SENZENI NGUBANE: Lessons on work, taught by Bab' Jackson Mthembu
Where do I start?
Bab’ Mthembu, you were not only the head of communications but also a father I had a pleasure of working with during my time at the African National Congress' (ANC) department of information and publicity.
We met for the first time at Luthuli House in 2008, just after you were elected to be part of the national executive committee in 2007.
In 2009, during one of the communications meeting, you were introduced to us – the communications team at the time – as the head of communication, the national spokesperson of the ANC.
Bab’Mthembu, you introduced yourself and gave context to your political activism and educational journey. You also briefed us about numerous roles that you were entrusted with by the ANC in Mpumalanga, your role as an MEC, Speaker, and the Spokesperson just to name a few. I must say I was stunned and flabbergasted by the summarised version of your profile.
We then took turns to introduce ourselves, indicating our roles and responsibilities within the unit, and you listened attentively to all of us. The meeting went on with the business of the ANC and then the ball started rolling.
Your leadership style was not ordinary; it was eloquent, exemplary coupled with a hands-on approach to the work. Your ethics, morals and punctuality inspired me and made me more committed.
You made me understand that, whatever goes out on the digital platforms, I was responsible for it. It is not what I put out but what the ANC pronounces. That increased my diligence and I had to double check and triple check before posting something on the website or any of the ANC platforms, including the Facebook and Twitter accounts, because you are the communicator par excellence. That was accountability!
What I love and will always remember is that you never let something you didn’t know get the better of you. Instead, you’d ask that I show you how it works, how to operate it and what the results will be after.
At times, I’d look at your Twitter time line and laugh that, "ya, uBab’Mthembu uyibambile manje… He’s even trending". Your last tweet sent read: “They are human too.” You were indeed human in many ways.
They are human too .Minister Jackson Mthembu (@JacksonMthembu_) January 12, 2021
My role was to manage the digital platforms but you entrusted to me when you needed urgent media statements out and you would come to my desk and say: "Sesi, we need to get this statement out and naba abekho oBhuti bakho."
You would dictate the statement as I typed away, a few hours later the statement was ready to be issued. I once indicated, "Bab’Mthembu: I don’t have access to the media mailing list." You responded: "Sesi, make sure that statement is out tonight." And you left the office. I learnt team work and flexibility was key; you needed to know what your colleagues do regardless of what your role was in the team.
Working under your leadership was a blessing in disguise as you were an incredible leader, even when I was thrown in the deep end to ensure that the ANC’s digital platforms accurately announced messages and decisions of the ANC.
The first ever live chat of the ANC was conducted by you, Bab’Mthembu, on the ANC Facebook and Twitter accounts. I had never conducted a live chat before but you were there, Bab Mthembu, you agreed to be the dip stick to test the ground on these platforms because you believed and understood the significance of reaching out to our people using various means of communication at our disposal.
"Asiye sesi - let’s do this," were some of the comments you made as I vividly recall the day. Bathini, an hour passed and the live chat was successfully ended. You were so delighted that the live chat went well. It was a first-time experience that no one could take away! Live chats became a regular service offered by the Department of Information and Publicity.
Bab’Mthembu, you were so hands-on with your work and what went out in your name under the ANC banner during your tenure at Luthuli House.
You turned the ninth floor into our home away from home. We used to grind for extensive hours on end and would never leave the office until the task at hand was done, but that didn’t matter because you made it so enjoyable to work under your leadership.
I remember during the preparations for the local government elections in 2011, there was an issue with posters and you called and said: "Sesi, let’s go to Boksburg at printers’ offices to go see what happening there."
We drove there and I found you at the location already waiting, looking at the work done by the designers, asking them to make a few changes. That is the Bab’ Mthembu I know.
There are so many endless memories that I could share, I could write a book.
Working with you made me witness first hand the type of person you are and a lesson to never rely on anyone to get the task at hand done. Not through reports or sitting in the boardroom conducting endless meetings. But to get one's hands dirty to get the job done, regardless of what it takes.
You were results oriented - one had to be diligent, hard-working and be willing to put in the physical labour required to get work done as we were serving the organisation of the people, as you’d fondly said.
You made working under your leadership effortless because you were approachable at all times and you were a good listener. You guided a lot of us on the conduct of a communicator through your actions. You led by example and have made an impact on so many comrades lives, and I am where I am today because of your love, patience and understanding
Bab’Mthembu, you went out of your way to make sure we worked in an environment that was conducive for growth.
You played a sterling role in gearing up the ANC and government communication machinery to what it is today. Your integrity, thinking capability, honesty and determination will sadly be missed as no one will fill the roles you occupied.
The legacy you leave behind will live for many generations.
You stand among giants!
Lala ngoxolo Bab’ Mthembu, Hamba kahle Mvelase omuhle!
Indima yakho uyifezile, Sifunde lukhulu kuwe.
Eyasemabomvini, Senzeni Ngubane.
Senzeni Ngubane is the deputy director for social media at the Government Communications and Information Service. Picture: Supplied