My professional life has been shaped by my commitment to social justice and equity, and understanding of the impact of history on individuals and society, a tenacity that I believe has enabled me to persuade others of fresh perspectives on difficult issues. As an educator, an advocate for the marginalised, especially women and youth, I strongly believe in and am passionate about the power of people to change their world – once they see how to engage positively with the challenges around them.
Indeed my professional profile below demonstrates how this deep belief in the power of individuals and community has enabled me in a varied career which spans more than three decades and as an agent for social change, to persuade influential individuals, institutions and movements to see things in new ways and to act on that insight for the public good.
In 1975, and as a direct consequence of apartheid policies and practices in education, I cut short my professional career as a teacher in the mainstream education system of South Africa to dedicate 10 years of my professional career and skills to the anti-apartheid movement focusing, especially on the fight to end the apartheid education system, through advocacy and community organisation, and forming coalitions and partnerships to engage the regime.
In 1978 I joined the South African Committee on Higher Education (SACHED) holding various director positions including head and director of Turret College, a programme of SACHED designed to provide young men and women targeted and persecuted by the regime, opportunities to receive alternative, progressive and quality education and qualifications that would prepare and enable them to further their studies both in exile and in South Africa. Many of the young graduates of Turret College were to become agents of change in the anti-apartheid movement and to rise to influential positions in post-apartheid South Africa.
From 1988 and for a further 6 years, I served on the Senior Executive Leadership Team of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) first as Education Coordinator leading the effort to persuade Church Leaders to engage and participate in the efforts of progressive civil society organisations in order to influence new strategies and tactics to end the apartheid education system through forward thinking and planning for a new, equitable and inclusive education system that would serve the needs of a liberated South Africa.
A greater part of the 6 years I served as Director of a joint youth advocacy and development programme of the Southern African Catholics Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) and the SACC – the Joint Enrichment Project (JEP) which at first served as a safety net for at risk, school-age youth who had lost out on formal education during at the height of the fight against apartheid education by students and youth and at that point lacked skills to navigate the dawn of a new and open society.
During the four years of my leadership, the JEP involved young women and men, youth organisations of all races, political or other affiliations from across the country directly to participate in consultations that served to inform and influence the deliberations of the national political negotiations and ensure that youth needs and expectations were articulated by the youth themselves and their voices heard and that strategies and planning for youth development formed an integral part of the deliberations for new a new dispensation in South Africa.
The national youth consultations heavily relied on the results of a path-breaking national study on the state of youth in South Africa commissioned by the JEP in 1992. Some of the outcomes of the youth consultation process included the launch of, among others, the Young Women’s Network, the South African Youth Council and the National Youth Initiative. These initiatives prefigured many of the youth-serving and development institutions and programmes that followed after the 1994 elections.
In 1994 I was invited to serve in the new Government of South Africa under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela as a Ministerial Advisor to the National Minister of Education, initially focussing on the process to repeal the laws that had been used to establish a fragmented education system consisting of eighteen ethnic departments of education and lay the basis for legislation to establish one unitary educations system.
Later I focussed the process to formulate new policies on gender and education, early childhood education and care within the context of a broader process focussing on women-headed households, the development of school meals programme as part of President Mandela’s priority and flagship programmes and the development of school-based programmes for the prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS.
In 1997 I was appointed by President Nelson Mandela first to serve as South Africa’s Consul General in New York and then in 1999 as South Africa’s first woman Ambassador to the United States of America in Washington DC. In addition to representing the interests of South Africa, I successfully championed a number of regional and sub-regional issues including enlisting greater and urgent relief and support for the flood and drought affected countries in Southern Africa in 2002 and 2003.
In early 2003 I joined the World Food Programme in Rome as Deputy Executive Director and remain in that position to date. Initially, my responsibilities included Policy, Strategy and External Relations and also oversight of the Executive Board Secretariat. I was keenly interested in the development of policies on gender, mother and child health, HIV and AIDS as these related to food and nutrition security.
From 2007 to 2013 I was the Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions. In this regard, I was responsible for repositioning WFP in its role as a food assistance programme supporting country-led national food and nutrition security strategies for long-term hunger solutions using innovative tools and sustainable approaches aimed at breaking the cycle of hunger, especially among smallholder poor farmers, the majority of whom in host countries, are women.
In 2013 February I retired From the UN World Food Programme, after which, in September 2013 to 2014 March I joined the Special Envoy in the Ministry of Agriculture. Since 2013 January until now, I’ve been a member of the Yara Selection Committee for Agriculture Prize in Africa. Since that same year to date, I’ve also held a position as an executive board member of the African Government Institute.
In March 2014, I became part of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa, serving in the High Level Panel for Advocacy.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
I hold a Post Graduate Degree in Education from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) (1990). I also have a Bachelor of Arts and Certificate in Education from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) in Lesotho acquired in 1974. In 1993 I trained in the Covey Principles of Effective Leadership in Johannesburg. I matriculated at St Michaels High School in Swaziland in 1968.
HONOURS AND AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS
I have honorary doctorates from numerous institutions, including the City University of New York (1999); University of Maryland (2000); a fellowship from the Allan Pyfier United States/South Africa Leadership Programme (1987).
NON EXECUTIVE POSITIONS – BOARDS AND ORGANISATIONS
I’m a founding member of the South African Women’s Development Banking initiative started in 1992. I was also a member of the International Women’s Forum in 2002.
In 1992 I was elected senior vice president of the South African Council of Churches, amongst many other roles.
My references include Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme;
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (Former South African Home Affairs Minister and Foreign Affairs minister); world-renowned social activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu; as well as former first lady Graca Machel (married to South African struggle icon Nelson Mandela).