the country. The province’s healthcare services have consistently shown to be ahead of the curve in governance, service delivery, innovation and patient satisfaction.
Among others, a violence prevention unit was established in the department, which helps to strengthen the provincial government’s crime-fighting and -prevention capabilities. Nomafrench has led and worked in several organisations in the field of maternal care, and as a health and human rights activist to improve the rights of women.
But she believes that real power resides in being a policymaker and legislator, and her work in the Western Cape department of health is where she has been able to use power most strategically and effectively to the benefit of all.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
You are your life’s manager — you may lose everything, but never lose yourself, you are all you’ve got.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
By setting an example and proving that nothing is impossible. Despite politics being a male-dominated world, through hard work and determination, I earned the position I currently occupy today. Despite the challenges I have experienced as a black female who was born in the rural Eastern Cape, I have forged a career I can look back on with pride. More specifically, my academic and clinical work speaks volumes to the empowerment of women. Whether it was formulating policy or physically rendering maternal care to patients in healthcare facilities, my work directly impacted the lives of women. Through ensuring that their rights were protected, I firmly believe I was able to further empower them.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
Patriarchy as a system as it manifests itself in different forms through gender inequalities, inequities in access, poverty, and all other isms. South Africa being known as the most unequal society in the whole world hurts.