Ms Lobe is the High Commissioner of South Africa to Singapore. She was the Acting Chief Operations
Officer of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ahead of her posting to
Singapore. Ms Lobe was South Africa’s Focal Person on Women, Peace and Security and served in the
Focal Points Global Network on Women, Peace, and Security where she was also the Chairperson of the
Network on behalf of South Africa. She also served on the Global Steering Committee of Generation
She is an author of the book: My father: My Hero, My Zero.
Ms Lobe is also a Co-Convenor of the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network and was the Co-Convenor South African Women’s Peace Table held in July 2021. She is also the President of the African Women Leaders Network, South Africa. She holds a Master’s Degree in Politics majoring in Governance and Political Transformation from the
University of the Free State. Ms Lobe also holds a Diploma in Public Relations and Communication. She
was awarded an opportunity to study at the University of Manchester, UK (2001) under a Professional
Development Programme called “Africa Future Leaders Programme” where among others she was
introduced to the field of International Relations and Gender Studies.
She hails from the ranks of the liberation movement in South Africa where from a tender age she was
involved in issues of equality, civil and human rights; this led her to pursue an activist role in various
spheres of society and served her people in various capacities within the student movement, youth
movement, women's movement, and various structures of the liberation movement.
In her leadership role as a political and social activist, she served as ANC Provincial Secretary in the Free
State, a position that no other woman has occupied before or after her. She also served as a Member of
the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC), Member of the ANC
Women’s League NEC and National Working Committee. During this period, she served as the National
Spokesperson of the ANCWL. In her youth days, she served as a Member of the ANC Youth League NEC and NWC. She served briefly as the General Secretary of the Congress of the People (COPE) before
returning to the ANC.
In her leadership role within government, Ms Lobe served as a Municipal Councillor, served as a
Member of Parliament and finally as a Member of the Free State Provincial Legislature where she was a
Deputy Speaker. Her work in the legislative sector is a reflection of her activism and work with
communities and in particular with grassroots women.
In August every year South Africa celebrates the iconic 1956 march where 20 000 women marched to the Union Building in Pretoria to protest the discriminatory pass laws. The Women’s March is one of the most heralded historic event in the struggle for freedom and women’s rights in South Africa. As a result, 9 August, has been declared the National Women’s Day in recognition of political activism by women in the liberation struggle. This historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and the society at large. Since this period, great strides have been made in improving the status of women and creating a conducive environment for them to thrive. However, women have not advanced as rapidly as government would have wished. This is compounded by the reality that the field of International Relation is traditionally dominated by men. As a traditional male domain, existing power structures within the diplomatic infrastructure reinforces blatant discriminatory practices, making it difficult for women to enter diplomacy particularly at the highest echelons. According to a British politician and diplomat, Sir Harold George Nicholson who served in the diplomatic corps between 1901 and 1929: “Women are prone to qualities of zeal, sympathy and intuition which, unless kept under the firmest control, are dangerous qualities in international affairs.”
This opinion implies that women should continue to be subsidiary to international politics and diplomacy. Signs of change appeared in the 1930s when 13 countries that included Nicaragua and Turkey appointed women diplomats. A few decades later in 1996, Madeleine Albright declared: “Today, women are engaged in every facet of global affairs, from policymaking to deal-making, from arms control to trade, from the courtroom of the War Crimes Tribunal to the far-flung operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”. As a woman Diplomat, I know that women are prolific negotiators; they are good communicators, strategic thinkers and are good in public relations. There can never be an excuse to continue exclude women from this sphere. The small number of women in diplomatic positions globally reflects the same challenges faced by women in the political, civil, private, or judicial sectors. The main challenge for women in diplomacy is often associated with making “tough choices between family life and their careers”. South Africa has made significant progress in narrowing the gender gap in decision-making structures, this includes strides made in increasing number of women in its envoys abroad. We have gradually moved from only 3 women Heads of Missions that was equivalent to 1% of the overall number of Heads of Missions before the dawn of democracy to 43% women as Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls-Generals. We are not yet at 50% but we celebrate this achievement because our efforts of mainstreaming gender are yielding positive results.
For too long, women were confined to gender stereotypical roles defined by narrow cultural and religious traditions. But as the tide of democracy sweeps the globe, women are becoming a growing force to be reckoned with. Globally, we are seeing a new voice of activism emerge, which is speaking out to defend freedom and advance civil liberties and human rights. The notion of women in diplomacy and political leadership are not a new phenomenon particularly in Africa. As African women Diplomats we stand on shoulders of giants. We stand on shoulders of phenomenal women who created streams in the dessert. There are African women from the pre-Colonial era who have played major roles in Diplomacy and in nation-building. The following are just a few examples and the reason why we celebrate the achievements of women before us in addition to women of 1956:
- In Angola we celebrate Queen Ann Nzinga who, in the 17th century, formed alliances with other kingdoms to fend off the Portuguese. She declared the lands she ruled over “free country” and promised all slaves who reached her lands freedom. She was not one to ignore responsibility. She oversaw mighty armies that strategically kept her lands free throughout her four-decade rule.
- The Egyptian Queen, Hatshepsut, is renowned for expanding foreign trade and improving diplomatic relations. She also initiated the development of construction programmes and a naval fleet.
- Queen Amina Sukhera, a Hausa Muslim Warrior Queen of the Zazzau, now city of Zaria, Kaduna State in Nigeria who fought heroic battles using her military skills to expand the Zazzau territory. Amina is also credited with the introduction of the cultivation of the kola nuts in her region. This went a long way in developing farming and agriculture in her region.
- Ghana’s Ashanti Empire gave us Yaa Asantewaa, the brave Queen Mother of Ejisu. Nana was a leader and Commander-in Chief of the Fifth and final Anglo-Ashanti War of 1900 – 1901. No woman in history is known to have achieved what she achieved as the leader of what is now known as the “Yaa Asantewaa War” between the Asante and the British during which she became known as the Jean D ’Arc of Africa. She inspired the fight against colonial invaders by declaring:
“Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will, I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields”.
- Nehanda Chware Nyakasikana, the Zimbabwean warrior, who joined her compatriots in fending off the English invasion of Zimbabwe prior to 1890s. She declared, as she faced death by hanging, that, “my bones will rise again”, a prophecy evidenced by the mass exodus of the population who voluntarily left the country for the east and returned on the attainment of independence in 1979 following decades of Chimurenga (war of liberation).
- Manthatisi, the warrior queen of Batlokwa. She came to power as the regent for her son, Sekonyela, following the death of her husband Kgosi Mokotjo. She reigned in the 1820s, during the time of King Shaka. As a warrior she commanded troops of over 40 000 warriors during the Difaqane wars. Queen Manthatisi was one of the best known, and most feared, women military and political leaders of the early 19th century. Her troops seized the crops and cattle of the people they attacked, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation. Queen Manthatisi was strong in times of war and in peace. She used her diplomatic skills to negotiate land for her people when she lost war.
The lives of these women remind me of the words of Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
By Madiepetsane Charlotte Lobe