Nomatemba Tambo

Overseas sits down with South African High Commissioner to the UK Nomatemba Tambo, daughter of famed anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo, to discuss her life in public service, connection with ROSL, and relationship between our two countries

Nomatemba Tambo

Overseas sits down with South African High Commissioner to the UK Nomatemba Tambo, daughter of famed anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo, to discuss her life in public service, connection with ROSL, and relationship between our two countries

What do you think is the most interesting thing about South Africa that most other citizens of the Commonwealth wouldn’t know?
I think that people don’t realise until they get to South Africa how incredibly friendly and sometimes annoyingly helpful we can be. You could be driving along the highway and you don’t know where you’re going, you roll down the window, scream at the person in the next lane ‘I’m lost, I’m trying to get to so-and-so’, and they’ll just shout back ‘follow me!’. They’ll take you wherever you want to go. I think that the majority of people elsewhere in the Commonwealth may not know that the majority of South Africans have excellent pitch and can sing in harmony. We are a country of choirs, from the South to the North.

When did you first hear about the Royal Over-Seas League, and would you like to see it used more by South Africans living in and visiting the UK?
I knew about ROSL from my first diplomatic posting in Hong Kong back in 2008. The Branch Chair was Paul Surtees. We would do a lot of stuff together for the Royal Over-Seas League, we became very good friends. Eventually I left Hong Kong, but by then I was already a member of the club in London, and I maintained my membership over the years since then.

I don’t think enough South Africans know about the club. You’re a hidden gem, it’s an incredibly romantic place. I think by targeting the young professionals who want to start to explore these kinds of places you can grow, and that’s what I’m here for, to assist with that kind of thing.

You’re very involved in promoting women in society through things like the South African Women’s Chamber of Commerce, something ROSL has also been involved in since its founding in 1910. As a woman in a position of power, do you feel a responsibility to help the next generation of female leaders?
Yes, there is a sense of responsibility, but more than that, there’s an incredible desire and excitement to be a part of watching young women develop in a way that is so completely different to the way that I grew up and the things that drove me. Now when you look at women in their late 20s, and early 30s, and what their visions are, and the way they expect to be perceived, it’s absolutely fascinating. These women, they take no prisoners!

Watching the US Vice-Presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, the commentary afterwards was saying that people felt she didn’t go at him hard enough, she let him get away with an awful lot. The reason that was given was she didn’t want to be seen as this abrasive dictatorial type women. I thought, what a shame, we haven’t really moved on that far. A woman who is assertive, who is commited to her course of action, who won’t allow someone to get away with bullying them, is still able to do so without receiving a backlash. So yes, there’s still work to be done.

How would you like to see the UK and South Africa’s relationship grow post-Brexit, and what is your role in that process as High Commissioner?
There’s so many different areas that historically have been shared between our two countries; culture, arts, education, trade, investment, infrastructure, everything. There’s so many and it’s such a broad basket of projects, I think that my job is to make sure that in a post-Brexit world, our relationships don’t wither. Luckily, we have signed a trade agreement with the UK, which is wonderful news. That’s going to help create a cushion for the way in which we go forward, which will hopefully benefit South Africa and the UK. We want to develop a greater presence in the UK than we’ve been afforded the opportunity so far. Historically, a lot of British companies have gone to South Africa to invest, but it has been difficult for South African companies to get into the UK. The odds haven’t been stacked in our favour, so I would like to see that situation loosening up, to make it easier for our business community to engage and succeed here, rather than to try and to fail.

Your family history has been one of long-standing public service. What drives you to serve your fellow countrymen and women?
It would be very difficult growing up in the family in which I grew up, and seeing the enormous sacrifices that were made on behalf of me, and my brothers and sisters, and generations upon generations of South Africans, and not to want to try to do something to give back. I’m not in government, you need another kind of mind, another kind of courage, to work in government, particularly of a new country like ours, a country that comes from such a toxic past. So, to me, I just felt that if I could do something to represent, I should. I want people to understand why I’m so proud of South Africa.

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