08/08/2017 15:01 SAST | Updated 08/08/2017 15:38 SAST

Baleka Mbete: The Woman Behind The Speaker

The Speaker juggles many hats.

Mail & Guardian

Baleka Mmakota Mbete was born in Claremont, in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Parliament's speaker is a few months shy of her 68th birthday and is popularly known for her role as one of the leading ladies at the helm of the National Assembly. Mbete has undoubtedly faced many challenges in her role, one of which is the decision to hold a secret ballot for the vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

Mbete is also the chairperson of the African National Congress, serves as a member of Parliament and is a member of the Constitutional Assembly. She has a far reaching track record for her roles as a public figure within the political sphere. Mbete previously served as the deputy president of South Africa, between 2008 and 2009.

Mbete has long been a key player in South Africa's political arena, but there's more to her than meets the eye. Baleka Mbete spent her pre-school years with her grandmother in the Northern Transvaal but completed her primary schooling in Durban.

Mbete's family moved to Fort Hare University in 1958, where her father had been appointed a librarian, and he subsequently lost his position when the government imposed a series of severe measures to restrict all political activities on campus.

Soon thereafter, Mbete was sent to boarding school and she matriculated from the Inanda Seminary in 1967. Having completed her studies at Lovedale Teacher Training College in 1973 in Alice, Mbete went on to teach in Durban.

She went into exile on April 10, 1976, and left for Swaziland with the assistance of the ANC underground. The women's league was established around the same period of Mbete's time in exile.

Mbete is a mother and a grandmother and she reportedly enjoys taking time out to relax with her family.

Mbete married Keorapetse Kgositsile, an exiled South African poet, writer, political activist and influential member of the ANC in 1978. They were married for 14 years.

The Speaker of the People's Assembly showed the country a side to her which we rarely see when she wed her long-time beau, Bloemfon­tein businessman Nape Khomo, in an intimate traditional ceremony last year on her birthday in Mqanduli, in the Eastern Cape. Mbete and Khomo looked regal and in love in their nuptial images.

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Gallo Images
EASTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA- SEPTEMBER 29: Speaker in parliament, Baleka Mbetewalks hand in hand with Businessman Nape Khomo during their wedding ceremony celebrations on September 29, 2016 in the Easten Cape, South Africa. The couple married on Mbete's 67th birthday. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Esa Alexander)

There is no doubt that Mbete is a woman in a powerful position and that the demands of her job require that she always be on the ball and execute her duties to the best of her ability. Amongst the many accolades the speaker has, she also published an anthology of poems, "Essential Things", and Mbete has been quoted as saying "the best compliment you can give me... is to tell me that I am a poet."

So when does this busy woman find time to spend with her loved ones? Mbete is a mother and a grandmother and she reportedly enjoys taking time out to relax with her family.

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The Presidency congratulated Mbete for the work that she has been doing on the African continent when she was awarded the 2016 Martin Luther King Legacy Award for International Service in Washington DC, in the United States. This shows that her contributions have left an indelible mark on the global continent.

Mbete has also shown an interest in the right to a quality education for everyone, by emphasising that leaders of civil society must lead in the process of the decolonisation of the mind and that universities must develop African tools of analysis. The politics of language planning in post apartheid South Africa are an urgent matter in the ongoing discourse of education.

It is clear that Mbete does a great job of juggling the many hats that she is wearing.