New director-general of Health Department has a controversial past

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

The Health Department has announced the appointment of South African National Aids Council (Sanac) CEO Dr Sandile Buthelezi as the department’s incoming director-general.

Buthelezi’s September 2017 appointment as head of Sanac was controversial among some NGOs. They questioned his involvement in the roll-out of an unsafe circumcision device (the Tara KLamp) in Kwazulu-Natal and the alleged “persecution” of doctors at Manguzi Hospital in 2008, when, reported Daily Maverick,  the dual therapy they were providing was deemed to be against the government policy of Aids denialist President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.  

According to a Polity report, the department noted Buthelezi’s 15-year experience in health governance, policy and programme management and said he was bringing a wealth of knowledge to the department at a crucial time when the country was battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Buthelezi trained as a medical doctor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was also director of HIV at KZN Health. “The experience I have gained in and out of the public sector has made me a much more moulded person to work with a team of people to move forward with critically focussing on the National Health Insurance,” said Buthelezi

Polity writes that Buthelezi spearheaded the implementation of the National Strategic Plan while at Sanac, which hopes to eradicate HIV and TB and reduce pressure on the country’s health system. He has also secured billions in grants from the Global Fund to assist South Africa’s fight against HIV and noted that the lessons learnt from dealing with HIV in South Africa were helping the country deal with COVID-19, especially in community-based testing, screening and testing.

“With a visionary Health Minister like Dr Zweli Mkhize, and the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, I believe we are in safe hands. We all want to contribute towards quality healthcare services for all South Africans … We are all together in this, and for all of us, it should be all hands-on deck,” he stated.

His past is not without controversy. According to a Business Day report, he spent five years working under former KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni, who persecuted doctors determined to provide HIV-positive pregnant women with medication to protect their babies from the virus.

An earlier Daily Maverick report notes that Buthelezi’s appointment to Sanac also surprised activists who are concerned about his involvement in the roll-out of an unsafe circumcision device (the Tara KLamp) in Kwazulu-Natal and the persecution of doctors at Manguzi Hospital in 2008. The doctors were providing dual antiretroviral therapy to pregnant women with HIV. At the time providing dual therapy was deemed to be against the government policy of Aids denialist President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Buthelezi is stepping into a highly charged atmosphere with recent news reports describing Sanac as being in disarray and various civil society organisations considering a withdrawal from Sanac. Some of the concerns regarding governance at Sanac relate to the process of appointing a new CEO. For reasons that have not yet been explained, an initial recruitment process was stopped halfway and the post was re-advertised early this year.

Full Polity report

Full Business Day report

Receive Medical Brief's free weekly e-newsletter



Related Posts

Thank you for subscribing to MedicalBrief


MedicalBrief is Africa’s premier medical news and research weekly newsletter. MedicalBrief is published every Thursday and delivered free of charge by email to over 33 000 health professionals.

Please consider completing the form below. The information you supply is optional and will only be used to compile a demographic profile of our subscribers. Your personal details will never be shared with a third party.


Thank you for taking the time to complete the form.