The man bringing X-Ray technology to townships and bettering people’s lives

2018-06-22 16:06
Xolisa Menemene  (PHOTO: Sbu Ndlovu)

Xolisa Menemene (PHOTO: Sbu Ndlovu)

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It took a tumble while playing with friends in primary school to change the course of his life – and improve the lives of thousands of people.

Xolisa Menemene broke his arm and had to endure a long taxi ride from his home in Motherwell, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, to town for an X-ray. And once at the hospital he had to wait in excruciating pain for his turn in the queue. The radiographer was snowed under with patients and Xolisa decided then and there this was a career he wanted to pursue when he grew up. But he didn’t only want to work in radiography – he wanted to find a way of bringing the machines closer to the townships so people didn’t have to travel long distances to get the treatment they needed. And Xolisa (34) has done just that.

He now operates three X-ray centres in different parts of the country. He opened his first branch at the Ziyabuya shopping complex in KwaDwesi township in Port Elizabeth in 2016, launched the second at a shopping centre in King William’s Town a year later and last month set up the third branch at a centre in V-section Umlazi in Durban. The branches are all located in shopping malls in the townships because he wants them to be accessible to communities and the doctors who serve them, he says.

“It makes life easy for both the patients and doctors. It saves time and money spent travelling to town – ideally if there’s a doctor in a township or at a mall then there should be a radiographer close by.

“I opened the Durban branch because of the new clinic, New Day, that opened there recently. I knew medical doctors at the clinic would need my services and they wouldn’t want to send their patients all the way to town. I approached them and they agreed to work with me.”

Xolisa’s journey to professional success wasn’t easy as he makes it sound. He was raised by a single mother, Thobeka Menemene, and she sometimes struggled to pay school fees, he says. “From time to time my father would contribute but it was never enough. I watched my mother struggling to raise myself and my younger brother, Ludwe, and it pained me. “She worked as a cleaner at a hotel in Summerstrand and often overworked herself so we didn’t go to bed hungry. She’d do other piece jobs to make ends meet.

“I must have been eight years old when I made a decision that one day I’d stop the cycle of poverty in my family,” he recalls. “I was determined to make life better for everyone.” After breaking his arm Xolisa dreamt of working in radiography until he became interested in computers when he was in high school – perhaps a future in IT would be better, he thought. But then a careers exhibition renewed his love for radiography.

He spent time at the X-ray stall and became more determined than ever to revert to Plan A. Xolisa completed his matric at Lawson Brown High School, a former model-C school in PE, and left for Joburg to study at Wits University.

“I stayed in Johannesburg for three days,” he says. “On the fourth day I packed my bags and went back home. Everything was too fast for me and I couldn’t stand the atmosphere. “When I got home I went to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University [NMMU] and tried to apply for admission. I was rejected because it was too late,” he says. He took a gap year and found a job at Nando’s earning R850 a month.

“It wasn’t much, but I managed to save for my tertiary education and help my mom with money too,” he says. In 2004 he was accepted to study diagnostic radiography at NMMU. “It was the toughest year of my life. My son, Khanya, was born in January of that year and in April my mother passed away.” But he persevered.

The following year he got a bursary and completed his studies in 2007. The first part of his dream was accomplished – now it was time to get part two off the ground. Xolisawas appointed as a junior radiographer at Nompumelelo Hospital in Peddie in the Eastern Cape and was soon promoted to chief radiographer.

The money was good, he admits, but he wanted to go back home and serve his community. “I knew my people needed me. For me it didn’t make sense that elderly people were travelling to town and waiting in long queues for X-rays. I wanted to bring an affordable and accessible service closer to the people.” But he couldn’t just quit his job – he had no money or assets. “I needed at least R1 million to start the business, because X-ray equipment is very expensive.”

Xolisa applied for funding from banks and government institutions but was unsuccessful. So he felt he had only one option left – to quit and cash in his pension, which was R400 000. “I then approached the Small Enterprise Finance Agency for extra funding and they came on board and loaned me R700 000,” Xolisa says. Then he tackled another challenge. “I still had to introduce myself to healthcare practitioners in the industry. I was the new kid on the block and I had to convince doctors to ref their patients to me.

“At first they were reluctant because they didn’t know who this local radiographer was but they eventually warmed up to me and started referring patients to me.” With his business he’s had to learn to be an all-rounder. “I had to master everything or business wouldn’t come my way. I had to market the business, sell my ideas and do human resources. Fortunately my wife, Alime, does the finance part of it,” Xolisa says.

He currently employs five radiographers and two assistants and his goal is to have a 24-hour medical centre “that does ultrasounds, CT scans and mammograms,” he says. “We’d also like to have partnerships with new hospitals so we can run their X-ray sites. We’re hoping to spread our services throughout the country.”

Trying to bring services closer to the people has taught him dreams don’t come served on a silver platter. “If you want something you must be willing to make sacrifices. I wanted to open my practice in 2010 but I couldn’t because I had no money. “When you tell your friends or colleagues about your dreams they might discourage you. Just keep on following your dreams.” If it could work for him, he says, it might work for you.

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