'It's like joining a moving train' - Dr Sandile Buthelezi on appointment as health dept DG

Dr Sandile Buthelezi. (Screengrab)
Dr Sandile Buthelezi. (Screengrab)

The newly appointed director-general (DG) of the Department of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, said joining the department in the middle of a pandemic felt like joining a moving train, but he was ready to add value. 

Buthelezi's appointment was confirmed by Cabinet on Wednesday

Speaking to News24, shortly after his appointment was announced on Thursday, he said the health department needed all hands on deck in its effort to combat Covid-19. 

"I am excited… specifically, I think it's a difficult time to join the department, but I think the department needs all hands on deck," he said. 

While he joked that he is "scared" to take over the reins while South Africa battles the spread of Covid-19, he said he was reassured that, so far, the government has had a measured response. 

"We really need to take off our hat to the president and the minister for the stewardship. One is joining a response that is well managed," Buthelezi said. 

On Thursday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said there were 12 739 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 238 deaths.

Buthelezi is taking over the reins from acting director-general Anban Pillay, who had been in the position since November last year when Malebona Matsoso left the post after almost a decade. 

"We are joining a moving train and one is ready to just jump in and add value to that," he said.

History in working with HIV 

Buthelezi has a long history with Mkhize, from back when the minister was the MEC for health in KwaZulu-Natal and later as premier in that province. 

The pair worked closely in dealing with the HIV and TB pandemics in the early 2000s in the province. 

"We will use one's experience specifically in managing HIV over the years… I think we can pick up some lessons on that in how we manage [Covid-19], particularly as we go to community-based screenings, picking up hotspots and doing contact tracing," he said. 

In the late 1990s, Buthelezi, who is from Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal, managed the Nkandla Hospital and later the Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. 

Read: SA beyond Covid-19: How it will shape the future, according to scientists, economists and political minds

He served for 10 years as KwaZulu-Natal's provincial head of strategic health programmes, which encompassed HIV, TB, maternal child and women's health, nutrition and communicable diseases. 

"Actually, what I have been doing with HIV, TB and communicable diseases has been literally for the most part of my career," Buthelezi said. 

In 2010, Buthelezi left the public health system and moved to New York, where he was South Africa's country director for ICAP at Columbia University, among other international programmes. 

At the time he was appointed as the DG of the health department, he had been the CEO of the South African National Aids Council since 2017.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
Matric results are out! Are you happy with your child's result?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
No, the pandemic really messed up their ability to focus
33% - 420 votes
Yes, they did well given the circumstances
67% - 864 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.