We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Zulu has earned her stripes as a cadre

The run-up to the April 22 elections leaves Lindiwe Zulu with a sense of déjà vu.

The run-up to the April 22 elections leaves Lindiwe Zulu with a sense of déjà vu.

In April 1994 she was part of a communications unit that comprised Pallo Jordan, Ronnie Mamoepa, Baleka Mbete and Carl Niehaus as talking heads of the ANC.

With the tainted departure of Niehaus, fate has again thrust Zulu into the same position she was in during the first democratic elections: "With Carl not here, the pressure is on me and Jessie (Duarte), as national spokespersons."

The former ambassador to Brazil, who only returned to the country last month at the completion of her four-and-a-half year-term in South America, says she'd asked as early as December for a posting in communications "until the elections".

Thereafter, says the 51-year-old mother of four, she hopes to realise her childhood dream of being a parliamentarian.

A member of the NEC after Polokwane, and with her name on the list for Parliament, her political journey might just come full circle.

Born in Nhlazatshe - "in the direction of Ulundi" - her family moved to Swaziland when the infamous forced removals shunted her village en masse to Madadeni, Newcastle.

"I grew up and went to school in Swaziland."

It was in the tiny kingdom that her political schooling gained further impetus with the influx of the 1976 generation into Swaziland: "The (Methodist) church was placing these students in homes, mostly of people with connections to South Africa. Those who came to live with us were ANC members."

The die was cast - she joined up while her younger brother found a home in the PAC, Zulu says.

She left Swaziland immediately after joining the ANC for Mozambique, where she met Jacob Zuma for the first time.

Her choice of either joining Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) or furthering her studies was reduced to one option by the ANC leadership, especially Moses Mabhida, who encouraged the young recruits to go to school. "Once South Africa is free," she recalls Mabhida's exact words, "it will need people with an education."

This was in line with her grandmother's teachings that only a good education would allow her grandchildren the chance to break the cycle of domestic workers in the family. She went to the famed Somafco - the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Mazimbu, Tanzania - where, in less than a year, she got a scholarship to go study journalism in Moscow.

Mabhida had told them when they came back from school: "MK would still be there and, with an education, we'd make better cadres".

Seven years after enduring the icy cold north-eastern Europe temperatures, she emerged with a Masters degree in journalism and a flawless command of the Russian language, which she still speaks.

Russia will always have a special place in her heart because it was here that she conceived her third child, a boy she named Sipho, after her late father.

Sipho's father was a fellow student from Guyana from whom she parted very acrimoniously, she says reluctantly about "this sad chapter".

Back in Tanzania, she ran internal newsletters of the ANC.

Then in 1987 she was off to Angola for full military training. "I used to read news to the platoons in the mornings," she recalls, the task made easier by listening to different radio stations the previous night. "And we'd debate the news."

It was in Angola that she'd meet her soul-mate, Kgosietsile Itholeng, a child of the ANC who skipped the country at 17.

Together they have a son, Boitumelo, 16, the baby of the family who plays a mean round of golf and speaks fluent Spanish, thanks to mom's posting in Brazil.

When she left home in Swaziland, Zulu already had two girls Nokuthula, 32, and Phindile, who is 30.

She only saw them again after 14 years!

Zulu values time with her family, holding the December breaks sacrosanct for get-togethers.

Her job in the ANC has always been in communications, except for a stint in foreign affairs, where she was hands-on throughout the peace process in the Congo and time at the Gauteng Legislature, where she deputised former speaker Trevor Fowler.

One year in the private sector - at Vodacom - blemishes a life otherwise lived in the struggle.

A long distance runner from her school days, she still enjoys nothing more than a 10km dart around her Sandton neighbourhood "in an ANC T-shirt" that never fails to elicit a cacophony of hooting.

Dressed in a chic chocolate suit with stripes for our meeting, Zulu says she's usually resplendent in bright ANC colours, outfits designed by her second daughter, Phindile.

The only time her mobile stopped ringing was when she switched it off - the lot of spin doctors.

Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Commenting is subject to our house rules.