An entrance of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital is seen during its official opening in Johannesburg,South Africa,…
An entrance of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital is seen during its official opening in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 2, 2016.

PRETORIA - South Africa's parliament debates the National Health Insurance bill this month, a plan for universal health care that proponents said will bring justice and equality to the health care system in this deeply unequal country.

But critics say the plan is too ambitious, and they doubt the government, which repeatedly has been accused of corruption in other public-sector projects, can do it honestly. 

According to the government, only 15 percent of South Africans have health insurance. The rest fall to the nation's overburdened public health care system.

A pediatric hospital bed is seen at a ward during the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital in…
A pediatric hospital bed is seen at a ward during the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 2, 2016.

Dr. Bandile Masuku, an official in the nation's most populous province, Gauteng, said the National Health Insurance bill is a moral necessity.

"In a country like South Africa, with a culture of democracy, that has to look after the people … and the universal coverage is one way that we're going to do it,” Masuku said.

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Critics point to the government's track record of corruption and mismanagement, and say the plan is too ambitious, too expensive and too vague.

"We've been at it for 10 years, we don't have enough clarity on how we want to do things now,” said Johann Serfontein, an analyst in the health division of the Free Market Foundation. “We think that in the next seven years, we're suddenly going to miraculously have that clarity — it's just not a realistic proposal."

But for chronic-care patients like 25-year-old Kanyisa Ntombini, anything is better than the current system. She's had numerous surgeries in public hospitals for her ailments, which include blindness, and she says public hospitals need all the help they can get.

"As a country, we will never be able to improve, because we have this huge number of people who are unproductive and will forever be sick,” Ntombini said. “So we need the NHI implemented so that we have more funding in rural hospitals and township hospitals so that people's health can improve."

Ntombini says she's willing to subsidize the system.

"I think quality health care is like food, like shelter. It's something that everybody deserves to have, you know,” Ntombini said. “And for me, I would be more than willing to contribute to ensuring that everybody has quality health care."

If the bill passes, the system would be implemented by 2026. By then, Ntombini will probably be working as an engineer, earning too much to qualify for public health care.

And that, she says, is the point. This plan, she says, is for the next generation of South Africans.