Rising up

We talk to the Former DA Executive Director of Communications about how she’s built her career, and what it takes to rehabilitate South Africa’s ailing Health Department.

ChangeMaker (CM): Firstly, congratulations on your appointment as a member of Parliament and DA shadow minister of Health! Was it always an ambition of yours, growing up in rural Eastern Cape, to become a public representative?

Siviwe Gwarube (SG): No. I always wanted to be a family lawyer to help – in particular – children who were either stuck in messy divorce proceedings or needed assistance with their maintenance cases. I grew up having always witnessed how broken families disadvantaged children the most and often locked them out of opportunities to pursue studies and pull themselves out of the grips of poverty. I briefly wanted to be a journalist as well. Rhodes University has an incredible school of journalism that I wanted to be part of. 

After having completed my undergrad in law, politics and philosophy, I did not have money to continue and obtain my LLB. I was already drowning in student debt and so I had to think about leaving university and looking for work. I was fortunate to have been part of the DA Young Leader’s Programme of 2011 which facilitated my passion for politics and in particular the DA.

Even when I became a staff member of the DA and later in government, I thought very long and hard about running for public office. I realised much later that, in fact, my desire to fight injustice and fight for the excluded needed me to get involved in active politics to – as cliché as it may be – make a difference.


“Goals shift. Passions change. As long as every endeavour is met by sheer dedication, an excellent work ethic and hard work, it will be great.” – DA Shadow Minister of Health, Siviwe Gwarube


CM: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self before you embarked on your studies?

SG: I would advise little Siviwe to trust the process and the journey. It leads you to exactly where you are meant to be. No matter how difficult it gets along way, you will find your life’s purpose, outgrow the acne and excel in the space you are meant to be in. I would also advise her never to be afraid to go back to the drawing board. Goals shift. Passions change. As long as every endeavour is met by sheer dedication, an excellent work ethic and hard work, it will be great.


CM: Your first job after graduating from Rhodes University was as spokesperson to the then DA parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko. You then entered the government sphere as spokesperson to the Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC in the Western Cape and ultimately as head of ministry in the Western Cape Department of Health. What drew you to the Health Portfolio?

SG: When I first started out at the Department of Health, I knew very little about the subject matter. I soon learnt the difficulties of governing and delivering an essential service to people with dwindling public resources. I saw how the Western Cape Government could be tangibly better than most because of their commitment to the principles of good governance and placing people first. This was in sharp contrast to my home province, the Eastern Cape. Once again, the theme of injustice and the rising number of the excluded, drew me to the portfolio to drive change.


CM: In your maiden speech at the State Of the Nation Address (SONA) debate recently, you stressed the desperate need for a credible health plan that is properly costed for and places the patient at the centre. What solutions does the Western Cape Department of Health have to offer the national portfolio?

SG: There are a number of interventions that the WCG Department of Health offers that National Government is yet to adopt:

  • Innovation: disease management across the world requires cutting-edge innovation and South Africa is lagging behind. Innovation in the province also helps with enhancing patient experience. We are able to dispense medication at various points and reach people where they are to cut down on waiting times, as one example.
  • Investment in infrastructure: across the country, health infrastructure is crumbling and faced with the massive service pressures. This is a massive priority for the Western Cape. A total of R6 billion has been spent since 2009 on upgrading existing facilities and building new ones. 
  • Good governance models: the province is the only provincial department of health that has obtained a clean audit outcome for the past 2 financial years. This is no small feat for a department of its size. However, this is made possible by good governance principles and commitment to using public money for delivering services.


CM: And on a lighter note – what book would you recommend every South African read?

SG: I cannot think of only one, so I would recommend 3:

  1. My Own Liberator: Dikgang Moseneke’s autobiography 
  2. The World That Made Mandela by Lulli Callinicos 
  3. Rape: A South African Nightmare by Pumla Dineo Gqola 


Watch Siviwe’s maiden speech at the Joint Sitting: Debate on State of the Nation Address 2019 here.