Baleka Mbete is the first woman to be elected National Chairperson of the ANC and an outspoken proponent for women’s rights. Chairperson Mbete grew up as the eldest girl in a family of eight children. The expectations of this role forged budding leadership qualities. Inspired by the women in her life, namely her grandmother and mother, she absorbed their energy which she would draw on later in life.
Chairperson Mbete began her teaching career in Durban where she soon became active in Black Consciousness-affiliated organisations. She then established contact with the African National Congress’s underground structures. Willed by her brother to leave the country, she went into exile in Swaziland. After teaching positions in Tanzania and later Kenya, she left for Botswana where she resumed her work with the ANC in those countries. After a time in Zimbabwe and then later Zambia, she returned to South Africa in 1990. At the first national conference of the ANC Women’s League, she was elected secretary-general. She served as speaker of the National Assembly of post-apartheid South Africa from 2004 to 2008 and as Deputy President of South Africa from 2008 to 2009. From the time she was in the external missions of the ANC, she has been a luminary for the emancipation of women. Today, she continues her impassioned work by discouraging women from adopting ‘victim’ mind sets and urging them to fight for their rights.