“Don’t quit!” This is the motto that Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) Population Intervention Programme study coordinator Thobeka Mngomezulu lives by.

Thobeka oversees one of AHRI’s largest research programmes, supervising 64 staff members. She started at the organisation 21 years ago as a fieldworker, and has worked her way up – saying the change she witnesses in her community is what inspires her.  

“The fact that the work we do at AHRI assists in making our community healthier is what encourages me to wake up and come to work every morning. Our research has helped to make people see things differently – especially when it comes to HIV stigma, and adopting a healthy lifestyle in general,” she said.                  

Thobeka, who grew up and still lives within AHRI’s Population Intervention Programme Study Area, (Mpukunyoni – Machibini) initially dreamed of being an accountant. She said she never imagined she would work at a scientific research organisation but is pleased that she can play a role in transforming the health narrative in her community, and many other communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“I think the most challenging thing about being a woman in my role is constantly being reminded about your previous mistakes. I feel that as a woman manager, at times you have to prove that you can lead -and therefore you cannot afford to make any mistakes. Another challenging thing is working with people from so many different backgrounds; each has their own personalities and ways of doing things and it can be difficult to maneuver at times.” 

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, a time where we celebrate and acknowledge the inspirational women around us.  Thobeka shares that her late grandmother, Mrs E.B Ntombela, is her number one role model.

“Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and South African actress turned media entrepreneur Connie Ferguson also inspire me. These women, like my grandmother, are family orientated and resilient. They have strong personalities and are hard workers,” added Thobeka.

Thobeka says her slogan for life would be: “Don’t quit”.

“This is how I would encourage young women, or any women, who want to be in my field of work one day. Be resilient, stay motivated and make sure that you are passionate about the work you do.”