Mathume Joseph Phaahla was born on 11 July 1957 in Ga-Phaahla, Limpopo. Phaahla studied for a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Natal. It was at university that Phaahla became a member of the Students Representative Council from 1979 to 1981. The following year in 1980, he served as an Executive Member of the Release Mandela Campaign Committee in KwaZulu-Natal. Phaahla was also a founding member of the Azanian Students' Organization (AZASO) at its inaugural Conference in Wilgespruit, Johannesburg, in 1981. At the conference Phaahla was elected President of AZASO a post he held until 1983. During that year, he joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) in KwaZulu Natal and was elected as its Secretary.
After completing his studies at the University of Natal, he became a Senior Medical Officer and Superintendant at Mapulaneng Hospital between 1987 and 1990. He subsequently moved to St Ritas Hospital in 1990 as a Medical Superintendent, a position he held until 1994. Phaahla went to Israel in 1992 where he studied for a Diploma in Health Service Management at the University of Haifa, Institute of Science and a Certificate of General Management, Marketing and Finance. Other capacities that Phaahla has served on include being Director of Medical Services in the Department of Health in 1993 and 1994 at the former Lebowa homeland.
The advent of democracy saw him become a member of the Provincial Legislature in 1994 until 1997 in the Northern Province. Phaahla was a Member of the Executive Council for Education, Art, Culture and Sport in the Northern Cape Provincial Government from 1997 to 2000. Within the same period, he was appointed the MEC for Health and Welfare Northern Province.
In 2000, he was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Sports Commission. He was appointed the Director-General in the Department of Sport and Recreation responsible for organising the 2010 FIFA World Cup until 10 May 2009. On 11 May 2009, he was appointed the Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform in South Africa.In October 2010 when he was appointed Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture.
Who’s who (unknown), Mathume Joseph Phaahla from Who’s who Southern Africa, [online], Available at www.whoswhosa.co.za [Accessed 4 August 2011]|Kha ri Ambe, (2011), The Silent Shaker - Dr Joe Phaahla Is The Right-Hand Man Poised To Make Things Happen from the Department of Arts and Culture, Available at www.dac.gov.za [Accessed 4 August 2011]