Minister rolls up her sleeves

Just four days after being sworn in as minister of the newly formed Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya has already rolled up her sleeves to get ready for the task ahead.

Armed with a wealth of experience as an activist over more than 20 years, Mayende-Sibiya says she is ready to get down to work. Her plan is clear, she says.

"I would like to see a fully fledged department dedicated to the emancipation of women, youth and people with disabilities, while we ensure that our children's needs and rights are also protected," she says.

Mayende-Sibiya, who is visibly excited about her new role, commends President Jacob Zuma for deciding on the ministry.

"It was a good step. All we need to do now is to get all relevant stakeholders to work together to ensure the ministry's success in the execution of its mandate."

First on her list, the minister says, is to meet all the stakeholders to get their contribution, which will be included in the operational plan.

"It is a daunting programme but the good thing is that the foundation has already been laid. A lot has been done in the last 15 years. We are not starting the ministry from scratch," she says.

As a unionist and political activist since her student days, Mayende-Sibiya, who hails from Eastern Cape, says she's always had an interest in issues pertaining to the development of women.

After qualifying as a nurse, Mayende-Sibiya worked at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Durban. She became one of the few professional nurses to join Nehawu since it was not fashionable at the time for nurses to become union members.

"I needed to find a home as a worker and found that Nehawu represented my aspirations not only as a worker but as a woman," she says.

As an active member, Mayende-Sibiya served in different capacities within the union. She was later appointed president, a position she has held since 2004.

She became instrumental in setting up programmes aimed at the development and empowerment of women members of the union. She also ensured they played a meaningful role in union affairs.

"I developed an interest in gender matters and educated myself on those issues," she says.

After dedicating 24 years of her life to the union, Mayende-Sibiya says she is ready for her new role. The minister says she expects support from all stakeholders and other government departments to ensure the success of the ministry.

"I don't envisage the ministry working alone," she says.

"Women, the youth and people with disabilities must know that this ministry is theirs. On behalf of our children we need to ensure that we create an enabling environment for them to flourish."

The minister says while there has been criticism on the formation of her ministry, giving South Africa a chance to make it a success was necessary.

"Women ministries have been successful in other countries. I think we must give South Africa a chance. If we do not do well, we expect to be criticised and put to order but also to be assisted in doing the right thing. I think it's an opportunity for everybody to make a contribution," she says.

The minister says her office will establish "strong departments" dedicated to each of the four groups.

Commenting on attacks by DA leader Helen Zille on Zuma, she said it was regrettable that the Western Cape premier continued to slander the president on issues that had already been dealt with.

"I think we need to respect other leaders and their privacy. These attacks must stop so we can all get down to work."