‘€¦ and what she likes talking about.

KHOPOTSO: She’€™s originally from the Eastern Cape and is the last child in a big, ‘€œfatherless’€ family, as she describes it, of eight children ‘€“ seven girls and one boy. Her resumé is quite impressive, having first qualified as a social worker in 1980, before venturing out to Johannesburg to study medicine at Wits University, which she completed in 1992.

 Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU: Then I went to work mainly around the hospitals in Johannesburg. I was working in Johannesburg Hospital, Hillbrow Hospital, I worked a little bit at Bara, Coronation and Helen Joseph Hospitals. It was at the time when we were beginning to see the effects, or the first new cases of HIV infection. It was difficult at the time to understand what the infection was about and we saw people coming in late (and) sick. And I thought I should, perhaps, pursue my career in this area. What I did then was to do a diploma in Infectious Diseases. And there was a focus in that Diploma in HIV and AIDS, TB and other Sexually Transmitted Infections. Then, having qualified I worked with a group that was called Wits Health Consortium, whereby we were doing clinical trials using antiretroviral drugs. I had a stint of about six months there.

KHOPOTSO: When her feet started itching again, she moved to the government sector.

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU:   Then, I joined the Gauteng Health Department as a Technical Advisor in the AIDS Programme’€¦ I was responsible, initially when I joined, for medical management: putting together policies and guidelines for medical management; training health care workers; monitoring and evaluation of trends of the disease; and continued for a while until the national Department of Health then decided to expand the interventions to include the antiretroviral therapy component. I was responsible for setting up the provincial programme for that. In fact, I put together a five-year plan as to how we need to go about it. Whilst I was busy with that I when applied for the job I’€™m currently in in the national Department of Health.

KHOPOTSO: It’€™s early days in the job and she loves it. But she is well aware of the difficulties that lie ahead.

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU: I wouldn’€™t be doing anything anywhere else to be honest with you, Khopotso. It’€™s a huge challenge. It’€™s long hours. It can be frustrating at times when you see the statistics; people dying because of AIDS; outcomes not very good with TB even when it’€™s curable; and shortage of human resources. It can be frustrating at times. But you focus on what you can do and you do that to the best of your ability.

KHOPOTSO: Some people would say frustrating is an under-statement. They’€™d actually say the job is horrible, considering that you’€™re from provincial government where, perhaps, things were a bit easier, you had to deal with probably not as many people and you probably had some freedom, to some extent, to actually perform your duties as you would have liked to, whereas at national government there is a whole lot of bureaucracy, somewhat, that would actually prevent you from carrying out your duties?

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU: I haven’€™t experienced any kind of bureaucracy. You know, government is government is government. The Acts, the regulations that guide the management of resources in government are the same whether you’€™re in national or province. It is, in fact, the same programme on a wider scale. And I have to say that I found the cluster at a point where a lot of work has been done already. The challenge that I have is to sustain the quality of the work that has been done already. And there’€™s a good team, in fact, that I work with at the national Department of Health. It’€™s proficient people I can rely on who are experts in their fields. And so, I wouldn’€™t say it’€™s worse than in the province. In the province, in fact, I had to do most of the work myself’€¦

KHOPOTSO: But Dr Xundu would not be drawn on her plans as the new Chief Director of the HIV and AIDS, TB and STI’€™s cluster, a position regarded as critical in the implementation and management of HIV and AIDS care in the country. However, she’€™s clear that she’€™d like to leave a legacy by the time her tenure ends.

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU: I would say for now, look one month into the job, I’€™d like to at some point during my contract period, perhaps, see an indication of the numbers of new infections coming down. If that is not happening I won’€™t like that. And that is the biggest challenge that I think I’€™m facing at the moment.

KHOPOTSO: No doubt her job will give her sleepless nights. And if her husband and 22 going for 23-year old son are not there to lend a shoulder to cry on, she will always find comfort in music.

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU/KHOPOTSO: I love music. I love jazz, mainstream jazz. I love piano, specifically. If I had an opportunity to learn to play piano I’€™d just be sitting and playing piano and singing. I love singing as well. Last year I enrolled for training on vocals, but I couldn’€™t finish because of the demands of my work, and I plan to continue doing that. I’€™d be very happy if I saw myself, perhaps, singing jazz tunes with a big jazz band at some stage’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Here’€™s an opportunity to audition. Come on, 1, 2, 3, sing’€¦

Dr. NOMONDE XUNDU: Do you want me to sing now?

KHOPOTSO: Ja, please.


Summer time,

And the living is easy,

Fish are jumping,

And the cotton is high…

e-mail: Khopotso Bodibe



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