Dr. Mpho Phalatse: Determined to bring Johannesburg back to life
Elected in November 2021 as the first female mayor of the municipality of Johannesburg (South Africa), Mpho Phalatse has taken the time to make her mark and to give a new dynamic to the city. In office for a five-year term, she is the first black woman to head the Johannesburg mayor’s office and the first woman since 1946.
On April 21st, 2022, five months after taking office, she outlined the situation of her municipality and presented the priority sectors to bring her city to a new standard, which is the economic lung of South Africa with 15% of GDP.
Speaking in the Braamfontein City Council Chamber, she outlined her team’s new vision, entitled “The Golden Start”. With seven priorities, the mayor is committed to give residents, visitors, businesses and civil society: A city that meets the basic right; A safe city; A caring city; A business-friendly city; An inclusive city; A well-run city; and A smart city.
In short, to make Johannesburg “a city of golden opportunities: a vibrant, safe and resilient city, where the local government provides a quality life for every resident,” says Ms. Mpho Phalatse. For her, it is time for her municipality to regain its true status. ” The City of Johannesburg… attracts visitors from all over the world — 55% from other parts of Gauteng, 36% from other provinces, and 9% from beyond our borders. They all come in search of golden opportunities synonymous with the city’s promise of gold. However, following years of neglect, mistreatment and abuse, our city now lies in ruins”. To rebuild, the trained physician calls for the involvement of various stakeholders. “It would be a profound mistake to assume that the council and its municipal administration can fix the city on its own. Partnership is often missing internally. Departments and entities must cooperate. Residents must receive real responses and not be… shoved from pillar to post. The entire municipality must work as a team.”
It was while working with vulnerable communities that Mpho Phalatse realized there were problems she could not solve with medicine, but rather with leadership.
“As a doctor, I was trained to bring things to life that are almost dead. I think a lot of the skills in medicine are transferable. The city is like a patient, it is sick and needs to be brought back to life, so you use the same approach as in medicine, the history, diagnosis, and come up with a treatment plan,” the mayor explained.
In the context of her country this is a real challenge. “It’s a challenge because South Africa is very diverse, even the socio-economic status of the people in Johannesburg. So you have the billionaire on the one hand, who is looking forward to this first world city, and then you have someone in an informal settlement that says, ‘Just give me a toilet’. You have to be able to meet the needs of both constituencies”, says Phalatse.
Grateful to be a pioneer
Being the first woman to become mayor of Johannesburg honors her and emphasizes her sense of responsibility: “I’m very grateful to God, I feel it’s an honor. It could have been any other woman, you know, the fact that God chose for me to be that woman. I really, don’t take it lightly. I’m very appreciative of holding that title. But I also realize the responsibility that comes with the title because it says, you are a front runner, you’ve opened the door for other women to come after you”.
Dr. Mpho Phalatse spent the early years of her life with her maternal grandmother in Hebron, northwest of Tshwane, before moving with her parents to Mabopane.
The ethic of diligence and resilience was instilled in Dr Phalatse at an early age, as she was born to Komane and Moserwa Phalatse, who were both educators in the then country of Bophuthatswana.
Dr Phalatse graduated from Loreto Convent School in 1994 and was then admitted to 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 did an about-face in her second year at Wits and returned to Tshwane to study for a Doctorate in medicine at the Sefako Makgatho University of Health Sciences, formely known as MEDUNSA.
She obtained her medical degree in 2005 and underwent her medical training at Tembisa Hospital. She then did community service in Hammanskraal, in the north of Tshwane, where she rendered services at Jubilee Hospital as well as various clinics in the area. Dr. Phalatse enrolled in a project management course at Cranefield College while doing community service. She now holds a graduate degree and post-graduate diploma in project management and program management. She is also a Certified Independent Medical Examiner (CIME) with the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners (ABIME). She returned to Wits University in 2011 to enroll in a Master of Medicine (Mmed) in Public Health Medicine, a decision that saw her move permanently to the Golden City. Since then, she has worked as an emergency manager at Alexandra Community Health Center and as a sexual assault care practitioner at Far East Rand Hospital in Springs, while also serving on the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) ethics committee. She was appointed as a member of the Mayor’s Committee (MMC) for Health and Social Development between August 2016 and October 2019. In her role as MMC, Dr. Phalatse has championed the expansion of service hours at city clinics, as well as the city’s multi-faceted substance abuse prevention and treatment strategy, among many other initiatives.