Sibongile Mkhabela 2019


Sibongile (Bongi) Mkhabela, a social worker by profession and a passionate social activist by orientation is the current Chief Executive Officer of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund as well as the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust.

Her first steps as an activist were intuitive rather than political; as a child she recognised and questioned the banal and common indignities that shaped black lives. Bongi later became a student leader and was part of the driving force behind the nation-wide June 16, 1976 student revolt, a turning point in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.

She was charged with 10 other students for sedition in what became known as the “Soweto 11” Trial. In 1981, six years after the 1976 protests, she was finally released. Time spent in the women’s prison resolved her commitment to fighting for the dignity of black lives and strengthening the position of African women.

Bongi was trained by The Legal Resources Centre as a para-legal and founded the Zola Advice Office offering practical, social and para-legal advice and assistance to people living under the rule of an oppressive state. Building on her work at Zola, she proceeded to establish the National Advice Centre’s association advocating for women’s rights.

After the completion of her graduate studies, she headed up the Development Resources Centre which drove research aimed at creating an enabling environment for civil society. The work led to the formation of the SA Non-Governmental Organisations Council and contributed to the formation of the National Development Agency.

Part of that experience saw her work in senior positions for the United Nations Development Programme; serve the first democratically elected government as a Director in the Office of Deputy President Mbeki responsible for programming with specific reference to civil society-government partnerships as well as overseeing the implementation of the UN Children’s Charter.

In her tenure as CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Bongi embraced Nelson Mandela’s mission to change how society treats the African child and in the last decade, has been on a journey to ensure that the county’s children have access to world-class tertiary healthcare and institutions devoted to their care. She led the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust’s, R1b capital campaign for the building and equipping of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. The Hospital is the second of its kind in Southern Africa and provides, state-of-the-art tertiary paediatric care and aims to improve the quality of paediatric research and training in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A graduate from the University of Zululand she is also a Joel L. Fleishman Civil Society Policy Fellow at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, and completed her post-graduate Business Management studies with the University of the Witwatersrand Business School in Johannesburg. In 2017, Mkhabela was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Italy, a residency to reflect and write on her experiences and the future of social justice movements.

In April last year, Bongi was awarded The National Order of Luthuli (Silver) by the President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. She serves on various boards, including Senegal-based Trust Africa and the USA-based Global Philanthropy Alliance. She recently stepped down (after 12 years of service) from Barloworld, a listed global company where she served, among others, as Chairman of the Ethics and Transformation Committee.

Her novel Open Earth and Black Roses recounts the ordinary and extraordinary tales of black families in Apartheid South Africa and she tells her personal experience as a young woman imprisoned, restless and resisting social injustice.

In recognition of her fight against apartheid; her continued work in social justice and for her excellent contribution to the well-being of South Africa’s children, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on Sibongile Mkhabela.