Compassion for humanity drives Dr Phalatse
Dr Mpho Phalatse spent her first years of life with her maternal grandmother in Hebron, northwest of Tshwane, before moving in with her parents in Mabopane.
The ethos of diligence and resilience was instilled in Dr Phalatse at an early age, having been born to Komane and Moserwa Phalatse, who were both educators in the then homeland of Bophuthatswana.
Dr Phalatse matriculated from Loreto Convent School in 1994 and subsequently secured admission at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) to study Chemical Engineering. She enrolled here in 1995. However, after much self-reflection and a desire to focus on a more people-oriented career, she flipped things around in her second year at Wits to journey back to Tshwane to study for a doctoral degree in medicine at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, previously known as MEDUNSA.
She qualified as a medical doctor in 2005 and underwent her medical training at Tembisa Hospital. This was followed by community service in Hammanskraal, in the north of Tshwane, where she rendered services at Jubilee Hospital as well as various clinics in the area.
“All I knew was that I wanted to equip myself to be able to help people; here we are today,” she enthuses.
Dr Phalatse enrolled in a Project Management course at Cranefield College while doing community service and now has an advanced diploma and a postgraduate diploma in Project Management and Programme Management. She is also a Certified Independent Medical Examiner (CIME) with the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners (ABIME).
The qualified medical doctor made history on Monday, 22 November 2021, when she was elected the first female Executive Mayor of the City of Joburg during a special council meeting. Now, Dr Phalatse is delighted to finally use her passion for humanity to take the City of Joburg to new heights.
She says as Executive Mayor of a coalition government, her key role is to get the different political parties to stand behind a common vision. She says she believes in a consultative leadership style.
“My biggest role is to facilitate healthy conversation between the different political parties so we can hear each other out. I’m often reluctant to make any pronouncements until I’ve spoken to every stakeholder involved. I need us to put our residents first,” she says.
Dr Phalatse spent the first six years of her medical career exploring service delivery models in various contexts, such as mining houses, before registering her own business and providing disability consulting services to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) in both Gauteng and the North-West provinces.
“Whether in the private sector, through an NGO or government, I have always found myself drawn towards serving people. I tried to study engineering, and one of the things I did not enjoy was that it was not people-oriented and was taking away a huge part of who I was. As much as it’s a good profession to be in, I was miserable,” she says with a smile.
After experiencing abject poverty first-hand while working in underdeveloped villages in the North-West province, Dr Phalatse was driven to suspend her entrepreneurial exploits to return to Gauteng to acquire further skills in human development.
"People are my number one passion.”
She went back to Wits University in 2011 to enrol for a Master of Medicine (Mmed) in Public Health Medicine, a move that saw her settle permanently in the city of gold.
She has since worked as a casualty officer at the Alexandra Community Health Centre and as a sexual assault care practitioner at the Far East Rand Hospital in Springs, while also serving on the Professional Conduct Committee of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
The pull towards politics came while working in Alex, north of Johannesburg, where the living conditions of the community translated into ongoing public health challenges in a vicious cycle that required principled government leadership.
“It’s during this time that I realised how interconnected every sector of society is. I have always wanted to work in an intersectoral manner towards resolving societal issues.”
She was appointed Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Health and Social Development between August 2016 and October 2019. While serving as MMC, Dr Phalatse championed the extension of service hours in municipal clinics, as well as the City’s multipronged substance abuse prevention and treatment strategy, among many other endeavours.
She can’t contain her excitement for her five-year tenure at the helm of Johannesburg.
“I’m excited about the multi-party nature of the government we’re entering into. It’s an opportunity for every constituency to be fully represented in decision-making. It's a beautiful place to be for us as a City, and our residents will benefit greatly,” promises Dr Phalatse.
As Executive Mayor, she wants to sink her teeth into several service delivery projects, including rolling out bulk services such as water and electricity to underprivileged neighbourhoods and exploring the potential to use renewable energy solutions for households to offload the pressure from Eskom’s power grid.
She says what she loves most about serving the City is having the unique opportunity to resolve problems and being in a position where she has the authority, responsibility, and access to resources that she can channel towards improving the lives of people.
She’d also like to clean up the City’s billing system to ensure accurate and adequate billing for basic services in a bid to improve revenue collection.
“We need to resolve billing disputes so that money can come in.”
She promises to take a tougher stance against fraud and corruption and run an administration that is honest, transparent, accountable, and responsive.
“I need the City to have zero tolerance for corruption so that we give our residents nothing less than good governance because that’s what they deserve.”
Dr Phalatse also wants to build a day-care facility at the Metro Centre, the municipal headquarters in Braamfontein, as a legacy project.
“As a female mayor who understands the plight of working moms, I want them to feel that there’s someone who understands.”
During the hard lockdown, Dr Phalatse began a career in corporate coaching with the Global Institute for Organisational Coaching, which she has used to mentor and coach young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
She believes every person was created with a specific purpose, and that’s why she’s always seeking hers. “I always seek God first. That’s how I’ve made it this far,” she says.
Dr Phalatse describes herself as honest, loyal, committed, and faithful to see tasks through. “Everything I do, I want to do it well. I appreciate the culture of excellence and I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m an example and that people are looking up to me. I try to be exemplary.”
Dr Phalatse is a single parent of three children aged five, eleven, and eighteen, and enjoys spending time with family and friends, walking, taking long drives, and hiking in serene contexts for quiet meditation.
Her favourite foods include chicken “hardbody” with “bogobe ba ting” (brown, sour pap), chicken livers, and garlic prawns. Her favourite artist is Ella Fitzgerald, and her best-loved book is the Holy Bible. She says a biblical scripture that anchors her work is Ephesians 2 verse 10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”