Champion of women’s rights, women empowerment and gender equality.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was born in 1955 to parents Michael and Sabbath Mlambo and grew up in Claremont, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
She graduated from the National University of Lesotho with a BA degree in Social Science and Education after matriculating from Ohlange High School in 1973. After her graduation, she lectured at the Mpumalanga Teachers Training College, from 1980 to 1981; and taught at Ohlange High School from 1981 to 1983 – it was on those very premises that Nelson Mandela cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections – a moment in history that would pave the way for significant, fundamental change in a country’s nascent democracy.
Mlambo-Ngcuka became the first President of the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW) when it was formed in December 1983. An affiliate of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the organisation launched a number of initiatives in Natal on behalf of the UDF.
In 1984, she became the youth director for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Board in Geneva, her launch pad into the international arena, where she established a global programme for young women, and worked towards promoting the development of education in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
From 1987–1989 Mlambo-Ngcuka was the director of TEAM, a development organisation based in Cape Town, running skills training programmes and promoting financial freedom amongst women in informal settlements, as well as independent African churches.
She joined the World University Service South Africa (WUS) in 1990, where she worked tirelessly with her team in supporting organisations that promoted literacy and development in rural areas. WUS also aided in university outreaches to marginalised communities.
Taking public office
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka formed part of South Africa’s first democratic government, serving in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet where she chaired the Public Service Portfolio Committee from 1994 to 1996. She became Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry in 1996 – serving in that role for three years. In 1999 she began her tenure as Minister of Minerals and Energy, holding office for six years.
In 2005, under Thabo Mbeki’s administration, she became the first woman to hold the office of Deputy President of South Africa, during which time she continued to vehemently fight for the rights of the poor and the marginalised, with a special focus on delivering women out of poverty.
Laying the right foundations
After her political career, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka established the Umlambo Foundation in 2008, where she provided mentorship and coaching for teachers in disadvantaged areas. Her vision was to invest in the development of school principals who could pave the way for change in their communities, and to see schools produce learners who would become economically emancipated. Umlambo Foundation supports approximately 33 schools in all nine provinces.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took her fight for gender equality and women empowerment to a global scale when in 2013 she became Head of The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (known as UN Women), where she’s advocating for 3.5 billion women and girls. This means leading a team to address gender-based violence, ensurethe economic empowerment of women, leadership and participation of women in all levels of the economic, political and business spheres.
Ahead of joining the UN, Mlambo-Ngcuka studied mobile technology for her doctorate, and applied that knowledge to the launch of the ‘HeForShe’ campaign in 2014. This global campaign motivates men and boys to remove the barriers, whether social or cultural, preventing women and girls from realising their optimal potential.
Big corporates the likes of AccorHotels, Barclays, Koç Holding, McKinsey & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Schneider Electric, Tupperware Brands, Twitter, Unilever and Vodafone signed up to become HeForShe Impact Champions, and data recorded in May 2016 from the HeForShe webiste recorded 1.3 billion ‘gender equality actions’ and over 867 000 actionable commitments that Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes will result in bringing about significant change.
Globally, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is regarded as one of the world’s most influential women, fighting tirelessly for the
empowerment and upliftment of women everywhere. A true champion of gender equality, she continues to leave an indelible and positive impact on the lives of people around the world.