Chief Financial Officer – loveLife
HIV/Aids is the highest cause of young female mortality in South Africa but loveLife aims to change this through their education initiatives. Dr Linda Ncube-Nkomo leads this project of hope and inspiration.
CIARAN RYAN: This is CFO Talks and today I am talking to Dr Linda Ncube-Nkomo, how are you?
LINDA NCUBE NKOMO: I’m fine thanks, Ciaran.
CIARAN RYAN: Linda is CEO of loveLife, which is South Africa’s largest youth health non-governmental organisation. She’s a chartered accountant who completed her articles in Zimbabwe before moving to South Africa. She took up a position as CFO for a telecommunications company for a period before returning to South Africa, where she now heads loveLife. We’ve already said hi, Linda, but how’s it going, are you in Johannesburg?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I’m in the office in Johannesburg, yes.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay, good to have you on. First of all, you completed a doctorate at the University of South Africa on gender, race and class as it affects leadership. Now, that’s quite an interesting subject to tackle for a doctorate. Give us an idea of the state of leadership in South Africa with regard to race and gender and class.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: My doctorate was looking at the experiences of women in corporate with regard to how their race, their gender and their class affects their career progression. So I used a framework that’s called intersectionality that comes from the United States and is part of what is used to look at experiences of black people in the United States. What it says is that when you’re a black person you don’t just experience life as a black person. I experience life as a black, foreign woman of Ndebele ethnicity all at the same time. So it’s looking at how those intercept to affect the career experiences of women. What my study found was that in South Africa, race is definitely an enabler if you want to go up the career ladder as a woman. So I found that when I was talking to white women, the only issue that they ever experienced in the workplace was related to gender, so sexist comments, sexual harassment but they never experienced any drawbacks from coming from a working class background, as opposed to an elite background. Now, when you look at African, Indian and Coloured women, the dynamic was totally different. If they came from a working class background it was like there was no model that they could use to help them navigate, there was no sponsor in the workplace who would say ah, there’s Linda, I’m going to take her under my wing and I am going to help her navigate this place, I’m going to speak out for her and I am going to help her up this corporate ladder until she makes it to the top. So I definitely found that some white women recognised the privilege that came with being white and how it helps you in the workplace, how you’ve got a whole team already rooting for you before you even get into the workplace. But if you’re an African woman, the first thing that people will see before they even see your ability or if you’re an Indian woman or a Coloured woman, the experiences were the same for those three race groups, but people saw your colour before they saw your ability to perform. I think in a nutshell what I found is that politically apartheid has been dismantled but in institutions it’s still walking in the corridors.
CIARAN RYAN: Right, so you still have people who are thinking and behaving in terms of their race, their gender, their class, whichever silo they feel they belong to. I guess in your case did you go out and survey different women from different backgrounds?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Yes, I did, I had face-to-face interviews with women from different backgrounds and I did this study in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, and then compared the findings of the two.
‘You are doing a job that’s meant for men’
CIARAN RYAN: What were the attitudes in Zimbabwe, just as a matter of interest because, like you, that is where I grew up.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: In Zimbabwe race wasn’t that much of an issue but I think it’s also important to contextualise the fact that Zimbabwe has become a predominantly black-run country in corporate, as well as in government. But the women in Zimbabwe faced sexism all the time, I still remember one of the ladies who I interviewed saying that she’s a senior executive in a state-owned entity and she had taken sick leave and when she came back one of her colleagues said, you know, it’s because you are doing a job that’s meant for men, that’s why you are getting so sick, you should leave these jobs for men. So you still have those kinds of attitudes even though when you look at the constitution of the country and the legislation that’s there, it’s talking gender equality. But when it comes to the workplace, it’s just really not there.
CIARAN RYAN: What about ethnicity, you said you are Ndebele and that’s quite obvious from your surname. For people who are overseas and who don’t really understand some of the dynamics here in Southern Africa, maybe just explain that. You do get a sense of that in South Africa where you have different ethic groups, you have the Zulus and the Sothos and so on, and there are certain attitudes towards Zimbabweans that sometimes bubble to the surface, maybe not that frequently, but give us a sense of what you found about that.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: What I found in both countries actually was that…in South Africa there was one woman who I interviewed, and I interviewed about 12 in South Africa, and there was one, a Zulu lady, who definitely found that she got discriminated against for being Zulu. The interesting thing was that it was Africans who were discriminating against her. So she got treated as if she was 200 years old and a Zulu who grew up in the days of Shaka the Zulu, and she was expected to – and I use this word with apology – to be a primitive person when she is actually an educated person who is navigating her way in the corporate world. In Zimbabwe it wasn’t such a big issue and in South Africa it was just one participant who had those experiences. I think it’s also important to contextualise that she’s living in Johannesburg in Gauteng and her hometown is in KwaZulu-Natal. So the Zulu from KwaZulu-Natal definitely gets treated differently from the one who grew up in Gauteng because she only knows one African language.
CIARAN RYAN: In my discussions, when I have been up to Zimbabwe, with people from the south, Ndebele – and for people overseas, it’s essentially two ethnic groups, the Shona in the north and Ndebele in the south – there is some resentment and it goes back to the ‘80s, of course, when there was persecution of the Ndebele’s. That does seem to be quite raw still, from my experience, did you find that?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I did, I did find that the Ndebele women who worked in Mashonaland, which is where the greater populous lives, did experience discrimination to start with in the workplace but the Shona women in Matabeleland didn’t experience that. So that was the interesting dynamic that I found that once the Ndebele women were working in a majority Shona place, they had to learn the language and if they spoke in English, attitudes were not quite welcoming because people would tend to communicate in Shona, which is the first language, and when she would ask for communication to be in English so that she could be part of the conversation, the attitude would be, well, why don’t you learn the language, we are the majority.
CIARAN RYAN: This does seem to be a fairly intractable thing, people have this self-identification that they carry with them through their lives, did you come up with any solutions here, how do we overcome this?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: How do we overcome this, we overcome it by all of us being aware of it because when something has not been brought to your attention you don’t really make an effort to then say what needs to be fixed. What needs to be fixed is all of us taking the time to introspect around our prejudices that we bring into the workplace. I don’t know how easy it is to then unlearn what is effectively part of your socialisation and to start to recognise when you look at a person you look at what they are capable of and work with that as opposed to what do they look like, what do they sound like. I think our generation, and our generation is really the pre-millennials, the kind of ‘60s, the generation X and Y’s, we’re going to struggle a bit but I think the millennials are starting to get it right. So we do need to be very conscious of the fact and be very deliberate around recognising that diversity is actually a strategic objective and if we can embrace it in organisations, we are going to get so many different views that can help us to strategise better than if we’ve got a view of only one identity type in the workplace and in the political space, it doesn’t matter where the decisions need to be made but the more diverse views we can get, the better the outcome of what we’re trying to achieve will be.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, I agree with that from my own personal experiences, the more these are spoken about and highlight these issues, these barriers, which exist in the workplace, and really they are barriers of the mind, are they not?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Yes.
CIARAN RYAN: The more they are spoken about and highlighted, the more people become aware of them and can incorporate that into their behaviour.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Sometimes we just really need to force the issue, for lack of a better word. We need to be conscious that when we’ve got young people, especially those who have their first job, orientation has got to be more than just this is what the business is about and this and that. You need to teach them why everyone walks around carrying a notebook is because they are writing things down so that they don’t forget, so feel free to do that. Those very basic things are actually what makes the difference with people getting comfortable in the workplace and learning to navigate it better.
Promoting the health of young people in South Africa
CIARAN RYAN: Right, tell us about loveLife, which is what you are doing now, you’re the chief executive officer there. Now, of course, you bring a lot of experience as a CFO and as an accountant to that particular non-governmental organisation. Tell us about loveLife, what does it aim to achieve and has it been successful?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: loveLife was birthed 21 years ago and it came about because if you can just take your mind to the HIV/Aids space 21 years ago, the mortality rate in South Africa was going through the roof. So you had some international funders, government and non-government organisations in South Africa come together to form what became loveLife. What we intended to do at that point in time it was a campaign that was focusing on young people to get them to talk about HIV, to get them to talk about healthy sexual behaviour, to get them to understand that their future was in their hands and if they didn’t start to change their sexual behaviour, they were not going to have a future. So that’s how we started 21 years ago and then we got an antiretroviral treatment campaign started and we started to see a decline in the death rate from HIV. About four or five years ago we went back to the drawing board and said, okay, now that HIV is no longer the threat it was 20 years ago, how do we remain relevant in South Africa as an organisation. So we came up with a vision that says we are about promoting the health of young people in South Africa, and when we talk about health we are talking about the WHO’s definition of health, so it’s about their physical, their mental, their social wellbeing, and making sure that we can get them to navigate the most crucial years of their lives, which is really between the ages of ten, just as they enter puberty, then through the teenage craziness and hopefully we can get responsible young people at the end of the process. So we use young people to talk to young people about health issues and for the longest time we were doing a lot of face-to-face interaction, so we would have young people in schools, we would have young people at centres that we call our youth centres, where we go and engage with them, using sport to attract them but really talking to them about the behaviours that we want to see them engaging in. Has it been successful, well, we are 21 year’s old, I think if what we were doing was not necessary and not successful we would have long filtered out of existence. But we continue to face the challenge of young people taking full control of their health in the way that we would want them to. I’m sure you’ve seen in the age of Covid, which is where we have had to now adjust to become relevant, you’ve seen young people taking videos of themselves partying, no social distancing, no masks and so we then use our platform to get other young people to say to them that Covid is not a joke, while you may be strong enough and healthy enough to fight it, it could kill your mother or your sibling who has an underlying condition. So we aim to be constantly talking about what’s happening in the lives of young people and being that voice, forcing our voice to be heard in the government space, in the corporate space and, remember, there are young people who we need to be investing in now if we are wanting to reap that dividend in the next five, ten, 15 years.
CIARAN RYAN: Just explain how you actually disseminate these views on health, is it through the schools, do you have presenters who go out and talk to school children, how does it work?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: We have young people between the ages of 18 and 24, that’s the ideal age, they finish matric and they are the ones we recruit. We take them through a development programme that enables them to then go out into schools, to clinics and they go into, like I said, the youth centres we have, where we get young people to come in in the afternoons after school and that’s where we engage with them. But we’re not just talking to them about their clinical health, we also have computer labs at our youth centres, where we teach them how to use computers in order to get them to be more marketable than they currently are. We do that with funding from the Department of Health, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, and some corporates choose to partner with loveLife as their social economic development partner. We go then and implement programmes that are primarily focused on young people. With the onset of Covid we started to do it via social media, so we’re using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as a YouTube channel, to engage with them about the same issues that we would have done face-to-face but now we’re using virtual platforms. So we will have virtual exercises going on, we will have round tables going on, about two weeks ago we had an event called #21ActsofGoodness with the Old Mutual Foundation that was targeted at the matric class of 2020, and we are engaging with them to find out what do you guys need for us to do to support you through your matric year because you’ve got an unscripted matric year to get through and we need to understand where you are in order to support you better for the matric exams. So that’s basically how we do it. As we get curve balls, we then figure out what do we need to do to be relevant to the young people who are our target.
CIARAN RYAN: Just on this question of how do you measure the success of this, do you have any metrics that you keep an eye on or is it based on surveys that you do at the end of these presentations, how do you measure that?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: When we defined the business plans with our funders, what we want to do, we’ve been measuring so far has been the numbers that we are reaching has been the metric that we use. We’re now trying to define a toolkit that can help us better measure the impact because it’s all very well to reach 1.5 million young people in a year but if you haven’t impacted them then what’s the point. So we are really now in the process of tightening up our evaluation tools to be able to start doing the surveys that give us feedback in terms of did young people walk away with anything after an interaction with us or did they just take a condom and throw it in the bin and went back to living life the way they did before an encounter with loveLife.
The state of the auditing and accounting profession in Zimbabwe
CIARAN RYAN: Can we talk for a minute about the accounting and audit profession in Zimbabwe, which is where you are from and where you trained. I’d like to get some insight from you as to what is the state of the profession in Zimbabwe? I imagine it’s quite challenging at the moment, can you give us a sense of that.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I’m not very close to the ground to be able to give you an accurate picture. But what I can tell you is that maybe 20 years ago the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Zimbabwean Institute of Chartered Accountants entered into a reciprocal arrangement, whereby the board exam that is written in Zimbabwe is set in South Africa and so the students in Zimbabwe and South Africa are writing exactly the same board exam. Just the fact that that agreement is still in place means that the quality has not declined in the last 20 years. What are the challenges that the profession is probably facing at this point in time, well, they’re trying to give advice and audit books in a country that’s now got multiple currencies and I think for any environment that would pose a challenge, which exchange rate do you use. When you look at what is in the local currency and you need to convert it into a currency that maybe a US investor is looking at, what exchange rate would you use. In terms of the ethics of the profession, I think it would face the same challenges as any other country would face that at the end of the day it goes down to every individual’s personal integrity and value system. So there will be accountants, whether we’re talking in Zimbabwe or any other country, that will sign off what they shouldn’t be signing off and then there will be accountants who will walk away from a client, rather than sign off things that they know are just ethically not the right thing to sign off. What I do know is that the calibre of people who go into the accounting profession still from an academic perspective remains very high. So you’ll find that it’s always probably the top 5% of students who write the school-leaving exam who get accepted purely because of the pressure of places and the limited number of institutions that offer an accounting degree. So you’ve got a very, very highly intelligent person going into that profession, who would probably have gotten three A’s at advanced level training to be an accountant.
CIARAN RYAN: I was in Zimbabwe a few months ago before the lockdown and it amazed me how resourceful entrepreneurs are in that country, there are so many more obstacles to overcome than we have here. You’ve mentioned the one about the currencies and the multi-currency environment but, of course, some of the other issues they have to face are things like how do you get power, there are electricity blackouts that happen there frequently during the day, that’s just another one. Getting the right skills for the particular business that you’re in, you have so much more difficulty there when a country has been in that kind of economic chaos for so long. When you were there working as an accountant, what are some of the other issues that you had to deal with?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: When I was there the Zim dollar still existed and what we found was that because of the inflation there the country went into hyperinflation when I was working as an accountant. It was so difficult to keep a grip on the costs, so you could prepare a budget in August but by the time you get it approved in November, those numbers are already way out. So you almost had to run two sets of numbers, you would prepare your budget in foreign currency and the only way to track whether you are achieving what you set out to achieve was to constantly take the numbers that you had produced and convert them back into foreign currency and measure using a foreign currency measure. Fuel was a problem when I was there, the queues, it’s almost like it’s gone back 20 years when you look at what’s happening now. So fuel was a huge issue when I was there, the state of health wasn’t quite the challenge that it is now and in order to preserve the currency you found that a lot of businesses started to get very speculative. So you’d find a bank going to buy a whole production of motor vehicles just to preserve the value of their asset and then when they need to report then just prior to that they would sell those vehicles. Then when you look at the numbers that these banks were reporting, they were crazy numbers, but they were not reporting traditional banking income that’s based on your interest and your bank charges. They were taking a deposit, buying an asset, selling it back and putting the money back into the business. So it was really difficult to run a business that is purely focused on your core service provision or product. You just had to find creative ways of what else you could do so that by the time you are reporting back on your core you’re still showing a profitable entity, even though behind the scenes you may have been running other businesses that feed into that. It was quite an interesting time to budget and to report on a business when prices were changing all the time.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, I think it’s part of the Zimbabwean culture that’s been built into everybody over the last few decades. I find that pretty much everybody who you speak to there has got a Plan B and a Plan C. The one thing that they have to sort out is power, so they’ve got generators, they’ve got solar panels and that kind of thing so that they can run their laptops and they can run their lights. The second thing is that they want access to foreign currency, so they all have business plans or business deals going on where they can get access to dollars and South African rands. Did you find that as well?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Luckily, I worked for a British company, so we could get pounds from the UK, our operations were funded directly by the UK. But yes, you did find that everybody wanted to hedge by trading in foreign currency because that was the only way you could preserve the value of the money that you had. The minute you converted it into local currency, you may as well just light it up and smoke it.
‘My job consists of going to meet strange men in offices and asking them for money’
CIARAN RYAN: [Laughing] Linda, tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path, so we already know that you grew up in Bulawayo but tell us about that.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I grew up in Bulawayo, born and bred in Bulawayo, I lived there until I was about 24 years old. I went to Girls College, so my high school was at a private school and it’s only now that I appreciate how that prepared me for the real world and what I would have to navigate when I got into the working place. So by the time I was 14, which was six years into Zimbabwe’s independence, my parents threw me into a multiracial environment that was predominantly white and I just needed to learn to navigate that space. It was going from zero to ten because previously you would have seen a white person on TV and now you are sitting next to them in class and you think oh my goodness, how do we navigate this space. But, like I say, I now appreciate the platform that it gave me because it meant that when I went for interviews I was a step ahead of a girl who didn’t go to a similar kind of school and was being interviewed by somebody of a different race. It also opened my eyes up to different career possibilities. When I left home to go to university, I had registered to study law because that’s the only thing that my dad and I could agree on was law. I got to university and I realised that law in South Africa would actually take me six years, so I called home and I said I am not going to do law, I am going to be an accountant. So that’s how I went into the accounting profession. I trained with Arthur Andersen, it still existed at that time, so you can guess how many years we are going back and I qualified as a chartered accountant in Zimbabwe. Then I moved to South Africa, where I worked in the financial services industry, then MTN was the huge corporate that I joined here and MTN is really where I started working more in the operational side of the business, as opposed to the pure finance side of the business. So after a couple of years at MTN South Africa, I got posted to Zambia for a year and I served as the CFO for MTN in Zambia during that period. I came back to South Africa and ran my own business for a little bit and the reason I was running my own business was because I realised my son, my only begotten son, was rapidly growing and one day I would wake up and find that he’s an adult and I haven’t spent time with him. So that gave me the opportunity to have flexibility of time and watch the cricket matches and rugby matches and all the fancy stuff he was doing just before finishing primary school. When he went into high school in 2015, he went into boarding school and that’s when I came back into fulltime employment. I joined loveLife as the CFO in 2015 and then at the end of 2017 I became the CEO. Then in between all of this that I have told you is when I did my doctoral studies with the Unisa School of Business Leadership. So that’s been my career path and now I jokingly say that my job consists of going to meet strange men in offices and asking them for money to be able to do some of the things that I would like to see us focusing on as a country. Maybe I can take that opportunity to share what it is that is the driving passion, the one thing that keeps me awake at night when I look at this space of the young people in South Africa…
CIARAN RYAN: Go for it.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: We have identified as a country that the biggest cause of mortality in girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 is HIV/Aids and we have gone all out to put together programmes that are aimed at empowering them and getting them out of the cycle that leaves them in relationships with men who are much older for economic reasons because those much older men is where they get infected with HIV. Now, with boys and young men, what do you think is the biggest cause of mortality there?
CIARAN RYAN: Would it be related to alcohol and drug abuse? I don’t know.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: It’s violence, boys and young men are killing each other, and they are committing suicide. If you’ve got the opportunity to look at the police stats that were released last week, just look at the number of murders in South Africa and then break them down by gender, and then if you can break them down by age you’re going to see the young people, those under 18, who are committing murders are boys and the victims of murders are boys. Then when you take it to adults you are going to see the same picture because the victims are men and perpetrators are men. Then the suicide numbers, I think we are seeing that for every one woman who commits suicide, there are four or five men or boys who commit suicide. My frustration is that we have got violence as a huge problem, the man-on-man violence is a huge problem, but we are not doing much to address it. We are spending all our efforts on gender-based violence and violence against children, and yet the root cause, the issue that we are dealing with, is just violence. If we could focus more on building or raising or creating better societies and homes in which to raise boys, we wouldn’t have to be talking about violence against women and violence against children because we would have addressed the root of the problem, as opposed to saying, okay, let’s destroy the branch and see if the tree will die, let’s remove the bark and see if the tree will die. So my big, big frustration right now is that we need to be focusing on boys and young men, we need to be getting into their heads and understanding what is this driver of this anger that they are taking into adulthood and some of them don’t even get into adulthood before they have killed another person. If we can get to the root of that we are going to start to see a safer society because our safety in society actually depends on men, more than it depends on us having safe homes for women and children to go to when they experience violence in the home or wherever it is that they experience it but it is predominantly in the home. So I wanted to share my passion, that’s my passion.
CIARAN RYAN: It does unfortunately reinforce a couple of very negative stereotypes about South Africa that people would have overseas about this violence. I didn’t know that, that’s quite a stunning bit of information you’ve just shared there. It does make you wonder what sort of conditions these young men or boys are growing up in that this violence takes root. Wow, I don’t really have an answer to that, do you?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: It’s got to be what are we exposing our children to at home and how do we interact and relate to each other in the home. What are they watching on TV and on their games. When they leave the home to go outside into the community, what are they being exposed to. So there’s a whole ecosystem that we raise children in that’s exposing them to violence as a norm. If you can think about how we treat a little boy who comes in crying and says, daddy, he hit me, usually our reaction would be oh, just man up, go and beat him up. But if a little girl comes in crying, we all open our arms, we put her on our lap, we hug her tight, she feels loved, she feels appreciated and she feels important. So some of those things that are ingrained in us around how a boy should show up, how he should man up, those are some of the drivers of the violence that we see them then start to commit because we’ve taught them that you must be strong and you mustn’t cry and if someone hits you, you must hit them harder, suppress your emotions and then we are just producing pressure cookers that just explode when we open them up.
‘We need to really have the integrity brought back into the profession’
CIARAN RYAN: Linda, we are running out of time here, just two quick questions, let’s just return back to the question of the chief financial officer, you’ve got a bit of experience in South Africa and Southern Africa in that role, what are some of the changes that you’ve witnessed in the role of the chief financial officer over the last decade or so and is the profession in crisis, we see so many of these stories emerging in the press about corrupt deals that are enabled by people in high financial office. Is there a crisis in the industry?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I think there’s an integrity crisis and it’s not a crisis of the profession, it’s a crisis of individuals who are prepared to sell their souls. I think that’s what it is and it really needs to go back to what is the moral fibre of the people in the profession. So if you’re a thief it doesn’t matter whether you are a chartered accountant or a doctor, you’re going to steal, if you’re a politician, you’re going to steal, and if you are not a thief, no matter how tempting it is you are not going to steal. I think what is important is what we see play out in the public space, where professionals compromise and the professional bodies to which they belong don’t compromise in how they deal with those situations because it just needs one person, it just needed Enron in 1999/2000 thereabout to have an accountant that signed off and Arthur Andersen went under. So we need to really have the integrity brought back into the profession. When I was training I think that was one of the first things that was drummed into us as trainee accountants was that you can’t compromise, you’ve got to be honest, once you lose your name you have lost it. So make sure that you really, really think through the decisions that you need to make. If it means that you walk away from a client, then you walk away from a client because at the end of the day once you lose that CA (SA) that’s it, nobody is going to touch you with a barge pole.
CIARAN RYAN: That’s right, it’s a very high perch from which to fall, so you have to cherish that and you have to look after it and add to it in terms of integrity, ethics and generally be a good role model both in business and, I guess, in your personal life as well.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Absolutely, it starts with your personal life actually, you carry out into the workplace who you really are.
CIARAN RYAN: Final question, what books would you recommend, what are you reading or have read that really impacted you?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I’m a reader of note, I love reading, so I could give you a list but the Bible is something I read all the time and I think it has got the answer for everything we have talked about and can ever talk about, so I always recommend the Bible. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is one I tend to read over and over again. Then there’s a little book called The Power of the Pride by Ian Thomas, and he has studied lions forever and he put together this 60-page book and he compares how a pride of lions operate to how a business could operate, how a team in a business should operate. So it’s a really interesting book that I have read and also revisit from time to time. Then I am very big on biographies, so I have read Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. I have read Joshua Nkomo’s biography, The Story of My Life, he’s my absolute hero, I am not related to him but he’s my hero.
CIARAN RYAN: For people overseas, Joshua Nkomo was the leader of the opposition party in Zimbabwe but eventually he got swallowed up by Zanu-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe. So what impressed you about him?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: What really impressed me about him is just reading how he laid down his ego and what he could have been in order to preserve the lives of people who believed in him and who were his supporters. So when he writes his book he starts from his childhood up until the independence of Zimbabwe and post that. So he talks about the genocide period, where he was labelled a terrorist and how his followers were being killed. He talks about how he couldn’t continue to allow innocent people to die because he was the person who was the target. So innocent people were being killed, and for him the lives of those people were far, far more precious than to continue being an opposition leader in a country. So I really loved that about him, his humility, how naïve he was during the lead up, in the Lancaster House discussions when people would tell him that Robert Mugabe is sabotaging him, he didn’t believe it at all, he was so naïve, and I think that just showed the human part of him. Also, the sacrifices, his children grew up without him. It was just amazing to read, it was a banned book for years.
CIARAN RYAN: Oh, really, wow, I bet it was. Was there another book you were going to mention?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Like I said, biographies, The Thabo Mbeki I Know by Sifiso Ndlovu and Miranda Strydom, I have read that. Margaret Thatcher, and most recently, Betting on a Darkie: Lifting the Corporate Game by Mteto Nyati.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, okay, I think that was released last year, wasn’t it?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: Yes, that was released last year. I have read about Hilary Clinton’s life, I’ve read about Billy Graham’s life, I have read the individual biographies of the Obama’s. I just love reading the stories of people and the journeys they have been on because you see President Obama and you think he was born President Obama. Then you read the story of what it took for him to get there and you realise, wow.
CIARAN RYAN: What a fascinating discussion.
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: I’m such a reader I could give you more.
CIARAN RYAN: I think what it tells us is that you are a very searching person and you’re a very engaged person, and you’re observing what’s going on in the world around you and I find that quite fascinating. We’re going to have to leave it there, Linda, we have run out of time and I do feel that we could go on for another hour. But we’re going to have to get you back and let’s do that in a few months, just to catch up and tackle some of these other issues that we maybe just touched on and didn’t explore properly, if that’s okay with you?
LINDA NCUBE-NKOMO: That’s very okay with me, I am honoured to have been invited to be part of this discussion. I really hope that the boy child, everybody who listens to this podcast will just think about the boy child and the role that they are playing in the lives of the boys around them.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, what a good message to end on, thanks very much, Linda, for coming on. That was Linda Ncube-Nkomo, she is chief executive officer of loveLife, which is South Africa’s largest youth health non-governmental organisation.