Zanele Dlamini Mbeki

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Zanele Dlamini Mbeki
First Lady of South Africa
In role
14 June 1999 – 24 September 2008
PresidentThabo Mbeki
Preceded byGraça Machel
Succeeded byMapula Motlanthe
Personal details
Zanele Dlamini

1938 (age 80–81)
Alexandra, Gauteng, South Africa
Thabo Mbeki (m. 1974)
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand
London School of Economics
Brandeis University
ProfessionSocial worker

Zanele Dlamini Mbeki is a feminist South African social worker, founder of Women's Development Bank. She is also a former first lady of South Africa.

Early life and education[edit]

Zanele Dlamini was born in Alexandra in 1938 where her father was a Methodist priest and her mother a dressmaker.[1][2] She has five sisters.[1]

Mbeki was a boarder at the Catholic Inkamana Academy in KwaZulu-Natal before studying to be a social worker at the University of the Witwatersrand.[1]

After working for three years for Anglo American plc as a case worker in Zambia, Mbeki moved to London and completed a diploma in social policy and administration at the London School of Economics in 1968.[1] She later won a scholarship to do her PhD on the position of African women under apartheid at Brandeis University in the United States, although she left the United States to marry Thabo Mbeki before completing it.[2][1][3]


While in London, Mbeki worked as a psychiatric social worker at Guy’s Hospital, and at the Marlborough Day Hospital.[1]

After her marriage, Mbeki worked for the International University Education Fund in Lusaka, Zambia. She resigned in 1980,[4] shortly before it was closed down after the exposure of her boss, Craig Williamson, as a South African spy.[3] She was also elected to the ANC's Women's League and edited the Voice of Women.[1][3] Mbeki lectured at the University of Zambia for two years and then worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nairobi.[2][3]

When they returned to South Africa in 1990, Mbeki founded the Women's Development Bank, which offers microfinance to poor South African women.[2][5] While her husband was campaigning, she rarely appeared with him and refused to grant interviews.[5] When her husband became President in 1999, she became First Lady of South Africa. She is a feminist and an advocate for women's rights.[6] In July 2003, she convened the South African Women in Dialogue, designed to enable women to participate fully in the country's development.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Mbeki met Thabo Mbeki while studying at the University of London and they were married in a registry office in London on 23 November 1974, followed by a religious ceremony at the home of her older sister Edith, Farnham Castle in Surrey.[2][1][3] He had to receive permission from the ANC to marry and reportedly told Adelaide Tambo "if Papa [Oliver Tambo] doesn't allow me to marry Zanele, I'll never, ever marry again. And I'll never ask again. I love only one person and there is only one person I want to make my life with, and that is Zanele."[8] The couple have no children and have often lived apart.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Two presidents and a first lady". 22 June 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Staff Reporter (11 June 1999). "The one who brings Thabo peace". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gevisser, Mark (2009). "A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream". Macmillan.
  4. ^ Sellström, Tor (1999). Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa, Volume 2. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 578.
  5. ^ a b c Murphy, Dean E. (19 June 1999). "A First Lady Debuts With Reluctance". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  6. ^ Dhlamini (Mbeki), Zanele. "Women's liberation".
  7. ^ Vetten, Lisa (2015). "The Simulacrum of Equality? Engendering the Post94 South African State". In Mcebisi Ndletyana. Essays on the Evolution of the Post-Apartheid State: Legacies, Reforms and Prospects. Real African Publishers. p. 147.
  8. ^ Abrams, Dennis (2007). Thabo Mbeki. Infobase Publishing. p. 79.