Thembi qualified as a nurse in 1991 and specialized in clinical and critical nursing care. She worked in the public sector up to 2001, after which she joined the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region. It was at NAPWA that her interest in activism and Public Health grew. She joined the School of Public Health in the mid-2000s and graduated with an MPH in 2013.
As a person living with HIV, she has dedicated her life to fighting for access to appropriate health care. Thembisile has spent most of her work life working for South Africa Partners. Her roles involved overseeing national programs, advocating for the inclusion of people living with aids in community programmes and government initiatives, and growing partnerships across the country. Thembisile has also supported a nationwide Department of Correctional Services HIV Prevention Programme. As a Deputy Country Director for South Africa Partners, she works closely with the Department of Health to affect change.
Thembi was born in Mpangisa, a village in KwaZulu Natal, where she did most of her schooling. She later moved to eThekwini to complete high school. Thembi Zungu’s career in Public Health spans over three decades and began in 1991 after graduating as a Registered Nurse. Her career as a nurse started during a challenging time in our history when new conditions were emerging, and the political environment was changing. She first attained her clinical nursing experience as a professional nurse in charge of a Dermatology Clinic at the King Edward Hospital. She later worked in intensive care units at King Edward VIII in KwaZulu Natal and Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape. Her last clinical nursing experience was in Primary Health Care Clinics in Ggeberha at a time when morbidity and mortality due to HIV/AIDS were increasing in the absence of life-saving treatment.
Her personal experiences challenged her to join the NGO Sector, working for the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), focusing on human rights, advocacy, information dissemination, capacity building and technical support promoting the inclusion of People Living with HIV in community programmes and government initiatives. Thembi’s work at the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) was the beginning of a life committed to improving the lives of those Living with HIV and fighting for the rights of voiceless community members. Moreover, while at NAPWA, she led the development of NAPWA Branches in the Eastern Cape.
Thembi joined South Africa Partners in 2004 and led prevention, treatment and care programmes supporting South African Health Systems (National Department of Health & Correctional Services) and community capacity building.
Thembi’s experience at South Africa Partners propelled her to further her studies at the School of Public Health at UWC. She first registered for a diploma in Public Health, which increased her appetite for learning. She later enrolled for a Masters in Public Health and the title of her Dissertation “Knowledge & Practices of Infant feeding among HIV positive mothers attending the prevention of mother to child transmission Programme, in the Eastern Cape”, and graduated in 2013. The topic she chose was based on her experience and the infant feeding struggles of HIV-positive mothers. All this shows her desire to improve the lives of the vulnerable.