Outgoing Executive Director of UNWOMEN has confirmed that she is a member of the African National Congress and intends to be active within the ruling party when she permanently returns to South Africa next month.

Speaking in her first exit interview from the United Nations in New York, former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called the recent riots in the country one of her saddest moments, while urging collective responsibility for the failures to address the depths of poverty in the country.

She reflected on her slate’s loss at the ANC National Elective Conference in 2007, her brief flirtation with the Congress of the People (COPE) and her political future in the country of her birth.

“Definitely the saddest moment and for it to happen around the time when we’re preparing to celebrate Madiba, made it even more saddening. It was not totally unexpected that when the former deputy President goes to prison some people may react but not at this scale. Certainly, it was orchestrated, you could see that, we did not respond as adequately as we could have.”

Inequalities in SA 

Mlambo-Ngcuka suggested an all of society approach to pull the country out of its current malaise, particularly in addressing the vast inequalities evidenced in those who participated in the recent acts of looting.

“COVID was one space to reflect about the inequalities in the world and in our country, and this activity was for specifically South Africa – a moment for us to recognise how much poverty we have in our country and how we all are supposed to go – probably for me this just said to me even if I would have wanted to do something else, somewhere else in the world, this is not the time. This is the time to be in South Africa so I’m glad that I’m able to go back home and find something to do.”

ANC leadership  
She was pointed when asked about her loss as part of former President Thabo Mbeki slate at the ANC Elective Conference in 2007 where she ran to be the party’s Treasurer-General.

“I actually had internalized before because I could see it coming, maybe if they had me they would not have had so much money lost anyway. I don’t think I would have stolen.”

She confirmed her brief membership of COPE in 2009 only to quietly return to the ANC some years later.

“I sort of joined, and I attended the meetings, I think one or twice, spoke at the meetings but my heart was always with the ANC.”

And as she moves from a role advocating for women’s leadership among others, we asked if she had enough of a constituency to consider a future role of President of the Republic.

“I certainly don’t know, I haven’t tested that and this is not something I would want to ever rush into, I think there are just so many things that I can still do without getting into full politics and I’m actually quite old also so it’s important to also create the space for younger people. I think if they need to recycle me, that means that we’re not in a good situation. So I do want to encourage more younger people to get into politics but I want to be there behind them to support them so that they can take the space.”

Her two terms as head of UNWOMEN ends on August 17.

In the video below, SABC News’ UN Correspondent Sherwin Bryce-Pease is in conversation with Mlambo-Ngcuka: