Judy Dlamini (JD): Morning, Ncoza. I’m tempted to call you Professor Dlova.
Ncoza Dlova (ND): That’s not me! That’s tagging that I acquired by some means I don’t even understand.
JD: No, you mustn’t be modest. I have looked at your many, many achievements, Ncoza — the academic, the transformational leader, the researcher, the trailblazer, the social entrepreneur. Did you have any idea that you’d achieve so much?
ND: Absolutely not. I had no idea that after my MBChB, I would specialise. I thought I would become a GP. I think all the things that I’ve achieved have been kind of serendipitous.
JD: If you look at your track record, you’ve trained more than 40 dermatologists, 80% of whom are Black women. You are the first African person and first African woman to be the dean of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Clinical Medicine, the first full professor, how do you explain that?
ND: I think deep down I’m an eternal optimist. So, those things to me said, “I have a social and political responsibility to create more like me, or not even like me, even better than me.” I realised that when I finished my dermatology [degree] and I was the only African there. But I must say, in the department there were consultants who were very sensitive to my cause and very supportive. So I leaned towards those individuals and they kept encouraging me. I try not to have a victim mentality … there’s racism, there’s the question of women, etc. I always say to myself, “Okay, what can I do to change the status quo?” It’s about making things better.
JD: You find people who are very good as academics, and then there are those who also focus on leadership to empower as many people as possible. How do you weave it all together so that it looks so seamless?
ND: It is a balancing act. I think one has to set one’s own standards. Don’t compete with anyone because everyone’s situation is unique. I always say to women colleagues, I have one child and that was intentional, because that was the only way I could balance raising my child with having my career. Then again, you find people who have four or five children. You have to carve your own path. With mundane tasks, I delegate at home. For example, I’ve made sure that my helper is amazing. If I get a salary increase, hers also increases, because she’s my home manager. The third point is have a supporting husband, a supporting family. So, in a nutshell, it’s important to understand your own situation and not compete with others; instead, compete with yourself, be the best version of yourself. And you must love what you are doing.
JD: People always think giving is about money, but you’ve shown that yes, money is important, but so are empowering people, investing in their education, investing in changing the status quo. During your deanship, the number of African heads of department has increased, registrar intake has increased, first-year MBChB numbers have increased. You’ve also changed dermatology in the sense that you started the African Women’s Dermatology Society. And you started continental grand rounds during Covid. Why was this important to you?
ND: One has to use one’s power to empower others, to make a difference to other people. I realised that, in dermatology, we really need to develop more research. I used my skills, as well as my local and international networks, to influence that change. That’s where transformational leadership comes in, because you do things to make a difference. In Africa, there’s a shortage of dermatologists, with one dermatologist to about 200 000 people in South Africa. In other countries it’s even worse. So why don’t we have continental grand rounds where we share clinical cases and management and therapeutics? These continental grand rounds are now supported by industry. They are so popular, we have 200 or so dermatologists from all over Africa and sometimes from Harvard and the Mayo Clinic joining us. And we’ve started a bursary fund for medical students who have historical debt because, in KZN, I’d say 60% of our medical students are from really disadvantaged backgrounds. I’m trying to tap into my networks, the people who know what I stand for, because they know that that money will be put to good use. And that’s what everyone should do in positions of power. Use the power in a constructive, productive manner. Now it’s your turn, Judy the medical doctor, Judy the business woman, the author, the philanthropist, the aspiring teacher, the academic. Which one of these titles resonates with you?
JD: Each one of them is a part of who I am. You look around you and see people who look like you not ascending to their potential. And you say, “I have to try and do as much as possible.” So I find that my purpose is to empower as I go along. It is to make a difference, but also to show that Black women can achieve. All the things we do are important, but I believe that people like us, who’ve had an opportunity and work hard, should show people what is possible.
ND: You mentioned the issue of empowering women. In South Africa, with apartheid and racism, don’t you sometimes feel that if we focus too much on women, we leave behind our boy children? We know that most top positions are male dominated, but again, male dominated among other ethnic groups, not so much Africans. How do we nudge our male children along?
JD: It’s a very important point, that as we raise the agenda for women we also pull boys along. But, as you know, there’s still a long way to go before we get equity. I think we share our passion to lift as we rise. Would you associate it with how you were raised?
ND: One of my role models was my brother, Mluleki Dlova. He died at a young age, and it was at his funeral that I learned how much he used to do at Gillette, as CEO of a department. I learned how much he was doing to help the staff and create bursaries for students because he was in a position of power. That was also something that planted a seed.
JD: You [underestimate] the impact that your family has on you till you live your life. My mother was a teacher, my husband Sizwe Nxasana’s dad was a teacher, and then we decided to start Future Nation Schools. Something that would frustrate us when we were raising our children was finding a school that would celebrate who they are. Where you show up as an African and that is embraced. As you grow older you become able to do something that’s positive that will change the status quo for your people and generations to come. What do you say to someone who’s in a leadership position who can solve problems for people who are left out of solutions because their problems don’t seem to matter?
ND: Try to work with like-minded people. You will knock on many doors, but don’t give up, believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing.
• Dr Judy Dlamini is the chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand and the founding chairperson of Mbekani Group. Forbes magazine in 2020 named her as one of Africa’s 50 most powerful women
• Prof. Ncoza Dlova is a renowned dermatologist who made history as the first African female dean of the UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine and helped identify the gene that causes alopecia in ethnic hair
• From the March edition of Wanted, 2022.