The Company We Keep: René Sparks


  by Kath Magrobi

The Company We Keep: René Sparks

René Sparks is an Award winning Public Health Professional and Health Equity Activist; Senior Aspen New Voices Fellow & Global Atlantic Fellow;  and Quote This Woman+ Voices of the Year Winner 2022/23.

Pronouns: She / her

Born: 30 May 1979

Status: Married for 21 years this year with one daughter aged 16 and one son who would have been 17 but sadly was stillborn.

School: I attended Elsies River Senior Secondary School – the same high school my parents attended.

University: I completed my degree in Nursing (B Cur) at the University of the Western Cape in 2001, then completed my post-grad Diploma in Primary Health Care at the Stellenbosch University in 2010 and my Masters in Public Health at the University of the Western Cape in 2019.

First job: My first unofficial job was school holidays when I worked in my maternal grandmother’s cut-make-trim factory as a Quality Assurance Checker but my official first job was as a student nurse for the Department of Health via the University of the Western Cape in 1998.

Home: I moved over 21 times during my childhood. Once I had completed my nursing degree, I moved to the United Kingdom for six years and returned to South Africa in 2009 after the birth of my daughter. I live in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa.

Transport: I drive a VW Polo (bit of a speed junkie) but I probably travel by air more than by road.

Book on your bedside table: The Lie of 1652 by Patric Mellet is currently on my bedside table but I am dying to get to The Attempted Erasure of the Khoekhoe and San by Dr Jacob Cloete.

Music in your playlist: I love things with a beat – current vibe is Burna Boy, especially For My Hand. I have a huge appreciation of diverse genres.

Describe your job in no more than seven words: I support the National Department of Health, managing the HIV Quality Assurance programme.

What keeps you awake at night? The state of health services in South Africa and the rate of femicide and violence.

Who is your biggest hero? Dr Tlaleng Mofakeng – she is such a positive force and unapologetic feminist with a huge heart.

Remote or office? Currently still hybrid which I absolutely love!

What’s the most exciting part of your job? Engaging with people, learning new things, sharing those learnings and just being able to ideate and co-create.

Career highlight? Having implemented National Core Standards and Ideal Clinic Realisation and Maintenance in the City of Cape Town (Tygerberg Sub District) – I received an Award of Recognition in 2014 and 2015 for my work on this. Winning the overall QW+ Voices of the Year award for 2023/23.

What is your superpower? Without a doubt my ability to multitask – I will always have multiple things on the go at the same time. I am a perpetual student and thrive on learning and implementing new things.

What is the least known fact about you? I am a healer (not referring to Western medicine), practising cupping, massage, yoga and mindful meditation to  provide  holistic care.

If you could get the ear of one person, to convince them your work is important, who would it be? Melinda Gates – I believe the work I would love to do with young women and girls straddles her empowerment agenda. I would like to work toward trauma healing as part of holistic leadership.

If you had the power to pass a presidential decree, what would it be? I would want true, active work on our traumatic past (as a country), I would want us to be a unified nation without the racial or gender divides.

Your best piece of advice? Never give up, slow down if you have to, reflect and get back on track.

What’s your next big thing? I would love to start a holistic wellness centre (which will include cupping, massage, meditation, women’s health and mindfulness practices) and an empowerment programme for young women and girls with a trauma healing focus.

What do you do to relax? I am a runner and find time on the road to be hugely relaxing. I also binge-watch Netflix and meditate. I love time in nature – so hiking and walking are right up there too.