Dr Lethabo Machaba: Superwoman who saves children | The Citizen

It took the pain of confronting her brother’s terminal illness during childhood to propel Lethabo Machaba to achieve her ultimate dream – becoming a specialist medical doctor.

Today, Dr Machaba, a paediatrician at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, is a familiar face in the neonatal intensive care unit and children’s wards, having found her passion – taking care of the well-being of infants and toddlers.

Admired by friends and colleagues, Machaba has been described by Professor Salome Maswime, head of global surgery at the University of Cape Town (UCT), as “warm and kind – making mothers feel at ease, even during difficult situations”.

“Mastering that comes with hard work – always showing a lovely smile and an echoing laugh – something that makes for an amazing paediatrician,” says Maswime.

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But for Machaba, things were not always rosy.

“When I grew up, my brother Mathlare was very sick, suffering from what my parents explained as an untreatable liver disease,” she says.

“He died during his teenage years, due an early diagnosis not having been determined – something I would attribute to being born in the pre-1994 era and an inability to access a proper healthcare.

“So, I was exposed to sickness from a very young age and after my brother’s death, I took a decision to help others avoid the experience what I went through. Doing this job is a calling for me.

“It chose me, with God having long laid it in my heart, with my brother’s experience having sealed the deal.”

Dr Lethabo Machaba in her practice at Sunninghill hospital, 20 October 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

Born in Tshilidzini in Limpopo, Machaba attended Tshikevha Primary and Emmanuel Christian High School – later educated at UCT, Colleges of Medicine in South Africa and Wits University.

After obtaining her bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degree at UCT’s School of Medicine, she completed her internship at Tembisa Hospital – an experience she said that revived her passion for children, earning her a certificate for outstanding performance in paediatric rotation.

She did community service at the 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, which mainly involved paediatrics – later spending a year working with HIV-exposed and positive children at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

‘My purpose is to help others’

This led to her specialising in paediatrics through the Baragwanath and Rahima Moosa Complex – obtaining a fellowship in paediatrics through the Colleges of Medicine in South Africa.

Showered with accolades, which include the Gallagher Foundation scholarship, JD Baqwa leadership award and best paediatric intern at Tembisa Hospital, Machaba serves on various medical advisory councils.

Growing up in rural Venda, Machaba, has every reason to list her mother, Nancy Ramagoma-Machaba, among many role models who inspired her in life.

She says: “My mother became a pillar of hope and strength to my family.

“She raised her family by selling Tupperware and ran a successful business.

“What started as a door-to-door small business, led to her being a top seller and being rewarded with a car.

“Despite pressures of hard work, she made sure the family remained strong together and mom always made sure we don’t lack anything.”

Machaba’s other role models include Nelson Mandela, Pastor TS Muligwe, and Jerry and Allen Gallagher of the Gallagher Foundation, that provides scholarships to students.

She is driven by a vision to “make a difference in other people’s lives by serving my purpose to help others”.

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Like most women, Machaba has had a share of challenges on her journey to success.

“Coming from a rural village to the city and speaking English with an accent, made it hard for me.

“I had to work harder than most people around me to prove myself – especially being a woman of colour.

“I knew mediocrity would not cut it and I worked 10 times harder than some of my peers.

“Mr Gallagher encouraged me and helped me through some challenging moments.

“He also helped me face some hard truths and still fight to reach my goals.

“Dr Terri Nunes opened the door for me to enter private practice – offering me helpful tools to overcome challenges,” recalls Machaba.

Dr Lethabo Machaba in her practice at Sunninghill hospital, 20 October 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

Dr Lethabo Machaba in her practice at Sunninghill hospital, 20 October 2022. Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

She adds: “I remember whilst being pregnant as a registrar, some of my seniors treated me like a pregnant teenager.

“This treatment didn’t just come from men, but also women.

“I saw many of my fellow registrars lose pregnancies because of the stress that comes with this kind of workplace treatment.

“I watch now as women in this field choose to have children much later, to avoid encountering such stressful situations.

“This can have negative effects and risks during pregnancy.”

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She reflects on her latest book, Secrets of Super Powered Moms, Journeys to Motherhood with God, “It is about women willing to breastfeed and still walk into boardrooms to make things happen,” she says.

“I also have a supportive team – my husband, personal assistant, children, nanny and staff. Being a superwoman, means accepting help, and I am happy with that,” she says.

– brians@citizen.co.za

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