top of page


Bridgette 2.jpg

Brigitte Mabandla

in conversation with Prof. Daniel Plaatjies

Jump straight to the Episode or Full Interview

Brigitte woman

1948 Born in KwaZulu-Natal 

1974 Youth coordinator at the Institute of Race Relations in Durban

1979 LLB degree, University of Zambia

1981—1983 Taught English and Law at the Botswana Polytechnic

1983—1986 Taught Commercial Law at the Botswana Institute of Administration and Commerce

1986—1990 Legal advisor to the African National Congress (ANC) Legal and Constitutional Affairs Department

1990—1994 Member of the ANC's Constitutional Committee and negotiating team

1994 Member of the High-Level Legislative Review Committee 2014 Chair National Orders Advisory Council

2015 APR Panel of Eminent Persons by the APRM Forum Heads of State

2020 South African ambassador to Sweden  


In January 2020, Brigitte Mabandla handed over her letter of credit to His Majesty, King Gustav XVI of Sweden at the Royal Palace. The moment marked the beginning of her term as South Africa’s ambassador to Sweden, but this was not the first time she represented the interests of South Africa on the international stage.


During the 1990s when she was the Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, she paid a visit to the University of Men in Paris, and there she saw and learnt in stark detail the full extent of the dehumanisation perpetrated by Europeans, upon a fellow South African woman many centuries ago called Sarah Baartman. She quickly moved and acted to have her remains repatriated back to South Africa, a move she says was one of her proudest achievements as deputy minister.


Brigitte has lived her life in service of her country and its people. She was born in Durban in 1948. By the early 1970s, she was a student at the university and was part of a student activist group called the South African Students Organisation (SASO). It was here she met her husband, a fellow student activist and shortly after they were recruited into the ANC.


The apartheid system was clamping down on any form of student political opposition and this led to harassment and arrests for the young couple. She got excluded from the university and was put in detention right after the birth of her firstborn child. The couple was eventually able to escape South Africa into exile in Zambia.


In exile, she furthered her education, got more training and exposure, and worked in a number of African countries before returning to South Africa to continue to serve her nation. Brigitte has said the hardships she experienced as a wife and a mother, during the era of political struggle, prepared her for the different roles she has played.


In her private time, she continues to fight for the plight of women, children, and the underprivileged. While in her public roles, she uses her roles to shape policies and initiatives to improve the living conditions of women and children in South Africa.

Brigitte leader

Make those regarded as small, the most important

Key Quality of a Servant Leader

Brigitte Mabandla

South African

Public Servant


 Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology



Minister of Housing



Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development



Minister of Public Enterprise

Brigitte interview

Things You May Not Know About Bridgette

These are drawn from the full interview, which for Daniel was from "OneComradeToAnother'. Watch the full interview, here.

BRIDGETTE copy.jpg



A lifetime shaped by the struggle

“... I am a very ordinary woman, privileged by the fact that I have been exposed to the most remarkable people in my middle to late 20s when I joined the ANC… My political awareness started at university when I was a member of the South African Students Organisation (SASCO). I feel privileged by the fact that I got exposed much early in my youthful days... I wouldn't have had the privilege of even visiting a neighboring country had I not been a part of the ANC… I got married in 1972 to Lindilwe Mabandla, who I had met in the South African Students Movement... We were both enthusiastic activists then. We were in the group of Steve Biko, Barney Pityana, Mamphela Ramphele, and Nkosizana Dlamini Zuma… Those were my contemporaries in the student movement. After our marriage, we left for exile, because we got detained and it was uncomfortable remaining in South Africa. We also had been invited by persons of ANC membership into the ANC. My husband had been what you'd call a young pioneer, a group just lower than the youth at Lovedale... He used to speak fondly of encounters with Chris Hani, who addressed them in those days. When I finally got to be part of the ANC, my life changed. I was exposed to a different kind of education, to politics, political economy, contesting ideologies, and ideologies of the world. I completed my law degree at the University of Zambia, after having been excluded from Turfloop… It was a time when there were exclusions of activists or troublesome students. I wouldn’t know whether I was a troublesome student… Maybe that's why I was excluded. But I was politically active. The important thing is that I did complete my degree. And at the time we had to do what you'd call a minute, thesis maybe or the LLB, and I did it in international trade and investment. It's, you know, how it works with developing countries…”



My proudest moment, Sarah Baartman

"... I am proud of, but I know many of my colleagues don't understand, was the return of the remains of Sarah Baartman. I was exposed by the ANC to a number of platforms and came to understand the deep head of many indigenous persons, and the stripping of their heritage, the humiliation of the distortion of their culture in interpretation. When I went to the University of Men in Paris, where the remains of Sarah Baartman were, and I read more about her, I just thought, the KhoiSan are our people, and if we don't respect their heritage, then we don't respect ourselves. I figured that it would be important to retain the remains of Sarah Baartman. But I then set up a reference group. I spoke to all persons who belonged to communities that have a claim to that heritage to talk to me. And eventually, we brought the remains of Sarah Baartman. I'm very proud also, that even our emblem, we went out of our way to add an idiom that we can put in our emblem, our coat of arms is our emblem, which says who we are. You can learn to acknowledge those that were regarded the smallest, and make them the most important then you are yourself affirmed. So for me, that was the theory in my head, and went along with it. Former President Mbeki was very good at listening to innovative ideas of that kind…”



Our Presidents had strengths, and weaknesses

“... Madiba is known and acknowledged for pulling the diverse people of South Africa together. Someone once said, hey, we thought he would come and do something for us… No, he didn't do that. Look at his speeches at all times, weaving South Africa to get what he wanted. I think that when you compare now ... Mbeki was a technocrat par excellence, a liberal, always taking a neoliberal approach that will have consequences for us going forward. But the truth of the matter is that it stabilised the economy for them. That's my belief. This is my view. And also, there was a commitment in bringing out the best from the middle class, especially the black middle class. I think they benefited a lot during the time of Mbeki… I have great memories about the pride of the man. Working towards acknowledging the heritage of black South Africa. I really enjoyed working with him. When we conceptualized the coat of arms and Freedom Park ..." 

Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Brigitte's conversation. 



Those who inspire, including my husband

“... Steve Biko was a warm person, very convincing and articulate, but then so was my husband. So I had the constructive dialogues right in my own backyard, you know, in my home in that way. I will remember Ramphela for her commitment to health care. I do remember her working long hours at places. If we were to have a retreat, she would work within communities around child care as a volunteer. For me that was remarkable... Chris Hani was a commander, a clear headed political leader. Very compassionate, but very firm. Outstanding, and a doer…”



When OR Tambo to take a lead in children and women's rights

“... I will tell you my little story. When Joe Gqabi died, there was an advocate called Sibanda in Zimbabwe, who was willing to take me to do my articles. OR thought that how can I just have a degree… he really wanted me to stay and work in Harare. He even intervened on my behalf. And I was an ordinary member of the African National Congress, I was not a child of anybody important, but just a person…. The ANC was a home to us and all effort was made to make people as comfortable as they could be, but also to open their horizons in many ways that were available to the ANC… I will tell you that in my view, OR Tambo is the author of our constitution in many ways. I was appointed and in between as we were preparing for the possible negotiations, OR spoken to me. Remember he was a mentor and I was such a small person, but here he was saying to me: “You have to take on, you have to lead in the Constitutionalisation of women's and children's rights.” On the matter of children's rights, he had been to the Harare children's conference earlier and had been moved by the testimony of the arrests and abuse of children, and of the disappearance of many children. And so he was very clear that whatever happens, we must find a constitution that will protect children's rights. On my part I felt honoured and took his instructions very seriously. So working with the Women's League, and with Mrs Mbeki and Frene Ginwala, we organised a pre-conference in Lusaka on constitutionalising of women's rights…”



The eye-opener, we missed a big step

“... When I was appointed to the housing portfolio, I learned more about our country. I came to know the depth of our people's poverty. I was very saddened by the problem at hand and where it mattered with the people I was close to. I did communicate my concern about the growing disparities amongst people. It was just there to see. I knew we were in trouble. I thought that housing, grants, ameliorate. They're necessary to enable people to move on, and even to find better opportunities for themselves. I was convinced then, as I am today, that we've missed a step with regard to education. When I grew up, in the townships, it was fashion for parents to say that yoh! My daughter is a nurse, or is a teacher, or his daddy, or my boy... So education has always been revered by our people, as you know, as important for opening those doors, you know, but I felt we had missed a step around education…”



Setting historical records straight

“... It started in Parliament. I said we mustn't celebrate the Anglo-Boer war, we must pull the carpet from under these people's feet. The information and literature shows that this was a war that was a scramble for Africa. This was a war, to dispossess us… At that time people were saying that they wanted to celebrate this Anglo-Boer War. But had they done so, we would have lived with the lie that it was an Anglo-Boer War when it was an African war, a war to dispossess Africans further. When I worked with Thompson, at the archive center, to do research for me, to help us. We worked furiously, I got the support. I wanted academics … And we went digging... . He was saying how dare you celebrate. Now on my side, Black people sent me scolding notes saying bring back people who died in exile. You're busy doing fine, you know, but for me, it was a political statement. It was a political statement. And I thought we should make it... There are so many books now written, telling the true story. Today we know which chiefs were there, we know about the tragedy of our people being torn between groups. We now know the truth. We now know that black women and children died in that war. And were buried in mass in some instances. We are left with writers who can unpack this and tell the story… So when I went to Parliament… They howled at me in the ANC caucus. And he called me to his office and I was still dazed. He asked, what was that about?... Let's leave it, he said. I said no, I'm going to table it in Stellenbosch, he says nooo, don't table it. Let's see how we work it out. I said no, but we have to do it. And you know what? I am very proud of that contribution I made because it turned the pendula of history in our favor. It stopped people drumming up a lie about the Anglo-Boer War…”



The perils and hardships of a young activist couple

“... Lindilwe and myself were banned when we were released from prison... We were under extreme surveillance, and we were not working… The ANC at the time was very agile and had very agile persons who would approach SASCO, or any young people entering university post-university to join the ANC. So we were in the rush of the 1975 group. We landed in Botswana. We were actually helped by Baba, who was a very good courier, who helped to get people out of the country. I do recall now of someone who got killed in detention, but who was said to have moved a wave of persons, probably working with Baba… We were very active. We were part of the Frelimo rally, even in organising and mobilising. And it is true that some of us were asked to recommend people who could go out… We were a group that was taken, post-Frelimo rally, as young student activists, into prison. I was collected. I was already in Durban. I had already been excluded from university. I just had a baby, Nonkululeko, the lady you met. That is my firstborn. I had just given birth to her. My sister Ohara came by at night, I was told to come and retrieve the child whom we had left in a room we were staying in. We were staying in an informal settlement in Lamontville first when my husband was principal… One time when I was minister of housing, I was saying to women, I know your pain. I know a woman's pain staying in a place like this… Because when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I had to go to the toilet outside. So it's nice to have those experiences…”



When French academics did not want to let go of Sarah

“... I think the passion and determination to return the remains was felt, and it was understood. And when we took that decision, we were invited to Parliament. And the ordinary French people also accepted. But I must say intellectuals, academics frowned on that. They said, you know, when remains, cadavers, are used for science research, you cannot regard that as a human being because that's research material. There may be truth in that. But for me, there was a powerful symbolism as we're building a nation to say, this is what happened to our people without their full knowledge. And that's how this lady got lost to us. So we brought all her remains. Even the parts that were used for research, we also brought them to bury them here… Because being one who respects women and expects societies to treat women equally as men. Knowing of this past was very, very painful. You know, and I think there is footage where I spoke about that... I don't remember now. If you remember, it was in my capacity as Deputy Minister, Yes…”



The mistakes I am a part of

“... I don't know, but first I started reflecting on the closure of technicon. And, and again, recalling because of my later exposure. There are so many artisan centers in developed countries. Germany in particular, and I was saying, we are closing them, we’ve almost closed them. I just had lots of questions around education. And it made me quite anxious. But at the right platforms of the ANC, I participated and shared my views and I did find ways of expressing them… You're asking for reflection, so I don't want to appear like I'm distancing myself from that. I was very much a part of that…”



The work ahead demands accountability

"... I honestly think the state needs a special mechanism for seeking accountability from people at leadership level and at the executive level. At the parliamentary level, and the judiciary too. If we have those mechanisms, we need to establish them. We may want to have a norm that should run across, that no one who is serving at these levels should continue without appearing before a special board... You also don't need something that will be bastardized, that will be used for political games, you want a platform that will be able to receive reports of accountability... So I would say to policymakers, find the tool. When when we said to judges, they need to account and to declare their assets, they were so reluctant. I felt sorry for them, because I could see many of them were into businesses. And there is a conflict there because those very same matters will appear before them. That is the anxiety that I have going forward about governance. The Public Protector was was intended directly for the public. That was the first notion. But institutions develop into new things..."

Full Interview 

Brigitte Full Interview
Brigitte lesson

Servant Leaders must make those regarded as small, the most important

BRIDGETTE copy.jpg

"... I spoke to all persons who belonged to communities that have a claim to that heritage to talk to me. And eventually we brought the remains of Sarah Baartman. I'm very proud also, that even our emblem, we went out of our way to add an ..., an idiom that we can put in our emblem, our coat of arms is our emblem, which says who we are. You can learn to acknowledge those were regarded the smallest and make them the most important then you are yourself affirmed. So for me, that was the theory in my head and went along with it. Mbeki former president of Mbeki was very good at listening to innovative ideas of that kind. But everybody knows also that he doesn't, He's not ordinarily friendly. He wouldn't be patting people on their shoulders all the time. And maybe withdrawn in that way. And maybe that would be seen as a weakness for a person who's a leader..."

Daniel in conversation with

Brigitte Mabandla






  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black YouTube Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
bottom of page