The hardship rural villagers face getting medical care is what inspired Dr Makondelele Rambiyana, the new head of False Bay Hospital, to work in public health care.
On clinic day, he says, his mother would get up at the crack of dawn and walk 30km to get to and from the clinic where there were long queues as there was only one nurse on duty.
“At the time, I just brushed it aside, but as I was busy with my medical studies, I felt that there was an opportunity for me to make a contribution,” says Dr Rambiyana, who took over the top job at False Bay Hospital at the beginning of October last year.
Dr Rambiyana grew up in the rural village of Ha-Raliphaswa, in Limpopo.
He completed his primary school education there and then attended Dimbanyika Secondary School where he completed Grades 8 and 9. He completed Grade 10 at Mphephu High School, walking 20km daily to get to and from class, he says. Later he attended Dimani Agricultural High School, which is where he matriculated.
Schooling was never a priority for him, he says, but his mother, believing that education was the only way to break the cycle of poverty, forced him to go.
“My mom insisted that we go to school every day, and she was not one to tolerate any excuses.”
Dr Rambiyana says it was his brother who convinced him to become a doctor after looking at his final Grade 11 school report.
“I immediately fell in love with the idea; it stuck with me,” he says. “By the time I got to matric, my mind was set: I knew exactly what I wanted to become, and I started having a more focused approach towards my studies.”
After matric, he went to the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA) where he met students from other countries which made him appreciate “what we have in South Africa”.
The first two years were not easy, he says, as he had to adjust to a new life away from home and he only got to see his mom and siblings during the holidays, but he has no regrets.
“I am what I am today because of my mom and my brothers.”
After completing his studies, he completed a one-year internship at George Mkhari Hospital.
“The internship taught me to always respect the next person no matter their status or their social standing in society. I was a mere student doctor being accepted by patients of all races and age groups, and this is something I still treasure to this day.”
Following his internship, it was clear to him that he wanted to work in a public hospital, and he took a position as a medical officer at a hospital in Limpopo.
“I didn’t stay long as doctors were not well looked after, and I was earning very little money.
“My family made lots of sacrifices for me to get where I was, and as we were very poor, there was an expectation of tangible changes in their lives.”
He decided to open his own practice so that he could earn more and support his mom and siblings.
Throughout his career, he has faced many challenges but the most difficult one, by far, he says, was when he was deciding whether to continue in the public sector or to go private.
“It was important for me to lift my family out of poverty. They were all looking up to me. I had to make a decision, it was not easy, it really was not easy and was definitely the biggest challenge or test of my life.”
He managed his own practice for eight years before joining the South African Military Health Service.
While his family was not too thrilled with his decision, he says he found his time in the SANDF fascinating.
He completed his military training and says he surprised his wife time and again with tales of his experiences. He spent six years in the military and reached the rank of major.
“I had an opportunity to go to other countries and see how other people in those countries live,” he says.
The military taught him that no hardships last forever, he says. “Difficult times and experiences are what will, in the end, make us strong people. So the defence force prepared me very well to persevere, and I am still persevering.”
Dr Rambiyana unwinds by playing with his children and jogging, a habit he picked up in the SANDF.