Dr Nokwethemba Mtshali-Hadebe
A year ago when Dr Nokwethemba Mtshali-Hadebe’s appointment as the youngest chief executive of a public hospital was hailed as a first for South Africa, there must have been many who said a silent prayer and wished her “good luck” because of the many challenges in the public health system.

However, the 32-year-old has shown her mettle and proved that wisdom, leadership and courage is not confined to older people. The changes she brought to Bertha Gxowa hospital in Gauteng have made health easily accessible and beneficial to Vosloorus, Katlehong, Thokoza and the greater Germiston area.

Mtshali-Hadebe was asked to serve as acting chief executive in 2015 and was officially appointed to the position in May last year. She does weekly walkabouts through sections of the hospital which is a four-storey building with more than 700 staff, 300 beds, to keep her finger on the pulse of all challenges in the facility.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) graduate has always felt strong about youth development. “While my passion is youth development, I am also passionate about the mentoring of young girls - making sure they feel supported because there is a scarcity of mentors. My achievements make them believe they too can work towards something like this.

“There’s a huge impact on the psychological level, ‘this is do-able.' We need more young people to get into health and we need to be able to support their journeys. We need more young CEOs and it must be something that we are deliberate about. We must ensure black excellence becomes the norm, female excellence becomes the norm because we know where we are coming from,” she says.

She admits that despite courageous efforts to transform the health system, the ghosts of apartheid is seen in the racial and geographic disparities in access to health-care services.

“As black people, as black women we’re not seen as good enough. We need to do that extra to prove ourselves. We can prove we are worthy, capable,” says Mtshali-Hadebe.

She has put in place health-care education initiatives for patients which are crucial for the sector faced by a shortage of doctors and an increase in diseases linked to lifestyle and bad-eating habits.

Mtshali-Hadebe as young as she is can handle the pressure.

“I feel like the pressure is there, and one thing that would make me feel uneasy would be thinking it couldn’t be done.

"We’ve got it in us to change the public perception of public health service."